Defence questions accuracy of Monsanto’s methods

Monsanto has fired a volley of scientific tests at Percy Schmeiser’s claim that he did not knowingly grow Roundup Ready canola.

It is evidence which, if found credible, would have a devastating effect on Bruno, Sask., farmer Schmeiser’s claim that he did not knowingly grow Roundup Ready canola in 1997 and 1998.

But in cross examinations reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson trial, Schmeiser’s lawyer Terry Zakreski has attacked the credibility of the tests themselves, the people who conducted them and the methods Monsanto used to gather evidence against Schmeiser.

“Remember O.J.’s gloves,” dryly commented Monsanto lawyer Roger Hughes during a discussion about whether an impromptu demonstration of a simple test using Schmeiser’s canola could occur in the courtroom.

Three types of tests conducted by the company universally show Schmeiser grew Roundup Ready canola in 1997 and 1998, with the most complex tests showing Schmeiser’s canola was as pure as straight commercial Roundup Ready canola, the company’s lawyers argued in federal court during Monsanto’s lawsuit against Schmeiser.

Monsanto and its investigators first conducted a “quick test,” which is little more than a small plastic container and a dip stick that is used to check whether canola seeds contain a protein found only in Roundup Ready canola.

Private investigators gathered canola pods and plant material from Schmeiser’s 1997 crop, and from beside his 1998 fields and gave them the quick test. Monsanto claims all results were positive.

In court, the test was demonstrated using conventional canola, Liberty Link canola, and some of what Monsanto claimed was Schmeiser’s canola.

The conventional and Liberty Link canola samples proved negative for the Monsanto gene, but Schmeiser’s proved positive.

Zakreski said he does not accept that the seeds claimed to be Schmeiser’s were, in fact, his.

After the quick tests in 1998, Monsanto received a court order to obtain samples from eight of Schmeiser’s 1998 canola fields. Investigators gathered pods and other plant material and sent most of it to Monsanto’s corporate headquarters and main labs in St. Louis, Missouri, where the second and third types of tests were conducted.

Monsanto scientist Doris Dixon said an electrophoresis test, which can show the DNA profile of organic matter, revealed that the profile of Schmeiser’s canola was identical to Roundup Ready canola.

Other types of non-Roundup Ready canola tested had different profiles.

Monsanto officials testified that grow-out tests conducted in St. Louis and Saskatoon proved that Schmeiser’s canola was Roundup Ready. In these tests, seeds from Schmeiser’s crop were planted and grown, then sprayed with Roundup.

Schmeiser’s canola seeds had about the same rate of survival as commercially sold Roundup Ready seed – well over 90 percent.

Zakreski, who has not yet begun his defence and has not revealed his full argument against Monsanto, has repeatedly focused on the accuracy of the tests and the ability of something or someone somewhere in the process to invalidate the findings.

He questioned Aaron Mitchell, who headed Monsanto’s prairie Roundup Ready enforcement operations, about why the company did its own testing and didn’t instead hire an independent laboratory.

“I don’t think I thought our integrity would be challenged,” said Mitchell.

Zakreski has appeared to focus on areas where test results could be inaccurate.

He also challenged the assumption that the seeds tested in St. Louis actually came from Schmeiser’s land. Monsanto scientists admitted they could not know for sure that the seeds they received were from Schmeiser’s fields or were in the original bags in which they had been gathered. They relied on Monsanto’s Saskatchewan employees and agents for that information.

Zakreski said he will ask for Monsanto’s test results to be ignored because in an early investigation, a Monsanto investigator trespassed on Schmeiser’s land and later tests and the court order relied on this material.

Though Monsanto has finished entering its scientific evidence, Zakreski will keep the scientific debate alive when he enters his own evidence from other researchers. He said one study by a University of Manitoba researcher will show that Schmeiser’s crop had a far lower level of the Roundup Ready gene than Monsanto’s tests claim.

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