Schmeiser movie could fan anti-GMO feelings

Farmer worries film will make consumers’ anti-GMO fears worse, but professor thinks 20-year-old case is old news

Farmers probably have more choices for canola seed today than there are frozen pizza options at the grocery store.

In spite of that reality, Clinton Monchuk still hears the same comment from urbanites.

“I had a tour on my farm earlier this fall (and) a lot of consumers don’t understand that I have choices of different seeds to use. I don’t have to use Monsanto’s,” said Monchuk, executive director of Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan, which has the mandate of connecting the public to food and farming.

“I can use a variety of different companies. They don’t know that. They think I’m forced to grow these seeds. I said that’s not true. I have a variety of a different canola seeds that I can grow.”

Such misinformation could be part of the legacy of Percy Schmeiser, a farmer from Bruno, Sask., who was embroiled in a highly publicized lawsuit with Monsanto in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Monsanto sued Schmeiser for violating its patent on Roundup Ready canola, claiming that he seeded RR canola and used the company’s technology without paying a fee to the company.

Schmeiser maintained that the Roundup Ready seed blew onto his fields and he was innocent, but the courts disagreed. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the judges sided with Monsanto:

“(Schmeiser) did not at all explain why he sprayed Roundup to isolate the Roundup Ready plants he found on his land; why he then harvested the plants and segregated the seeds, saved them and kept them for seed; why he next planted them; and why through this husbandry, he ended up with 1,030 acres of Roundup Ready canola,” they ruled.

“On the facts found by the trial judge, Mr. Schmeiser was not an innocent bystander; rather, he actively cultivated Roundup Ready canola.”

Schmeiser’s legendary battle with Monsanto is now being made into a Hollywood movie, with Christopher Walken playing the lead role of Schmeiser. Part of the movie was shot in Winnipeg in September.

The movie could revitalize the narrative that multi-national corporations force farmers to use genetically modified seeds and invigorate activists who oppose agricultural biotechnology.

“We definitely have to look at this as another situation that’s going to place a lot of the companies that we work with and a lot of the technologies that we use in a negative light,” said Monchuk, who farms near Lanigan, Sask.

Stuart Smyth, a University of Saskatchewan assistant professor in agricultural and resource economics, is more skeptical. He doesn’t believe the Schmeiser movie will influence the general public.

“I think it would be a mistake to take it lightly … (but) by the time this movie rolls out, in a couple of years, it will be two years past the point that Monsanto ceased to exist,” he said, noting Bayer has acquired Monsanto.

“I really have much doubt that this is going to resonate with anyone outside the radical environmental community.”

In the early 2000s, when the Schmeiser trial was in the news, the media coverage did influence the public’s perception of GM crops and biotechnology, Smyth added.

However, the Supreme Court ruled against Schmeiser 14 years ago, which is ancient history for today’s young people.

“Two weeks ago (in class) we were talking about intellectual property and I said, ‘how many of you have heard of Percy Schmeiser?’ ” Smyth said.

“In a class of 60 students not one had heard of him, and 85 percent of my class is farm kids. So if he doesn’t resonate with the farm kids, he sure isn’t going to resonate with anybody in the urban environment.”

Monsanto takes a similar view: the Schmeiser story is old news.

This summer Monsanto Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan told the CBC that the company carried on and succeeded following the trial.

“Overall our business continued to thrive, continued to grow, we continued to bring new technology to market, and we continue to have a very strong business today…. This definitely was an iconic case, but we’ve moved on.”

The Schmeiser movie, tentatively called Percy, just began shooting. It also stars Christina Ricci, who plays an anti-GMO activist.

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  • S.G.

    I am happy to see this story becoming a movie. A innocent man/farmer was wrongfully convicted by a conglomerate corporation with a very poor and scary history, so I think Mr. Schmeiser’s story has every right to be publicized and learned by many, especially since our food supply is currently being poisoned by these same conglomerate corporations today. GMOs are not what they are telling us, folks.

    • S.G.

      My colleague here at the WP, Sean Pratt, covered the Schmeiser case as it made its way through the courts.

      Here is a quote from Sean’s story on the dismissal of Schmeiser’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada:

      “Based on the facts found by the trial judge, the Supreme Court ruled, “Mr. Schmeiser was not an innocent bystander; rather, he actively cultivated Roundup Ready canola.””

      You can find the complete story here:

      You can find links to all (133 stories) WP Schmeiser coverage here:

      Paul – WP web editor

      • S.G.

        I’m sorry, but it is how the industry and everyone involved managed to spin the story to make Mr. Schmeiser lose and look like the bad guy. Like I’ve mentioned before, the industry is corrupt.

        • The only one who made Schmeiser lose was Schmeiser.

          • S.G.

            That is simply not true.

      • Sally Blackmore

        … The real truth is just that, the truth, and it has nothing to do with your industry-fed tale of lies.

        • richard

          yes, and the facts are the facts …..and a twenty year old dirty technology, dependent on one weed resistant herbicide, at seventy dollars an acre is the real story here people.… its finished

      • ed

        Percy wasn’t buying alot of ads in your paper back then relative to, was he. You just have to follow the money on this stuff. Cheers!

  • I must be getting old. Didn’t movies used to be interesting?

    • grinninglibber

      There are more than toons in the movies.

  • richard

    Percy’s movie will fan nothing other than more academic navel gazing…. Percy was simply a martyr to corporate hubris, a willing participant and victim both….. the beginning of a twenty year saga that ended in the same…. the shame of corporate entity that had to be put out of its misery by burying its name so we can all pretend it didn’t exist?….. The legacy of course being abuse of power with feudalistic intellectual property, litigation, glyphosate resistance, GMO seeds as weeds, and all the ancillary clubroot, blackleg, sclerotinia and the normalization of neonicotinioids and fungicides as prophylactic. A great crop for those at war with nature and in denial of the consequences of natural law….. aka evolution…. Funny how science can never outrun evolution.

  • Sheryl McCumsey

    I love it when a publication uses its own publication for “facts.” New book coming out written by a genetic scientist that illustrates a number of problems with this technology. Science and evidence is a real challenge when you are trying to market a very poor product.

  • Ted Kuntz

    I’m glad farmers have multiple choices for canola seed. Urbanites want choices too, like not to purchase GMO products. I’d like mandatory labeling so we can all have a choice.


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