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Theft of Life: A story of the struggle against Monsanto and the corporate takeover of our genetic inheritance

By Percy Schmeiser  Posted by Linn Cohen-Cole (about the submitter)     Permalink
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I am a seed developer from western Canada, where since 1947 my wife and I have been developing a strain of canola that is resistant to certain diseases that we have on the prairies.  I am also a seed saver, like hundred of thousands of farmers around the world who save their seed from year to year, to plant and harvest.

I was also the mayor of my community for over twenty five years.

In 1998 without any prior knowledge, Monsanto laid a lawsuit against me alleging that I had infringed their patent by growing their genetically modified conola without a license.  It was a real shock to me, as we had never had anything to do with Monsanto. 

But the real issue that concerned us was the possibility  that our pure seed, which we had developed after half a century of research would now be contaminated.  We stood up to Monsanto, arguing that if any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were present in our pure seed, then Monsanto were liable for destroying the property of others.

It took two years for this case to go to trial at the Federal court of Canada, with one judge, but no jury, and I  had no choice in the matter.  In the two years of allegations Monsanto withdrew all allegations that I had obtained their seed illegally, but because they had found some GMO  canola plants in the ditch along my field, I had infringed their patent.  That is the basis on which the case went to the Federal Court of Canada.

This is what the judge ruled: it does not matter how Monsanto’s GMOs get into or onto any farmer’s field or into a seed supply (He went on to specify how this could happen: direct seed movement by birds, by wind, especially on the prairies, by floods, and through cross-pollination by bees).  It doesn’t actually matter how the genetically modified organisms get into an organic farmer’s field or into the fields of a conventional farmer like myself: once there, those seeds and plants become Monsanto’s property.”

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It was a very startling decision. The judge also ruled that we were not allowed to use our seeds or plants again and that all the seeds and plants that we had developed over 50 years became the property of Monsanto.  The judge also ruled that all the profit from my 1998 canola crop was payable to Monsanto.  The judge further ruled that even from the land that had no contamination, all profit would be payable to Monsanto because there was a probability that our seed contained some of Monsanto’s GMOs.

We immediately applied to the Federal court of Appeal which has three judges but no jury.  After  a year theAppeal Court upheld the first judge’s decision, but did not agree with all his decisions. After this second ruling in 2002, we appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.  The case began in January 2004.

There were many issues to be decided,  including the whole issue of patenting life forms.  At the original trial, Monsanto said that by putting a gene into a seed, they invented the seed. When the seed becomes a plant, they invented the plant.  Now if you look at the implications of that:  if you put one gene in any seed, or any plant, or any life form, whether it be a bird, an animal, or a fish or a human being – does that say the corporation responsible has invented that life form?  

It is an important issue not only of the rights of farmers being able to use their seed from year to year but the whole rights of controlling  and owning genes – the controlling and owning of human beings, animals, birds, bees and so on.

 In December 2002 the Supreme Court ruled on one very important issue: in Canada you cannot patent a higher life form, including a seed or a plant.

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The really worrying thing is how we can lose our rights and freedoms.  The contract from Monsanto, takes all farmers’ rights away.  Here is a paraphrase of a few clauses.

“You cannot use your own seed.

You must always buy your seed each year.

You can only use Monsanto’s chemicals.

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