A pending lawsuit over genetically modified canola could have the ramifications of a tidal wave compared to the legal ripple caused by the Percy Schmeiser case, says a law expert.
The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate plans to sue chemical giant Monsanto and possibly others “responsible for introducing” GM canola into the province because it has spoiled markets for Canadian organic canola.
University of Saskatchewan law professor Martin Phillipson said if the organic producers win the case, it would create a huge precedent by attaching liability to the producers of GM technology. That’s in sharp contrast to the case in the summer of 2000, in which Bruno, Sask., farmer Schmeiser was found guilty in Federal Court of growing Roundup Ready canola without a licence.
“(Schmeiser) was a simple case of Monsanto alleging he had infringed on their intellectual property rights. The court said he had. End of story. It had nothing to do with the wider social, legal and environmental implications of this,” said Phillipson.
A spokesperson for Monsanto said the company has no comment on the suit because nothing has been filed with the courts and it hasn’t been officially named as a defendant.
“I’m not clear on whether it involves Monsanto or not,” said Trish Jordan.
The lawyer for the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate said the group is awaiting the proclamation of a pertinent piece of provincial legislation before filing documents. That is expected to occur early next year. Directorate administrator Debbie Miller said Monsanto will be the primary defendant listed on the documents once papers are filed.
Canola Council of Canada president Dale Adolphe said organic canola represents less than 0.4 percent of total canola acreage. He said a small force wants to destroy GM canola, which made up 61 percent of the canola seeded in 2001.
Adolphe said organic growers have lost the markets themselves by drafting certification standards that call for zero tolerance of GM material.
“They don’t have zero tolerance on pesticides,” said Adolphe.
“But they were short-sighted enough to put in a zero tolerance for GMOs.”
He also said growers and creators of GM canola have done nothing illegal because the products have passed food, feed, environmental and safety regulations and have made it through the variety registration system.
“If the class action should be targeted at anybody, it would be targeted at the regulatory systems that allowed that.”
Saskatchewan Organic Directorate officials said the federal government and other parties may be included in legal action, but the main target will be Monsanto.
Phillipson figures the organic growers have a good case if they pursue legal action under provincial environmental legislation, where they may be able to prove that GM canola is a pollutant.
“The crucial issue is whether or not you can tie it back to the actual producer of the technology itself as opposed to the farmer who planted it down the road.”
He thinks Monsanto will be facing a tougher battle than it did with Schmeiser if the suit is launched under Saskatchewan legislation and heard in a provincial court rather than the federal arena where Schmeiser’s case played out.
The professor said if the organic growers are successful, it would set a huge precedent.
“Theoretically it could be very damaging for (Monsanto), particularly if this sort of finding spreads to the United States, for example, where they could be in line for big, big payouts.”