‘Little guy’ not afraid of big company
Percy Schmeiser’s livelihood is a family farm in peril.
Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer of hundreds of acres of wheat and rapeseed, the chief ingredient in canola oil, is caught in a patent-infringement lawsuit against a multinational agricultural manufacturer that claims Schmeiser illegally obtained the corporation’s genetically engineered canola products, using them for his own personal gain.
It is a saga that dates back to 1998, and his court battle against the Monsanto company will come before Canada’s highest court sometime this year.
The case has garnered quite a bit of international attention. In fact, Web surfers who search for “Monsanto” on the Google.com search engine will find Schmeiser’s Web site one of the top hits.
At stake, Schmeiser said, is the ability of farmers in Canada – and potentially the United States, where a similar situation is unfolding on a family farm in North Dakota – to advance their crops and develop new seeds and crops on their own, without interference from large companies using genetically altered seeds.
If Monsanto wins in court, “it would stop the development of new crops,” Schmeiser said. It would force farmers who grow rapeseed to compensate Monsanto to use the genetics in rapeseed if new varieties were to be developed, he said.
Schmeiser, 73, is scheduled to speak tonight at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center about his battle to produce new products freely without entering into legal battles.
Schmeiser’s battle began by accident, he said, when Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agriculture products company, discovered some of Schmeiser’s canola seeds were identical to the genetically altered ones used and patented by Monsanto.
The company sued for patent infringement and ordered Schmeiser to pay a licensing fee for growing seeds using their patent.
Schmeiser maintains the canola seeds were altered by nature, which led to the suit being dropped. Still, a Canadian judge ruled in 2001 that all the profits from his 1998 plant crop belonged to Monsanto because of the contamination.
In short, Schmeiser said, “Monsanto got 50 years of my research, for free.”
A subsequent appeal was upheld, leading to the Canada Supreme Court, which is due to issue a ruling sometime this year.
Schmeiser has since disavowed the use of genetically altered agricultural products, largely because of his own battles.
Genetically altered products, he said, offer smaller yields and poorer quality and are unproven, to date.
“They simply have not turned out to what (producers) have said they would be.”
Schmeiser’s Web site – http://www.percyschmeiser.com – details his plight, which has cost him nearly everything but the farm, which he still owns.
His lectures help support the legal battle, and money has come from all edges of the globe.
“The only continent I haven’t gotten aid from is Antarctica,” he joked. “I haven’t asked the penguins for anything.”
KNOW AND GO
WHAT: “Agri-Business vs. Farmers’ Rights” speech by farmer Percy Schmeiser
WHEN: 8 p.m. today. Guitarist Saul Rayo opens at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: St Joseph’s Cultural Center, 410 S Church St., Grass Valley
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