2-Plants: News about the Monsanto-Schmeiser case in Canada
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-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------
TITLE: Monsanto Investigators Accused of Trespassing
SOURCE: Washington Post, by Rick Weiss
DATE: May 2, 1999
----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------
Monsanto Investigators Accused of Trespassing
Private investigators working for Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agricultural company, trespassed on a Canadian farmer's property and surreptitiously obtained samples of his harvested seeds from a local mill to gather evidence for a lawsuit against him, according to newly released court documents and interviews with company officials and others. The revelations have reignited a bitter controversy over Monsanto's ongoing pursuit of farmers who have allegedly saved and replanted the company's high-tech, genetically engineered seeds after harvest. Monsanto has a policy of precluding growers from saving seeds from those crops, demanding instead that they buy fresh seed every year.
The farmer, Percy Schmeiser of Bruno, Saskatchewan, is one of hundreds of growers that Monsanto has tracked down in the United States and Canada during the past year for allegedly violating the company's ban on saving the patented seeds. But while the vast majority of farmers approached by Monsanto have paid fines and agreed to allow the company to inspect their fields for years to come, Schmeiser last year became something of a folk hero in Canada by fighting back against the multinational giant. He has gained the support of environmental groups and others around the world who oppose corporate restrictions on seed saving, which many subsistence farmers depend upon for survival. Monsanto claims that Schmeiser knowingly grew, harvested and replanted seeds of the company's genetically enhanced "Roundup Ready" canola. The variety is tolerant to Roundup, Monsanto's popular weedkiller, allowing farmers to spray the herbicide freely without worrying about harming the crop itself. Sc!
hmeiser has claimed that if any Roundup Ready canola was growing on his land, it was the result of cross pollination from neighbors' fields or from seeds blowing off other trucks after the previous year's harvest.
Monsanto's case is based largely upon DNA tests conducted on plants from Schmeiser's fields in 1998. According to the company, those tests prove that fully 900 acres were planted with Roundup Ready canola -- far more than could be expected from windblown contamination. The company gathered the plant samples after obtaining a court order granting permission to go onto Schmeiser's land. But court documents filed April 22 by Schmeiser's lawyer, Terry Zakreski of Saskatoon, make public for the first time some of the questionable evidence-gathering tactics used by Monsanto before it was granted that court order. In testimony filed with the Federal Court of Canada -- part of Zakreski's motion to dismiss the case -- a Monsanto representative reports that private investigators hired by the company in 1997 trespassed on Schmeiser's property to snip plant samples for DNA testing.
Moreover, according to the documents and interviews, a Monsanto representative approached an employee of the Humboldt Flour Mill, where Schmeiser brought his harvested seeds for cleaning, and asked for a sample of his harvest for DNA testing. The mill's manager at the time, Gary Pappenpoot, complied after checking with his boss -- a decision, he said Friday, he now regrets. "Basically you've got trespassing and you've got theft," Schmeiser said. "As my wife said, if I went down to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis and trespassed or took a piece of paper out of that building I'm sure I'd end up in jail." Philip Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications, disputed the allegations against the company. Despite the sworn testimony, he said, it is still not completely clear that the investigators in 1997 actually crossed Schmeiser's property line. Even if they did, he said, trespassing is neither a criminal nor a civil offense in Saskatchewan -- a legal interpretatio!
n Zakreski disputes. Angell also said -- and Pappenpoot confirmed -- that the Humboldt mill routinely saved samples of farmers' seeds in case questions arose later about contamination or mix-ups.
Angell said Monsanto attorneys were now trying to determine whether those saved samples technically still belonged to Schmeiser or to the mill, which would then have the right to share them with anyone it chose to. In any case, Angell said, neither the disputed 1997 DNA test results nor the flour mill samples were used by the company to get its court order for the more extensive field testing it conducted in 1998. The company believes that those early tests would have been admissible in court, he said, but they did not meet the company's high ethical standards. Angell said Monsanto now has a written policy that precludes its hired investigators from trespassing to gather evidence.
-| Hartmut Meyer
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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