Monsanto Investigators Accused of Trespassing
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 1999; Page A26
Private investigators working for Monsanto, the St. Louis-based
agricultural company, trespassed on a Canadian farmer's property and
surreptitiously obtained samples of his harvested seeds from a local mill
to gather evidence for a lawsuit against him, according to newly released
court documents and interviews with company officials and others.
The revelations have reignited a bitter controversy over Monsanto's
ongoing pursuit of farmers who have allegedly saved and replanted the
company's high-tech, genetically engineered seeds after harvest. Monsanto
has a policy of precluding growers from saving seeds from those crops,
demanding instead that they buy fresh seed every year.
The farmer, Percy Schmeiser of Bruno, Saskatchewan, is one of hundreds of
growers that Monsanto has tracked down in the United States and Canada
during the past year for allegedly violating the company's ban on saving
the patented seeds.
But while the vast majority of farmers approached by Monsanto have paid
fines and agreed to allow the company to inspect their fields for years to
come, Schmeiser last year became something of a folk hero in Canada by
fighting back against the multinational giant. He has gained the support
of environmental groups and others around the world who oppose corporate
restrictions on seed saving, which many subsistence farmers depend upon
Monsanto claims that Schmeiser knowingly grew, harvested and replanted
seeds of the company's genetically enhanced "Roundup Ready" canola. The
variety is tolerant to Roundup, Monsanto's popular weedkiller, allowing
farmers to spray the herbicide freely without worrying about harming the
Schmeiser has claimed that if any Roundup Ready canola was growing on his
land, it was the result of cross pollination from neighbors' fields or
from seeds blowing off other trucks after the previous year's harvest.
Monsanto's case is based largely upon DNA tests conducted on plants from
Schmeiser's fields in 1998. According to the company, those tests prove
that fully 900 acres were planted with Roundup Ready canola -- far more
than could be expected from windblown contamination.
The company gathered the plant samples after obtaining a court order
granting permission to go onto Schmeiser's land. But court documents
filed April 22 by Schmeiser's lawyer, Terry Zakreski of Saskatoon, make
public for the first time some of the questionable evidence-gathering
tactics used by Monsanto before it was granted that court order.
In testimony filed with the Federal Court of Canada -- part of Zakreski's
motion to dismiss the case -- a Monsanto representative reports that
private investigators hired by the company in 1997 trespassed on
Schmeiser's property to snip plant samples for DNA testing.
Moreover, according to the documents and interviews, a Monsanto
representative approached an employee of the Humboldt Flour Mill, where
Schmeiser brought his harvested seeds for cleaning, and asked for a sample
of his harvest for DNA testing. The mill's manager at the time, Gary
Pappenpoot, complied after checking with his boss -- a decision, he said
Friday, he now regrets.
"Basically you've got trespassing and you've got theft," Schmeiser said.
"As my wife said, if I went down to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis
and trespassed or took a piece of paper out of that building I'm sure I'd
end up in jail."
Philip Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications, disputed
the allegations against the company. Despite the sworn testimony, he
said, it is still not completely clear that the investigators in 1997
actually crossed Schmeiser's property line. Even if they did, he said,
trespassing is neither a criminal nor a civil offense in Saskatchewan -- a
legal interpretation Zakreski disputes.
Angell also said -- and Pappenpoot confirmed -- that the Humboldt mill
routinely saved samples of farmers' seeds in case questions arose later
about contamination or mix-ups. Angell said Monsanto attorneys were now
trying to determine whether those saved samples technically still belonged
to Schmeiser or to the mill, which would then have the right to share them
with anyone it chose to.
In any case, Angell said, neither the disputed 1997 DNA test results nor
the flour mill samples were used by the company to get its court order for
the more extensive field testing it conducted in 1998. The company
believes that those early tests would have been admissible in court, he
said, but they did not meet the company's high ethical standards.
Angell said Monsanto now has a written policy that precludes its hired
investigators from trespassing to gather evidence.
C Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
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