Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 26, 2004
Farmer takes battle to Supreme Court
Court ruling expected in spring
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser says he is relieved his five-year legal battle with chemical giant Monsanto - which he describes as a classic David and Goliath struggle - is finally over.
"I would often wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what kind of stress I put on my wife and my family," he told reporters outside the Supreme Court of Canada Jan. 20. "And it wasn't easy travelling all over the world to bring this message."
Schmeiser, a Catholic farmer from Bruno, Sask., has travelled throughout the world drumming up support for his challenge of past court rulings that held him liable for more than $170,000 in damages and legal costs.
The Federal Court of Appeal judged in 2001 that Schmeiser had infringed on the biotechnology company's patent rights when its genetically engineered canola was found on his farm in 1998.
Schmeiser claimed the seeds must have blown onto his fields from passing trucks or neighbouring fields. Monsanto argued successfully that Schmeiser violated its patent protection by using seed from its Roundup Ready canola - designed to be herbicide resistant - without paying for it.
The appeal court upheld a Federal Court Trial Division ruling that Monsanto's patent rights had been violated and ordered him to pay $19,000 in damages and $153,000 in court costs.
Schmeiser told reporters he and his wife spent almost half a century developing their own canola suitable for conditions in central Saskatchewan but it was contaminated by Monsanto's seeds. "We no longer have pure canola seed left. It's all contaminated by GMOs (genetically modified organisms)," he said.
"No one should have the right to introduce something into the environment that destroys the property of others."
Schmeiser's supporters, including the National Farmers Union and the Sierra Club of Canada, say as it stands responsibility for dealing with "environmental contamination" is being shouldered by the public as opposed to the polluter.
"Innocent third parties are considered responsible for unwanted intruders containing Monsanto's patented gene," said Andrea Peart of the Sierra Club of Canada. That's not fair."
Schmeiser says another issue in the case has to do with the patenting of higher life forms.
He notes that in 2001 the Supreme Court ruled that a genetically engineered mouse developed by Harvard University to make it more susceptible to cancer couldn't be patented in Canada as a new life form.
Canadian churches, including the Catholic Church, applauded the ruling.
"Who can patent life, and who owns life - whether it's seeds, plants, animals and so on?" asks Schmeiser.
The Supreme Court is not expected to make a ruling case until spring.