Lawsuit damages public confidence in biotechnology

Whether Monsanto or Percy Schmeiser wins the lawsuit, the battle between the two has left one clear loser, says scientist Keith Downey.

“The stories that we’ve heard (from Schmeiser) have done a lot of damage to biotechnology,” said Downey after the end of the trial that pitted the Bruno, Sask., farmer against Monsanto.

“The stories which Mr. Schmeiser has continued to put forward have, I think, certainly been picked up in Europe and used by those who would like to do away with bio-technology and multinationals.”

Monsanto claims Schmeiser grew two crops of Roundup Ready canola without permission.

Schmeiser, since being publicly accused by Monsanto in August 1998, has attacked the company and claimed that its genetically engineered crops have run amok and are contaminating farmer’s fields.

He said pollen blown in from neighbors’ fields and canola seeds from passing trucks probably caused his crop in 1997 to contain massive amounts of Monsanto’s patented gene. That seed was used for the 1998 crop of 900 acres, Schmeiser said in court.

Since his story became public in late 1998, Schmeiser has told it repeatedly to European journalists and anti-biotechnology activists, who have made Schmeiser something of a hero of the anti-GMO movement.

His story has been used to demonstrate the dangers of allowing living organisms to be modified and as a reason why the European Union should continue to ban GMO imports.

Downey, who was hired by Monsanto to analyze Schmeiser’s claims, decided the farmer’s story didn’t make sense. Pollen in the wind, bees and seed scattered by trucks could never have created the high level of the Monsanto gene in Schmeiser’s canola, Downey concluded.

“I think we’ve seen here today that these stories aren’t really credible,” said Downey.

“The seed did not come from cross pollination, it did not come off a truck.”

Two other farmers testified during the trial that Roundup Ready canola had appeared on their land even though they had never planted the crop.

But Downey said these farmers only found tiny amounts of volunteer Roundup Ready canola on their land, and that these were the only examples of people having problems with the crop that Schmeiser could find.

“You’ve got two cases that are legitimate … in four years and four million acres,” said Downey.

“That’s a pretty good record.”

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