7-Misc: Brave New Monsanto World in Canada?
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- Date: Tue, 16 Mar 99 14:18:18 -0000
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Stop GM Food - Stray seeds land farmer in court
March 14, 1999
By Marie Woolf in Bruno, Saskatchewan
Farmers who find that stray genetically modified seeds have blown on to
their land from neighbours' fields and then taken root could face massive
fines if the agrochemical giant Monsanto wins a test case in a Canadian
Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, is being pursued by
Monsanto for damages and the profits from his fields because the company
claims that the patent on its genetically modified (GM) seeds has been
violated. GM canola (rape) plants from Monsanto seeds were found growing
among his crops. The farmer believes that the seeds blew on to his land.
If Monsanto wins the test case, due to go to court this autumn, British
farmers in similar situations could also face court cases culminating in
having to pay thousands of pounds in compensation.
But Mr Schmeiser never signed a contract to grow Monsanto's GM canola and
says he is not liable to the big fines the company imposes for using seed
from crops. His fields run along a main road which links a grain silo and
a rubbish dump where used seed sacks are thrown away. The prairies can be
windy and cut crops are often blown on to neighbouring fields.
Mr Schmeiser, who has spent thousands of dollars on legal fees and who
will have to pay a massive bill if he loses, has a library of photographs
showing stray seeds and plants from neighbouring farmers.
In Canada and the US, Monsanto has hired Robinson Investigations, a
private firm founded by former police officers, to question farmers and
take samples from their land.
Farmers complain of "intimidation" and "bullying", and fear they could
lose their farms. Monsanto, to give farmers a chance to inform on their
neighbours, has also set up a toll-free "snitch line" on which people can
tell Monsanto that growers are using their technology without paying for
But many growers claim that the line is being used to settle old scores.
Mr Schmeiser has been contacted by dozens of farmers throughout North
America who feel they are being "intimidated".
One of the other farmers facing massive fines for violating Monsanto's
patent on its "technology" is Edward Zielinski, a 63-year-old who farms
1,600 acres in Danora, Saskatchewan. He is facing a claim of $29,000 for
growing Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola without a licence.
Mr Zielinski, who has also had private detectives hired by Monsanto turn
up on his farm, is adamant that he did not know that some canola seed he
traded with another farmer for wheat was engineered by Monsanto.
Documents seen by The Independent on Sunday also show that Monsanto wants
Mr Zielinski to allow employees to walk on to his land to take samples
for three years and to sign a gagging clause about the "terms and
conditions" of the settlement agreement. But the agreement also gives
Monsanto "the right to disclose the facts and settlement terms associated
with the Investigation and this Settlement Agreement".
The Canadian High Commission in London said that Canada's politicians
were monitoring the case closely and were aware of concerns by farmers.
UK environmental groups fear that Monsanto may try to import its American
policies, including the use of private detectives and tip-off lines, to
Britain. "Monsanto's thuggish tactics are now becoming apparent
everywhere from Canada to the US and New Zealand," said Charles Secrett,
director of Friends of the Earth.
A spokesman for Monsanto Canada defended the pursuit of farmers, the
tip-off line and the investigations as a "deterrent". He said the private
investigators were instructed to be polite and behave in a civil manner.
"In Canada last year we audited 230 growers. Ninety per cent of growers
who we audited felt it was in a professional manner," said Craig Evans,
general manager of Biotechnology and Seed, Monsanto Canada. "I don't want
to say that there isn't the odd guy who gets over-zealous, but our intent
is not to intimidate or bully people. Our intent is not to take people to
court. What we are trying to do is create a deterrent so that people
understand that we are serious."
-| Hartmut Meyer
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax : #49-551-7701672
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