Speaking in an overflowing auditorium October 21, Percy Schmeiser, a farmer
and Mayor of Bruno, Saskatchewan, had the attention and sympathies of 250
concerned citizens at the Harbour Towers Hotel in Victoria. Accompanied by
Lynn Hunter, ex-MP for the British Columbia New Democratic Party and
presently a fish aquaculture specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation, he
spoke to a hushed crowd of citizens brought together by C.A.S.E.S (the
Citizens Action to Save the Environment Society). CASES is the one of the
best known environmental groups in Victoria, headed by veteran activists
Derek and Gwen Mallard.
Mr. Schmeiser's talk was at most revealing, shocking, and anything but
comical as he described measures taken by Monsanto to bring legal action
against him for allegedly growing a genetically modified canola crop without
ever having purchased seed, nor signing a contract. A proud farmer of 40
years whose expertise grew out of life experience while picking up tips from
the customers/farmers who frequented his day job as a farm equipment dealer,
Percy was darned proud of his seed.
As he tells it, in 1948, Monsanto reps came out with DDT to control wild
mustard weed abundantly growing on the Prairies. The reps said that it would
kill all the weeds and that's the same line being used now. Monsanto adverts
suggest to "Spray 'Roundup' just before harvest" to sell more wheat, peas,
and barley. By spraying on low-lying areas and hills, Roundup causes the
field to evenly ripen, but also kills the germination of next year's crop.
This year, Percy had to buy new seed to replace his contaminated 1400
This fall, the Barley Grower's Association refused to buy barley sprayed
with Roundup. Over 1/2 the countries worldwide won't buy genetically
engineered Canola. Since the Canadian Government has allowed the growing of
these crops, Schmeiser asks, "Why should these (other) farmers be
penalized?" for the mistakes being made on neighbouring land.
And then there's the issue of the lawsuit. He states that not only did he
never attend a meeting for the purpose of purchasing seeds from Monsanto, he
never purchased seed, nor signed a contract (which would have occurred at
the time of purchase). He hasn't even spoken to any of their reps.
Since the big M could not bring forth a hard-copy contract as proof, they
have since abandoned the claim that Schmeiser signed a contract. What they
are saying, however, is that anyone caught with their seed in their crop is
guilty of infringing upon their patent. And this is how they're trying to
Monsanto advertizes that genetically altered canola can be sprayed. Mr.
Schmeiser says that while it may be cheaper the first year,
cross-pollination from the crop increases by 30% a year, meaning four to
five times as much pesticide is needed to control weeds on subsequent crops.
In the end, GE crops are no bargain for farmers, many of whom now fear for
their livelihood, and some, like Schmeiser, fear for their lives. (He takes
an armed guard with him while traveling in his truck.)
What takes place to encourage well-meaning farmers throughout North America
to consider planting such a environmentally questionable crop in the first
place? Farmers are first invited to a meeting attended by an array of
high-pressure salesmen. They are then told something along the lines of,
"We'll sell you the seed, you sign our contract, but you must sell the seed
back to us and buy it again next year." There is a $15 "technology charge"
to accompany the spiel, and for every year thereafter. After the farmer
succumbs to purchase, the farmer must sign a contract stating that Monsanto
has the right to tread upon their land for 3 years following to check on
whether or not their seed is growing. This is done to avoid infractions and
doesn't take into consideration occurances of cross-pollination. It should
also be mentioned that Monsanto has the right not only to its patented seed
technology, but legally owns the plants and profits from that crop. "It
doesn't matter how genetically modified seed got on anybody's land," say
Schmeiser, "...they say they have the gene. They have a patent on the gene.
Now, they're trying to come in the back door. They have complete control
over that plant, that seed. Monsanto says, 'It's ours...' We don't have
In Saskatchewan and Alberta, if chemical spray from a neighbouring crop
pollutes adjacent land, the farmer has the right to sue. But you can't sue
for genetic pollution from a genetically engineered crop.
