Schmeiser renews Monsanto battle

He lost in the Federal Court of Canada. He lost in the Federal Court of Appeal. He lost in the Supreme Court of Canada. Yet Percy Schmeiser remains undaunted.

The farmer from Bruno, Sask., is preparing for another legal battle with his nemesis, Monsanto Canada. This time around the 76-year-old farmer is the plaintiff.

“At my age I surely didn’t want to get into another lawsuit, but I feel that the rights of people and the rights of farmers especially are being so drastically taken away that I just had to take a stand,” Schmeiser said.

He contends it will be a groundbreaking lawsuit that forces Monsanto to face the music on the liability issue associated with its ownership of the Roundup Ready canola gene.

A court date has been set for Jan. 23, 2008.

Monsanto spokesperson Trish Jordan said Schmeiser is overplaying the importance of a small claims court dispute that is worth only $660.

“In typical Mr. Schmeiser style, I think he is grossly exaggerating the situation,” she said.

It isn’t the first time Monsanto has been forced to defend itself against such a claim. Schmeiser’s wife, Louise, took the company to small claims court in 2004 seeking $140 for the removal of Roundup Ready canola plants from her organic garden and surrounding shelterbelt.

She lost that case, which Jordan said should prove helpful in the current dispute. The judge in that case ruled there was no legal obligation for Monsanto to clean up the unwanted spread of its genetically modified canola plants.

The latest case stems from the contamination of Schmeiser’s 50 acre chemfallow field with Roundup Ready plants. He contacted the company in September 2005 to remove the unwanted plants as per the company’s volunteer removal policy.

Monsanto agreed to hand pick the weeds out of Schmeiser’s field but not before Schmeiser signed the usual form releasing Monsanto from future lawsuits and forbidding the grower from disclosing terms of the settlement.

Schmeiser refused to sign the document, saying it infringed on his freedom of speech rights. Instead, he sent the company an invoice for what it cost him to rid his field of the Roundup Ready canola volunteers.

He claims Monsanto’s public statements about its volunteer removal policy differ from what happens in practice.

“They said they would remove the plants but they never said there were conditions on that.”

The two parties tried mediation but found no solution.

Schmeiser contends he may have to seek donations to raise money for the upcoming trial. Donations paid for approximately $200,000 of his estimated $400,000 in legal bills from the previous six-year tussle with Monsanto, in which the company successfully sued Schmeiser for illegally growing Roundup Ready canola. Schmeiser said he mortgaged his land to pay the bills and is just starting to pull himself out of debt.

“I’m just going to have to go out and ask for help,” Schmeiser said.

Jordan noted that the cost for launching a small claims proceeding is $20 and there has been no indication from Schmeiser that he will be using a lawyer.

She wonders if the latest action is an attempt by Schmeiser to raise money and keep the issue in the news.

Schmeiser said he will have a lawyer and denied the publicity-seeking allegation.

The Supreme Court determined Monsanto owns the Roundup Ready gene, he said. Now it’s time to make them face up to the responsibility that entails.

“At my age I’d just like to be with my grandkids. But I’m not going to sit down and see the rights of people taken away.”

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