GENTECH archive


Monsanto charges Sask. farmer for growing patented seeds

WESTERN PRODUCER: Saskatoon newsroom

Sask. farmer says charge bees and wind, not him

By Ed White and Rodney Desnomie

Percy Schmeiser says he's innocent and wants his name cleared.

And if he ends up facing Monsanto in court, he's going to be putting the
company's genetically altered crops on trial. 

"It's in the ditches and the roadsides; it's in the shelterbelts; it's in
the gardens; it's all over," said Schmeiser. 

Monsanto is suing the Bruno, Sask., farmer for allegedly growing Roundup
Ready canola without a licence. 

The company claims Schmeiser bought the seed from one or more local
growers and planted it in 1997. He then grew a crop, keeping some of it
for seed for the 1998 crop year, Monsanto claims. 

No court date has been set. 

Monsanto has patented the genetic modification that makes canola plants
resistant to glyphosate. Seed companies under contract to Monsanto produce
the seed, which is sold through farm supply businesses. To grow the seed,
farmers must sign a contract with Monsanto agreeing to sell all their
crop, with none retained to seed future crops. 

Schmeiser said he did not plant any of Monsanto's seed, and if
glyphosate-tolerant canola plants grew in his fields this summer, it
occurred through pollination from other fields or from seed scattered by
machinery and from trucks traveling the roads that run beside his land. 

Possible explanation

Schmeiser said his land is surrounded by other canola growers, and pollen
could have drifted into his fields on the wind. His land also lies beside
busy truck routes that lead to grain elevators. 

Schmeiser spoke to reporters at his lawyer's office in downtown Saskatoon,
saying he wants to clear his name of Monsanto's charges. 

"It's very upsetting to me to all of a sudden see your name in the paper
-- that you maybe stole the seed," said Schmeiser. 

He said he first noticed glyphosate-tolerant canola plants in his fields
18 months ago, when he sprayed chemical to control weeds around the power
poles in his fields. Some canola plants were unharmed by the spray. 

Pea crop planned

This past spring Schmeiser said he used a glyphosate pre-seeding burnoff
on a field that had grown canola the year before and on which he planned
to grow peas. 

But so many volunteer canola plants survived that he decided he couldn't
afford to grow the peas there, and planted canola instead. 

"We're just touching the tip of the iceberg in polluted fields,
contamination of fields by this Roundup genetic canola," said Schmeiser. 

"It just opens up a vast area of uncertainty." 

His first inkling of trouble came in a phone call from a Humboldt Monsanto
representative. The man told him the company had received a tip that
Schmeiser was growing seed covered by Monsanto's patent on the altered
genes, and that the company wanted to take samples of his crop. 

Schmeiser refused to allow the company to take samples, but with a court
order Monsanto collected some of Schmeiser's crop. 

Monsanto's statement of claim asks for an injunction preventing Schmeiser
from using or selling any seed that breaks its patent protection. It wants
his canola crop seized, and asks for general, punitive and exemplary
damages, as well as legal costs. 

Schmeiser's statement of defence said he never received any
patent-protected canola seed and never deliberately planted any. 

It also challenges the validity of the Monsanto patent, arguing it is
improper to patent a life form and is an attempt to entrap farmers with
"nuisance patent infringement claims." 

Schmeiser said he is upset by the lawsuit, but will not change his farming
practices because of it. 

"I plan to do exactly what I was doing this year, next year."