DAVID VERSUS GOLIATH
Here’s an inspiring story from Canada as to how a small time farmer took on the might of the giant multinational Monsanto and won the battle hands down.
Percy Schmeiser: A Profile in Courage
Percy is a long time farmer and farm equipment dealer from the small rural community of Bruno Sask. He served as Mayor of the Town of Bruno from 1966-1983 and as a MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) for the Watrous constituency in the Provincial Legislature from 1967-71.Percy and his wife Louise Schmeiser are celebrating over 50 years of marriage. In addition to operating a farm equipment dealership in Bruno, Saskatchewan Canada, they have farmed for close to 60 years. Schmeiser has been growing canola -- the yellow-blossomed oilseed that used to be known as rapeseed -- for 40 years, and he knows his stuff. He's been experimenting, developing his own varieties, using his own seed and generally prospering with canola. Reaping the benefits derived from growing an increasingly popular crop. Almost on the verge of retirement, he suddenly faced a legal notice from Monsanto which wanted damages of $400,000 accusing him of patent infringement and demanded restitution for its seeds. Percy’s pride was hurt. He chose to fight rather than roll over and take it like so many other farmers had done in the US.
The One sided Battle or So they Thought
For 40 years, Percy Schmeiser has grown canola on his farm near Bruno, Sask., about 80 km east of Saskatoon, usually sowing each crop of the oil-rich plants with seeds saved from the previous harvest. And he has never, says Schmeiser, purchased seed from the St. Louis, Mo.-based agricultural and biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. Even so, he says that more than 320 hectares of his land is now "contaminated" by Monsanto's herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready canola, a man made variety produced by a controversial process known as genetic engineering. And, like hundreds of other North American farmer, Schmeiser has felt the sting of Monsanto's long legal arm. In August 1999 the company took the 68-year-old farmer to court, claiming he illegally planted the firm's canola without paying a $37-per-hectare fee for the privilege. Unlike scores of similarly accused North American farmers who have reached out-of-court settlements with Monsanto, Schmeiser fought back. He claims Monsanto investigators trespassed on his land -- and that company seed could easily have blown on to his soil from passing canola-laden trucks. "I never put those plants on my land," says Schmeiser. "The question is, where do Monsanto's rights end and mine begin?"
The landmark case, that went before the Federal Court of Canada, and attracted international attention because it could help determine how much control a handful of powerful biotech companies can exert over farmers. Schmeiser said he planted his 1997 crop with seed saved from 1996, and insists that any Roundup Ready growing on his land was spread by wind or by grain trucks traveling on roads adjacent to his fields.
In the statement of claim, Schmeiser says Monsanto has libeled him by publicly accusing him of committing illegal acts, trespassing on his land in order to obtain seed samples and improperly obtaining samples of his seed from a local seed plant.
The statement also accuses Monsanto of "callous disregard" for the environment by introducing Roundup Ready into the area without proper controls, and of contaminating crops grown by Schmeiser."
On Aug. 10, 1999 mediation talks to settle the dispute without going to trial ended in failure.
The next day, Schmeiser launched a $10 million lawsuit against Monsanto, accusing the company of a variety of wrongs, including libel, trespass and contamination of his fields with Roundup Ready."
He says that if he would have "bowed on my hands and knees" in the beginning, Monsanto might have settled for what it calculated were unpaid technical fees of about $15,000. Schmeiser says he has received donations to help his legal bills--mostly in $50 and $100 cheques from other farmers.
This case was bring Monsanto a bad name and later in an out of court settlement finalized on March 19, 2008, Percy Schmeiser settled his lawsuit with Monsanto. Monsanto has agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser's fields. Also part of the agreement was that there was no gag-order on the settlement and that Monsanto could be sued again if further contamination occurred. Schmeiser believes this precedent setting agreement ensures that farmers will be entitled to reimbursement when their fields become contaminated with unwanted Roundup Ready canola or any other unwanted GMO plants.
Percy Schmeiser's ongoing fight for farmers to keep their right to use their own seed has brought him something he didn't expect, India's Mahatma Gandhi Award.
While in India for a series of speaking engagements September 20 to October 5, Schmeiser was presented with the award in Delhi on October 2, the 131st anniversary of Gandhi's birth.
Schmeiser was honored to receive this award, he said. The award is given by Gandhi's family for the betterment of humankind in a non-violent way.
The presentation was made by the head of India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, an organization which together with the International Forum on Food and Agriculture and the People's Global Seed 2000 Conference had invited Schmeiser to speak on farmers' property rights. Besides speaking at these conferences at Bangalore and Delhi, he also spoke at various universities throughout India.
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