Both sides claim victory in Roundup Ready case

Monsanto Canada and Percy Schmeiser have reached an out-of-court settlement in a small claims case surrounding contamination of the Bruno, Sask., farmer’s land with Roundup Ready canola.

The seed technology company has reimbursed Schmeiser $660, the estimated cost of removing the unexpected canola volunteers that invaded 50 acres of Schmeiser’s chem-fallow land in the fall of 2005.

Monsanto also dropped the stipulation contained in the company’s standard release form preventing the farmer from disclosing the terms of the settlement and softened another clause regarding future lawsuits.

The settlement occurred on the same day the two parties were scheduled to appear in court.

Schmeiser, who has a long history of legal battles with Monsanto, called it a great day for him and his wife.

“I feel pretty proud about it and very happy about it because we won our case against them,” said the farmer, who has gained worldwide notoriety in his legal battles with Monsanto.

The last time he was involved in a legal battle with Monsanto it was the company taking him to court for violating its Roundup Ready patent.

The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which found Schmeiser guilty of patent infringement but didn’t require him to pay damages.

“After 10 years it has come full circle. Now the shoe is on the other foot,” said Schmeiser.

He considers it a precedent-setting case.

“(It) opens the door to many, many other farmers now who were contaminated to have their clean-up costs paid for.”

Trish Jordan, spokesperson for Monsanto Canada, said Schmeiser established “absolutely nothing” in a small claims case that never made it to trial.

“There was no hearing, therefore there was no legal precedent,” she said.

It differs from an earlier lawsuit brought against Monsanto by Schmeiser’s wife, who was seeking $140 plus costs to remove unwanted volunteer canola plants from her organic garden in the summer of 2002.

That case was dismissed by a Provincial Court of Saskatchewan judge who ruled the company had “no duty of care” to ensure the unwanted spread of its GM canola.

“That’s the legal precedent. That’s on the books,” said Jordan.

Legal obligations aside, Monsanto has a long-standing policy that the company will pick up costs associated with cleaning up unexpected Roundup Ready canola volunteers.

In 2007, the seed technology company assisted 16 farmers with volunteer issues. In 2005, the same year as Schmeiser’s complaint, it picked up the cleaning tab for six others.

Monsanto offered to pay Schmeiser’s costs back in 2005, but he refused to sign the company’s standard release form, something nobody else has ever done.

Jordan said Schmeiser eventually accepted the same 2005 offer after his lawyer initiated the settlement discussion a few days before the March 19, 2008, hearing.

Schmeiser said that is incorrect. In the end he signed a revised release form that did not include a gag order clause preventing him from talking about the settlement.

“That’s a great victory for us in regards to freedom of speech in this country,” he said.

Jordan said the company had no problem removing that clause because the case had already been reported in the media.

Schmeiser said Monsanto also removed a clause protecting the company against further legal action.

“If they contaminate me tomorrow I can lay a lawsuit against them again,” he said.

Jordan said the new release form prevents Schmeiser from suing the company over this same contamination incident but she acknowledged it doesn’t preclude him from launching a lawsuit surrounding a future incident.

“It would not surprise me in the least if he does,” she added.

Monsanto will continue to use the original release form in any future clean-up accords it reaches with farmers.

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