Schmeiser draws global attention

The Sacramento Bee newspaper in California last week proclaimed him “Canada’s most famous farmer.”

A television reporter from France asked him how he had the strength to carry on.

Bruno, Sask., farmer Percy Schmeiser stood before the international media last week and proclaimed himself a simple 73-year-old farmer fighting for ancient rights of farmers to save and replant their seed from year to year.

If genetically modified seeds are loose in the system, a farmer cannot be certain his saved seed does not contain unwanted GM seed.

Schmeiser says 50 years of canola seed development on his own farm has been lost because of the unwanted arrival of GM canola.

“You cannot build a wall to contain it or to keep it out,” he told reporters gathered Jan. 20 in the lobby of the Supreme Court of Canada building, minutes after the court listened to arguments in the patent infringement case between Schmeiser and Monsanto Inc.

“It is wrong, wrong, wrong. No one should have the right to introduce something into the environment that destroys someone else’s property.”

Schmeiser’s fight against Monsanto has made him a celebrity around the world, speaking to politicians, farmers and environmental activists about the dangers of life patenting and the corporate infringement on farmers’ traditional practices.

Last week, Nadege Adam from the Council of Canadians and an intervenor in the Supreme Court case, called the farmer “my friend and hero.”

The day before the court hearing, public meetings were held in Ottawa to explore the implications of life patents, to warn against expanding corporate power and to praise Schmeiser for his stand against the multinational agribusiness giant.

When he faced reporters after the hearing, Schmeiser said the past five years have been difficult and seeing 50 years of seed development lost because of GM “contamination” was like losing a child.

“I was asked if I would do it again and the answer was yes,” he said.

“We (he and his wife) feel so strongly on the right of farmers to use their own seed. That is always how seeds have improved, by farmers improving them and replanting.”

Schmeiser, who was convicted by two lower courts of violating the Monsanto patent, said he was only able to fight the case to Canada’s highest court because of the financial support of Canadian and world citizens who believe in his cause.

After being convicted in federal court, Monsanto was awarded $19,000 in compensation and his 1998 crop. Schmeiser said he had no money to continue the fight.

“At that point in time, the whole world came to my aid,” he said.

Schmeiser insisted to reporters that the GM canola with the patented gene was on his land in 1998 without his knowledge or consent, and he had no idea how much was in his 1998 crop, if any.

In court, his lawyer, Terry Zakreski, agreed with a judge’s assertion that lower courts had determined Schmeiser knew GM seed was part of his 1998 plantings.

And in its submission to the Supreme Court, Monsanto noted that lower courts had determined the amount of GM canola on Schmeiser’s land in 1997 had to have been deliberately put there.

“The trial judge held, upon consideration of all the evidence, that none of the theories (of unwanted presence of the seed through cross-pollination or wind) advanced by Schmeiser could plausibly account for the substantial presence of Roundup Ready canola on their lands in 1997,” said the company brief.

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