GMO Monsanto Schmeiser's Story
Before 1998, Schmeiser "had nothing to do with Monsanto. I never bought their seed, had never gone to a Monsanto meeting. I didn’t even know a Monsanto rep.
"A lawsuit came in the mail unexpectedly in August of 1998...from Monsanto; it said that I had infringed on their patent by growing Monsanto’s GMO canola. Believe me, back in 1998, a lot of us didn’t even know there was a patent on canola or on seeds. We didn’t even really know what GMOs really were." Monsanto allegedly claimed to have found GMO canola in the ditch alongside Schmeiser’s fields.
"It didn’t take me long," Schmeiser continued," to find out that the seeds and plants that we had developed over 50 years...were now possibly contaminated with Monsanto’s GMOs... So we stood up to Monsanto. We said, ‘If you have any of your GMOs in our pure canola seed after 50 years of research, you should be liable, and a lawsuit should be launched against you.’"
Because patent laws come under federal jurisdiction in the U.S. and Canada, "my trial had to be held in the Federal Court of Canada; I didn’t have a choice." He had one judge and no jury. "How often, later, my wife and I wished that we could have had a judge and jury with farmers on it that knew and understood about farming, cross pollination, direct seed movement."
Monsanto "did everything to try to discredit me, which is a typical way of corporations when you fight them in court. In the two years of pretrial, they stated that there was absolutely no record I had ever bought their seed, but they said it didn’t matter how it got there, I infringed on their patent." The Court, after 2 1/2 weeks of trial, ruled that it does not matter how Monsanto’s GMOs get into a farmer’s field--through cross pollination, direct seed movement by wind, by birds, by farmers hauling grains, by floods or storms: "If it happens to get into your crop, your seeds and plants; you no longer own your seeds and plants," said Schmeiser. "It all becomes Monsanto’s property, whether 1% or 50% contaminated. That was a startling, startling decision... it basically takes farmers’ rights away."
The judge also ruled that Schmeiser and his wife were not allowed to use their seeds or plants again; and that all profit from their 1998, 1,030-acre canola crop would go to Monsanto--even from land that was tested and had no contamination. "He said we were seed savers so there was a probability there could be some of Monsanto’s GMOs also in those fields."
The Schmeisers hoped their case would address infringement; whether living organisms (seeds, plants, genes, human organisms) can be owned and protected by corporate patents on intellectual property; whether GMO traits can invade noxious weeds that then become resistant to weed killers ("superweeds"-- this has happened on the prairies of Canada); whether a farmer’s right to grow conventional or organic crops can be protected; whether farmers can keep the ancient right to save their own seed; and whether corporations can own life.
Interestingly, Agriculture Canada appeared in court on behalf of Monsanto, as did the Canadian Seed Growers Association; however, Ontario’s Department of Health "came on my behalf in regard to breast cancer," said Schmeiser. "In breast cancer treatment...two genes [are] already patented by a company based in Salt Lake City. Before that breast cancer treatment can be used, they have to pay a royalty to that company... Further, if any government... researcher... or university wants to further that development, they can’t do it unless they get permission or pay a royalty to this company... Or if they want to analyze results of that treatment, they can’t do it unless [they get permission]." The Ontario government said that patenting genes would increase health care costs at least four-fold.
In May 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that Schmeiser and his wife did not have "to pay Monsanto one red cent," said Schmeiser. The Court concluded that Schmeiser had not made any more profits from the GMO-contaminated plants than from his conventional crop. In fact, in the Schmeisers’ case, "we lost research and development." Schmeiser added that organic farmers would lose because if their crop is contaminated, they can no longer sell it as organic. Schmeiser wished "that the Court would have ruled that Monsanto also had to pay our court costs up to that time. But the Supreme Court ruled that Monsanto had to pay their costs; they don’t get anything from me; and I have to pay my own court costs, which by that time may have reached about $400,000 (Canadian)."
Regarding patenting of life forms, a couple of years ago, Harvard University "came to Canada and wanted to patent a mouse. They had put a gene in the mouse that made it suitable for cancer research, and they stated that by putting this gene into the mouse, they had invented the mouse. It went all the way to the Supreme Court," which ruled that in Canada, a higher life form cannot be patented. Since Schmeiser believes that a seed or plant is a higher life form, "we thought we had a good case...
