Percy Schmeiser: the man that took on Monsanto
1st May, 2004
For 40 years Percy Schmeiser grew oilseed rape on his farm in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Usually, he would sow each year’s crop with seeds saved from the previous harvest. In 1998 Monsanto took Schmeiser to court.
Investigators employed by the company had found samples of its GM oilseed rape among Schmeiser’s stock. Monsanto’s lawsuit alleged that the farmer had infringed on the firm’s patent. It even stated that Schmeiser had obtained Monsanto seeds illegally, going so far as to suggest that he might have stolen them from a seed house.
The corporation later admitted that Schmeiser had not obtained the seeds illegally, but said that wasn’t important. What did matter, Monsanto argued, was that it had found some of its canola plants in the ditch along Schmeiser’s field (note that the plants were not found in Schmeiser’s fields); that meant that the farmer had violated the firm’s patent.
The judge agreed with Monsanto, ruling that ‘the source of [GM] oilseed rape… is not really significant for the issue of infringement’. In other words, it was irrelevant how the patented canola plants got on Schmeiser’s land. It could have happened as a result of cross-pollination or by seed movement caused by wind. (The latter is the biggest cause of contamination involving GM crops, and the farm next to Schmeiser’s did grow Monsanto’s crop.) The judge...
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