What if a farmer is caught with patented seed? If the farmer has the unlucky
experience of getting caught, he or she is fined the dollar value of the
crop, plus has to sign a trade non-disclosure agreement regarding the
incident. Farmers are then told to keep quiet about the infraction.
But that deal works only one way: Monsanto's way. Having been caught with
his seeds in the soil, one innocent and unsuspecting farmer was caught
mixing leftover GM soybean seeds with next year's crop. Someone squealed on
him. It cost him his $37,000 crop. After signing the trade non-disclosure
agreement and being told to keep it quiet, he was more than a little
surprised to hear his name mentioned two days later in a Monsanto radio ad
threatening other farmers. The company had broadcast news of the infraction
for the world to hear, although he was legally bound to keep his mouth shut.
At this point, the farmer's hands are tied, but Monsanto can very publically
say what they like about him.
How are these rogue farmers caught, you ask? For a time there, Monsanto had
a 1-800 number in place to take calls from neighbouring farmers. Since an
uproar occurred about that, they have since changed to encouraging farmers
attending prospect meetings to tell on their neighbours, instead. In
exchange for their telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth on
their acquaintances, neighbours, and friends, Monsanto has sweetened the pot
with a shiny, new, black-leather jacket. The line that accompanies the ploy
goes something like, "he hasn't paid his $15 technology fee, so, you see,
we're not playing on a level playing field..." Upon exchange of the info,
the reward is handed out.
How do others get caught? Monsanto is said to have sent investigators onto
farmers' land (without their knowledge or consent) to take a sample of the
crop. One woman was surprised to see investigators at her door claiming she
had stolen Monsanto's genetically altered canola seed. They desired to take
a sample from her land. After being ordered off her property, a large
flying entity is said to have come back a week later in the form of a
helicotopter tanker distributing genetically polluted seed on her land. She
didn't speak out.
What of cross-pollination? Mr. Schmeiser calls GE seeds genetic pollution
and weeds that destroy other crops. "GE crops are a major, major weed we
will never get rid of..." he says, "How do we get rid of it? How will we get
rid of it?"
When Monsanto allows rightful use of their seed by farmers, their tactics
seem anything but fair. In 1996-97, the canola really flew when Roundup
Ready Canola that contained a rogue seed was sown on 65,000 acres of land.
Although a massive recall took place, some farmers had already seeded. A
dangerous gene can get out, but did it? Monsanto found out that one farmer
had 1000's of bushels of this seed still in his possession, although a good
amount had already been sown. They refuse to reveal what type of gene it
contained, or why they were so concerned. "They've been very secretive about
And now for the kicker. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has had its
funding dollars cut so they don't have the necessary resources to test GE
seeds, or their potential affect on natural crops. Their decisions are being
based solely upon data provided by the company.
If having chemically polluted food placed in your mouth against your will is
not enough, ponder this: Says Schmeiser, "They want control of the seed
supply...they get control of the food supply...you got control of the
country." Now, Monsanto is moving into water. It's time we told our
politicians that enough is enough and spoke out with our own financial
voice. God knows they don't need any more of our dollars.
You may support Percy Schmeiser's continuing battle against Monsanto by
helping his legal defence. Please send your cheques and money orders to
help with Percy's fight. Taking on a giant can get _tremendously_
expensive. A trust has been established at "Fight Genetically Altered Food
Fund Inc." CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce), 603 Main St. Humboldt
SK Canada SOK 2AO - Phone No. (306) 682-2614 His website may be found at:
Joanne Stephenson is a social and environmental activist, free-lance writer,
creator of the online KIN International activist group, and the host of The
Social Activist's Site for World Peace at http://www.inetex.com/joanne She
has been actively involved in numerous online campaigns, and sends out a
weekly newsletter. You may receive a copy of the newsletter by writing
To Unsubscribe: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command
"unsubscribe sanet-mg". If you receive the digest format, use the command
To Subscribe to Digest: Email email@example.com with the command
All messages to sanet-mg are archived at: