Canadian Farmer On Global Crusade Against GM Seeds
Date: Saturday, February 10 2007
Published on Friday, February 9, 2007 by Agence France Presse
by Penny MacRae
When Monsanto decided to take Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser to court for using its seeds, the US biotech giant didn't know it was creating a folk hero for the anti-GM crop movement.
Since losing a series of court battles with Monsanto, Schmeiser has been travelling the world on a crusade against genetically modified (GM) crops and patenting seeds, speaking to environment groups and public gatherings.
"I've always campaigned on the right of a farmer to save and use his own seed," Schmeiser told an anti-GM conference of environmentalists and farmers in the Indian capital this week.
GM crops have become a hot-button issue in India with some seeing it as key to boosting food output while others fear the long-term impact of such a step.
"No one should have the right to patent life, it's a mad science," said the 76-year-old Schmeiser.
Schmeiser's run-in with Monsanto began in 1998 when the company told him he had infringed a patent for a genetically modified strain of canola it found growing on his farm in Saskatchewan.
In the landmark "seed piracy" case which went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and drew global attention, he claimed the canola seeds were carried by the wind into his field.
In a narrow 5-4 decision in 2004, the court gave no opinion on how the seeds got onto his land. But it did rule Schmeiser knew what the seeds were when he saved some from his harvest and planted a bigger crop the next year.
He had insisted he did not know the seeds were those Monsanto had patented.
The former mayor of the small Saskatchewan town of Bruno maintains he had the right to plant the seeds as "farmers down through history" have had the right to plant their own seeds.
The judges decided if the plant contained a patented gene, the patent-holder had rights over the use of the plant. It was the first time a top court of any nation had ruled on patent issues involving seed genes.
Monsanto, which says it must strictly police its "no replant" policy to recoup huge sums spent developing seeds and to provide ever more productive ones, hailed the ruling.
It said it set a "world standard in intellectual property protection."
Despite the loss, Schmeiser has not given up fighting against GM crops and seed patents.
Schmeiser, whose travel bills are often paid by groups opposed to bio-engineering, says he plans on being a thorn in the GM industry's side as long as he is physically able.
The farmer is off to Japan next month to attend a Greenpeace event.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on February 12, 2007]