"But the Supreme Court of Canada did a complete flip flop...They said if you have a patent on a gene, the patent is valid." Schmeiser interprets the Court’s decision as meaning that "if the gene gets into any higher life form, including a seed or plant, they Monsanto own and control that life form. Think about that: A higher life form goes all the way to a human being. So by getting the gene by whatever means into any higher life form, Monsanto owns and controls it.
"Now you may think that’s a major victory for Monsanto, but it was not...because if they own and control it, then they are also responsible for the liability of the damage it does. The liability follows the flow of the gene. As a result, the organic farmers of Saskatchewan have now launched a class action lawsuit against Monsanto on the liability issue, because organic farmers no longer can raise canola in Canada. All our seed supply of canola and soybeans is now contaminated with GMOs, so their choice is taken away."
Schmeiser decided, after consulting with his lawyers, not to pursue his lawsuit for commercial damages to his seed business, to avoid the expense of years of further battles against Monsanto. He intends, however, to support Saskatchewan organic farmers in their class action lawsuit against Monsanto for contamination and consequent loss of certification.
"But having said that," Schmeiser continued, "my wife has laid a lawsuit against Monsanto for contamination, and we were able to get it under Small Debts Court," scheduled for March 2005. Two years ago, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola infested the Schmeisers’ shelterbelt after a neighbor planted it. Plants came up on the edge of Schmeiser’s wife’s organic acreage as well. "Monsanto had said at the trial...If a farmer notices he’s got any Roundup Ready plants, it is their gene, and they will come and pluck it out, no trouble. So my wife contacts Monsanto two or three times to give them so many days to come and remove the plants. They didn’t come. So she got a university student to pull them out... the price for removal came to $140. She sent the bill to Monsanto; Monsanto ignored it. So in July of this year, she sent the bill again to Monsanto and got a "nasty" letter in return from a Monsanto lawyer saying that if she sends any more bills, the company will take action against her.
"She got angry then. So she writes to Small Claims Court, and about a month ago she got a notice from the judge who said she would hear the case. So the judge issued the lawsuit to Monsanto, and I guess they didn’t realize when they got this registered letter who it was from. They signed for it and [thus] accepted the lawsuit... I’m going to be her legal counsel, seeking $140 from a multibillion-dollar corporation.
Audience member Mitch Lansky stated that if the concept of genetic trespass existed, Monsanto would be put out of business. Sharon Tisher, a lawyer, stated, "I think it’s perfectly right to use the concept of genetic trespass. Trespass originally meant something big and obvious walked onto your land. But there are court decisions that say trespass can refer to chemicals, things that you can’t see, as long as you can show substantial damages." Schmeiser noted that farmers in Canada couldn’t get insurance to cover genetic drift.
Contracts and Farmers’ Rights
Schmeiser produced a contract that Monsanto gets farmers to sign, calling it "one of the most repulsive contracts on the face of the earth." It states that a farmer cannot use his own seed; must always buy seed from Monsanto; can use only chemicals from Monsanto; must pay Monsanto a $15/acre technology or license fee each year on every acre; if a farmer violates the contract and is fined hundreds or even $1000/acre and must destroy the crop, the farmer cannot tell the press or neighbors about Monsanto’s actions. Also, farmers must allow Monsanto’s police force on their land for three years after signing the contract for one year’s crop growth. "They can ask for your account records, tax records, your farming records, your crop insurance records to see if you’re cheating or not.
A clause in the 2004 contract states that a farmer cannot sue Monsanto. "So they have total suppression of farmers’ rights and freedom of speech," said Schmeiser. "How does Monsanto police that contract? In Canada they hire former RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police); in the U.S. they hire Pinkerton Investigative Service."
Schmeiser showed an ad that Monsanto had run in local papers, asking people to inform on neighbors who might be growing Monsanto’s GMO crops without a license. In return, the informer would get a free leather jacket. "Believe me, there’s not many farmers wearing Monsanto’s leather jackets on the prairies of the Northern Plains," Schmeiser asserted.
When Monsanto does not know a farmer’s location but has a mailing address, Schmeiser said the company sends "extortion letters" stating that the company believes that the farmer may be growing Monsanto’s GMO crops, estimating the farmer’s acreage of the crop, and telling the farmer to send $200,000 or $100,000 or $50,000 by a certain date and Monsanto may or may not take the farmer to court. "We don’t know how many thousands of these have been sent to farmers in North America," said Schmeiser. "Can you imagine the fear in a farm family when they get a letter from a multibillion dollar corporation saying, ‘Send us $100,000 by a certain date because we think you might be growing’" its crop. Thus Monsanto establishes a culture of fear among farmers.
