David and Goliath

01 Apr 2008

Seventy-seven year-old Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and his wife, Louise, have become international heroes during a ten-year fight over genetically modified (GM) seed contamination with agribusiness giant Monsanto Canada Inc.

Last week they celebrated a further victory over a small-claim to recuperate funds for the clean up of another GM plant outbreak on their farm.

The saga began when Monsanto sued the Schmeisers in 1997 after finding plants grown from genetically modified Roundup Ready canola plants on the couple’s farm. Monsanto claimed they had violated its patent on the seeds by planting them without paying the technology fees, and sought damages totaling $400,000.

Percy Schmieser denied using Monsanto seeds, arguing that they must have blown onto their property from a neighboring farm and contaminated his crop.

While they eventually lost the court battle – in 2004 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Monsanto – the Schmeisers were not required to pay anything in damages and felt they had won a victory for farmers standing up to the GM companies.

When genetically modified canola appeared on the Schmeiser’ farm again in 2005, they removed it and filed a small-claims case to recover the costs of $660. Monsanto settled out of court, and the Schmeisers feel this victory will encourage others to carry on with the cause.

‘After 10 years, finally justice has been served,’ said Percy Schmeiser. ‘I really feel that if a farmer is now contaminated, he has a right to go after Monsanto for liability and to clean up the contamination. By settling out of court, Monsanto now realizes the seriousness of the liability issue.’

Mr Schmeiser has been invited to speak at universities and parliaments all over the world, and was a guest at the recent ‘A Taste of Slow’ festival in Australia. In December, the couple were awarded the Right Livelihood Award, ‘for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers’ rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws’.

Bess Mucke



Right Livelihood Award

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