GM critics want say at Supreme Court

A coalition of activist groups opposed to genetically modified crops is vowing to turn January’s Supreme Court of Canada hearing of the Monsanto vs. Schmeiser case into a test of whether a patent system should apply to a life form.

As a sideshow, they want Supreme Court justices to consider what they see as some of the political implications of allowing a corporate giant like Monsanto Inc. to hold patents on GM varieties.

“This really is shaping up to be a confrontation between the people and industry,” Council of Canadians biotechnology campaigner Nadege Adam said in an Oct. 1 interview. “We want this to be bigger than Percy Schmeiser. This will have repercussions everywhere.”

Schmeiser is the Bruno, Sask., farmer accused by Monsanto of growing its patented GM canola without permission and without paying the proper fee. Despite denials that he had done it deliberately, Monsanto won at the lower court and at the Federal Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear an appeal Jan. 20, 2004.

The Council of Canadians and a coalition ranging from the National Farmers Union and the Sierra Club in Canada, to groups in the United States and Asia recently applied to the Supreme Court for intervener status at the hearing. Some biotechnology industry interests also want intervener status in support of Monsanto’s patent rights.

“This will be a major battleground on this issue with such worldwide implications,” said Adam.

The intent of the anti-GMO interveners would be to convince the Supreme Court justices to move their consideration beyond the narrow confines of whether Monsanto’s patent was violated.

They will present arguments on the impact on poor farmers if they cannot save seed from one year’s harvest to plant the next year. They will raise arguments on whether patent rights on living organisms can be applied to their progeny.

In a filed document, NFU member and Allan, Sask., farmer Terry Boehm said seed patents undermine farmer rights and viability.

“The NFU believes that the decision by the Federal Court of Appeal … will deter farmers, including many of its members, from saving seed and is inconsistent with their rights to do so,” he wrote.

“This in turn is likely to lead to increased production costs and decreased farm profitability. By interfering with the rights of farmers to save seed, the decision will also adversely affect biodiversity.”

There is no indication when the Supreme Court will issue a decision on whether it will hear interveners.

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