One farmer who testified on behalf of Schmeiser at his trial said that Monsanto came after him with a letter stating that he supposedly had seeded Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola on 140 acres. But that 140 acres was uncultivated tree or brush land. The letters are "just a means of harassment and intimidation."
When Monsanto hears that a farmer might be growing its GMO crop, it sends out the ‘gene police,’ said Schmeiser. "They’ll say, ‘We’re ex-RCMP police.’ A lot of times the farmer doesn’t hear the ‘ex.’ They only hear the word ‘police’ and say, ‘Oh my God, what have I done wrong?’ They’ll continue, ‘We have this tip or rumor you’re growing Monsanto’s GMO canola.’ And a farmer will say, ‘No, I don’t grow GMOs, I don’t want them.’ And they’ll say to a farmer, ‘You’re lying, and if you don’t confess, we’ll get you and we’ll drag you through the court system.’" When the gene police leave, the farmer and his wife wonder who informed on them, creating a culture of fear and a breakdown of the rural social fabric.
If Monsanto can’t find a farmer at home and doesn’t know his mailing address but does know his land location, "they will then use a plane or small helicopter, and they’ll ‘spray bomb’ the farmer’s canola field, normally in the center, with Roundup. It will cover about 30’ across. Then they’ll come back after about 12 days, after Roundup has had time to activate, and look to see what has happened. If the farmer’s canola field, where they hit it with the Roundup spray bomb, has died, then they know that the farmer wasn’t using Monsanto’s GMO canola. If it hasn’t died, they know the farmer’s using Monsanto’s GMO canola."
The Schmeisers suffered significant stress due to Monsanto’s actions. "They would watch us when we worked in our fields. They would park on the edge of the field or along the road and watch us for days at a time. They would come into our driveway, and somehow they would seem to know when my wife was home alone, and they would park in the driveway for hours. When she’d come out of the house, they would take off.
"And the phone calls she took: ‘you better watch it. They’re going to get you.’"
When Schmeiser and a Monsanto rep spoke in Johannesburg, the rep claimed that GMO crops would not cross-pollinate or spread by direct seed movement, and "the African Congress laughed at him," said Schmeiser. Leaving the legislature, the rep "shook his fist in my face and said, ‘Nobody stands up to Monsanto! We’re going to get you and we’re going to destroy you, and when you get back to Canada, you’re going to be in bigger trouble!’ I thought, oh my God, what bigger trouble could I be in? When I got back to Canada, sure enough they laid another lawsuit against me for a million dollars for their court costs, because they said I was arrogant, I was stubborn, I wouldn’t do what Monsanto wanted. So back to court again for another year. What did the judge award Monsanto? $153,000 against me for their court costs--which I didn’t have to pay after the Supreme Court ruling."
About a year ago, Monsanto tried to seize the Schmeisers’ house and farmland so that they couldn’t borrow more money to fight the corporation. (The Schmeisers had borrowed against their property and used their retirement funds previously.) The Supreme Court ruled against this seizure.
When farmers catch Monsanto’s police in their fields and say they’re trespassing or stealing, the police "stand and laugh...and say, ‘Bring a charge against us. Take us to court. We’ll guarantee you that we’ll drag you through the court system and you won’t have a farm left.’"
"When farmers hear what it’s cost me, close to $400,000, they just give up and give in," said Schmeiser. He added that Monsanto pays informants $150, or takes them to Miami for a vacation.
Pollen Flow Cannot Be Contained
How far will pollen flow asked Schmeiser. "Scientists from Monsanto said at my trial: 3 meters, roughly 10 feet. A study by the University of Manitoba released about a year ago showed that wheat pollen will stay airborne at least an hour." Canola, a light pollen, will stay airborne at least three hours, said Schmeiser. "Using 20 mph wind, how far will it blow? There is no such thing as a safe distance."
Direct Seed Movement
Farmers may transport seed many miles to granaries, and some always spills from the truck. "If I look back to ‘98, when my fields were contaminated...it was basically from direct seed movement, because my neighbors had grown it and were hauling it past my land, and one neighbor had grown it right next to me with not even a fence line in between.
