Farmer’s story lacks credibility, says scientist

The world’s most prominent canola scientist has testified that Percy Schmeiser’s story doesn’t make sense.

Keith Downey, one of the men who invented canola, said he doesn’t believe it is possible that cross-pollination by wind and bees, or seed blowing off trucks, transformed Schmeiser’s 900 acres of canola in 1998 into commercial grade Roundup Ready canola.

“The points made by Mr. Schmeiser in the examination for discovery do not reasonably account for how the quantity of Roundup Ready crop found on his fields actually got there,” Downey states in a report given to the federal court judge presiding over Monsanto’s lawsuit against Schmeiser.

“Such quantities are only consistent with the placing of Roundup tolerant canola seed on the land in question at or after seed bed preparation.”

Schmeiser has not yet testified and his lawyer, Terry Zakreski, had just given his opening statement at press time. But in pre-trial testimony, Zakreski presented Schmeiser’s explanation for how 900 acres of his crop came to contain the Roundup Ready gene.

Schmeiser said in 1999 that his 1997 crop was planted from conventional canola seed he grew and saved in 1996. During the 1997 growing season, he hand-sprayed weeds around some power poles on the edge of one of his canola fields, and discovered that most of the volunteer canola growing there did not die.

He then used a sprayer to spray Roundup on a three- to four-acre section of the canola crop, Schmeiser said. About 60 percent of the canola survived the Roundup.

Schmeiser harvested this canola and the canola around it, and kept it in an old grain truck. The rest of the crop was stored separately. The next spring, Schmeiser said he took the 8,014 pounds of seed containing the Roundup tolerant material to be seed treated. He then seeded 900 acres with the treated seed plus some bin run seed he had on the farm. Schmeiser said he did not spray Roundup on the crop in 1998.

Downey said Schmeiser’s story is not plausible.

If Schmeiser’s canola had been the result of cross-pollination, then 25 percent of its seeds should still have been susceptible to Roundup because of mixed parentage. Each flower on a canola plant is separately pollinated, so plants can have differing mixtures of genes in their seeds.

Instead, the seeds grown out from Schmeiser’s canola proved to be 100 percent Roundup tolerant.

“The Roundup tolerant plants observed growing in (the field where Schmeiser collected his 1998 seed) must have arisen from a crop planted with Roundup Ready pedigreed seed and not from outcrossing,” wrote Downey.

In another field, all of the seeds grown out of samples gathered by the investigator proved to be Roundup tolerant, Downey said. The chance that the investigator managed to randomly choose one cross-pollinated tolerant plant with no susceptible seeds at all was only one in 10,000.

The chance that he could pick six plants that all had 100 percent Roundup tolerant seeds was only one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000.

“I consider such odds to be highly improbable,” said Downey.

Schmeiser also appeared to have used Roundup much more generally on his fields than he claimed, Downey said, which showed Schmeiser knew his crop was Roundup tolerant.

Zakreski questioned Downey on where he received the information on which he based his opinion. Downey said Monsanto had supplied most of his information.

Downey often seemed bemused by scenarios Zakreski presented to show other ways that Schmeiser’s fields could have become Roundup tolerant.

Zakreski suggested uncovered passing trucks, whirlwinds, passing farm machinery, strong winds and rolling swaths could have brought Monsanto’s gene into the fields.

Downey replied that it was possible to spread canola pollen and seeds in these ways, but not in the quantities that had appeared in Schmeiser’s 1998 crop.

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