Percy Schmeiser may have lost his legal battle with Monsanto, but his backers are determined to fight on.
Meanwhile, organizations that backed Monsanto’s arguments against Schmeiser are relieved and believe that biotechnology rights are now stronger than ever for Canadian companies.
The Schmeiser-Monsanto legal battle involved intervenors on both sides, organizations that the Supreme Court of Canada recognized as having an interest in the outcome of the lawsuit. They were allowed to make written submissions to the court.
Some of the pro-Schmeiser supporters admitted legal defeat in the court battle when the decision was released May 21, but vowed to take their struggle to a higher level.
“It is the government’s responsibility to step in,” said Nadege Adam, a Council of Canadians organizer who organized a post-decision news conference in Saskatoon for Schmeiser, his lawyer, the National Farmers Union and her left-wing lobby group.
“They have allowed the genetic engineering into Canada. They now need to make sure to assess what has been done and protect the citizens…. We now need our elected officials to step in to make sure the public interest is protected.”
Adam said the court ruling allows businesses to control higher life forms, such as plants, by obtaining patents on genes. The government needs to rewrite its patent legislation to prevent that from happening.
“We therefore ask them to step in and update the patent act to reflect the need to address these newly created life forms,” said Adam.
“We need to ban the patenting of life forms altogether.”
Terry Boehm of the NFU said farmers’ rights have been set back by the ruling.
“It does not recognize the fundamental right of farmers to save seed, and it is allowing seeds to become a tool of oppression now,” said Boehm.
“We need to take this battle to the political arena and determine that it’s completely inappropriate for a company like Monsanto to be able to pollute the countryside with its genes and not be responsible for its cleanup.”
Intervenors who supported the Monsanto position were pleased by the Supreme Court ruling.
“For Canadian farmers it will have a positive effect,” said Rick White, a policy analyst with the Canadian Canola Growers Association.
“Without a patent on these types of technology, it could jeopardize canola growers’ access to biotechnology in the future, and I think canola has a very bright future through advances in biotechnology.”
Ashley O’Sullivan, president of the biotechnology umbrella group AgWestBio, said Canada’s 400 biotech companies are relieved.
“This was important for the biotech industry,” said O’Sullivan.
“If you’ve developed a gene technology in a cell, you now know that it is protectable in a plant. Innovations in the future in our major crops I would now consider to be pretty well protected.”
O’Sullivan said biotech supporters are not scared of opponents trying to reopen patent legislation. There are some changes the biotech industry would like to see as well.
“I don’t see that as a threat. I see that as an opportunity,” said O’Sullivan.
Canadian Seed Trade Association president Tim Treganno said seed breeding companies will be pleased by the ruling.
“With patent protection and (plant breeders rights) I think the companies will continue to invest in Canadian agriculture,” said Treganno.
“It’s going to benefit Canadian farmers by them having access to these leading technologies and the technologies that will develop in the future.”