"There is no such thing as coexistence," Schmeiser maintains. "You could wake up tomorrow morning, like my wife and I did, and find that 50 years of research is now contaminated. You could not use your own seeds or plants. Basically this is what the corporations want: to contaminate and eventually take farmers’ choice away. This was really brought home to me in two different ways: One of the farm newspapers about a year ago had a quote in it by Dale Adolph, head of the Canadian Seed Growers Association: ‘There is so much opposition now in the world to any further introduction of GMOs that the only way that we can further the introduction is to contaminate. It’s a hell of a thing to say, but the way we do this is take people’s choice away.’"
Schmeiser is especially worried about "pharma plants." He says, "They want to introduce GMO rice, especially in California, for the production of drugs." Being produced experimentally in plants now, primarily in sunflowers, in open field trials (more than 300 plots in the U.S. and Canada last year) are vaccines, industrial enzymes, blood thinners, blood clotting proteins, growth hormones and contraceptives. University researchers have cited potential problems with these crops, if commercialized: What if a person has a major operation and eats a food laced with a blood thinner? If a pregnant woman eats a food laced with a contraceptive?
"Plastics are being made by corn," claimed Schmeiser. "One of the scientists told me, ‘You’re better off now if you buy a box of corn flakes and throw away the corn flakes and eat the box.’"
Scientists worldwide have told Schmeiser that they don’t know if a new life form can be recalled from the environment, especially if GMO crops pollinate wild relatives.
Why Did Farmers Buy GMO Seeds?
In 1996, farmers were told that GMO crops would produce greater yields of more nutritious crops using fewer chemicals, said Schmeiser. Monsanto would take farmers on fishing trips or to the best restaurants, buying liquor and food. "A lot of farmers never read the back side of the contract...or a farmer goes to a meeting, says ‘no,’ a couple of weeks later says ‘ok,’ Monsanto faxes the application: the contract on the back side doesn’t come through.
"I think the issue of less chemicals is what really caught the farmers’ ear. Besides the damage [chemicals] are doing to the environment and human health, it’s also costly." However, within two years of their cultivation, three GMO canola varieties had cross-pollinated, making a superweed "which now takes at least three...chemicals to control it. And it has spread all over Western Canada...requiring new, massive uses of chemicals." The province of Saskatchewan has the highest rates of breast and prostate cancers in Canada--and uses one-third of the pesticides applied in the country. "With the introduction of GMOs, it’s meant a massive increase in the use of chemicals." Schmeiser says that Monsanto claims to have a super chemical to kill the superweed.
The yield promise was hollow. "Yields now are down about 6% with GMOs. Soybean yields are down about 15%, and that’s even confirmed by the USDA." Quality has also suffered, and Schmeiser claims that chemical use has tripled.
"They also said we’d now have sustainable agriculture, be able to feed a hungry world. If anything is going to lead to more starvation and hunger in the world, it’s the introduction of GMOs."
Regarding economics, "We can’t sell 1 bushel of canola to the EU, so we’ve lost that whole market--one-third of our sales... We can’t sell honey to Europe any more, because our honey is now contaminated with GMOs... It just goes on and on."
Schmeiser is concerned about genes that accompany the target gene in GMOs, such as bacterial and viral genes that were never in our food before. The marker gene in canola is an antibiotic resistance gene, for instance. "In the pollination stage, you breathe that pollen in," possibly contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans.
Schmeiser does not want to "leave a legacy of land and food and water and soil and air full of poisons" to his five children and 15 grandchildren, or to anyone else. "That’s one of the reasons I’m here today to give you this message. I’ve come from 50 years of chemical use, and I’ve seen the damage it has done.
"My wife is 73. I’m 74. We don’t know how many good years of health we’ve got left. But by God, the good years we’ve got left, we gave a commitment that we’d always go down fighting for the rights of farmers all over the world to always use their own seed." He believes that the battle will end up in the Parliament of Canada, "where the rights of farmers will always be maintained to use your own seed." Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union in Canada is urging that farmers boycott Monsanto’s products.
When asked if he has been able to debate Monsanto, Schmeiser said that an open invitation exists from him and from CBC Television to Monsanto to debate, but the company won’t accept.
To learn more about Schmeiser’s case and to contribute to his legal defense fund, visit percyschmeiser.com.