Few surprised by GM canola ruling

Bruno, Sask., farmer Percy Schmeiser says his defeat in a lawsuit launched by Monsanto has huge and terrible consequences for farmers.

Under the ruling, farmers could be sued by seed companies for growing a crop that has been contaminated with genetically modified genes blown in from other fields, he said March 29, the day of the decision. Schmeiser said he intends to appeal.

Most farm and agriculture industry representatives disagree with his assessment.

Those contacted by The Western Producer don’t think farmers will feel many effects from Monsanto’s successful suit, in which a judge ruled Schmeiser broke a patent law by growing Roundup Ready canola without a licence.

“It’s business as usual,” said Ray Hilderman, the president of the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association.

“It’s business as usual,” said Roy Button, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission.

“It’s business as usual,” said Dale Adolphe, the president of the Canola Council of Canada.

“It means business as usual,” said Allan McHughen, a biotech flax developer.

Schmeiser claimed he never knowingly grew Roundup Ready canola, but judge Andrew MacKay ruled that he knew the crop was in his field in 1997, saved the seed and deliberately planted it again in 1998.

Schmeiser must to pay damages to Monsanto, but the amount has not been settled.

Schmeiser was upset by the decision.

“I never dreamt that someone could come in with a patent and say by contaminating my fields I can’t use my seed any more,” said Schmeiser.

“I was doing what I’ve always done, doing what other farmers have always done since this country was opened up — using and developing my own seed. It was mine. It was growing on my own land.”

Adolphe said an important part of the ruling was the acceptance that Monsanto’s patent is valid.

“The decision demonstrates that companies have the right to charge for the use of their intellectual property,” said Adolphe.

That’s a good thing, said McHughen, who developed the world’s first genetically altered flax. He added companies like Monsanto won’t keep producing new crop varieties if they can’t make money.

Button said some canola growers hoped the case would establish whether a company such as Monsanto was liable if its genes inadvertently spread into a non-genetically modified crop.

MacKay, however, ruled that Schmeiser’s field contained too high a concentration of Roundup Ready seed to have occurred by natural means, so he did not directly address that question.

But at least two groups feel MacKay’s ruling is bad for farmers: The New Green Alliance, which is Saskatchewan’s environmental political party, and the National Farmers Union.

“It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong,” said Neil Sinclair, an organic farmer who heads the New Green Alliance.

Sinclair said the judge’s decision to support the patent means “more power is being transferred to the people who own the patents.”

But Adolphe said a ruling against Monsanto’s patent would have been terrible for canola research. He said most canola industry people assumed Schmeiser would lose.

“It might have been a feeling by a lot of people that Schmeiser’s story was too unbelievable,” said Adolphe.

“Maybe a gut feeling that the decision was going to be in Monsanto’s favor.”

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