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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Comments

  • 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:

      https://www.producer.com/2004/05/schmeiser-loses-but-war-not-over/

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

      https://www.producer.com/?s=schmeiser&saved_search_keywords_count=0&c=n&sorting=-post_date

      Cheers,
      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.

          • obfuscate99

            Yes, yes it is.

            Simply looking at Canola pollen dispersal, the odds of Schmeiser’s fields being in excess of 95% RR Canola as a result of pollen drift is a statistical impossibility. While Canola pollen can travel quite far under the right conditions, pollen dispersal follows a standard logarithmic density model, and the levels bottom out quite quickly as you move away from the point of release.

            His excuse was a sham from the start, and even after over a decade, there is no evidence that this level of contamination is even possible outside of a immense selective pressure…like say, spraying the crops with RoundUp, and selecting for the resistant individuals.

            When it was determined that he actively selected for the transgene, he was in violation of Monsanto’s IP. For all your allusions of corruption, the empirical data consistently fails to support your position.

            This also parallels what was seen in the Bowman case in the US. As in the Schmeiser case, the key infringing act on the part of Mr. Bowman stemmed from actively selecting for the RR trait, thus enriching the proportion of his seeds that would have the glyphosate resistance.

            In that case, the findings were quite clear. If Mr. Bowman had just used the seed, without actively making use of the infringing herbicide resistance trait, his actions would have been non-infringing. It was his active attempt to work around Monsanto’s IP that made his actions infringing.

      • 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!

        • Damo

          You are probably right. If only Percy would have taken out some newspaper adverts, the Supreme Court of Canada would have let his chicanery go.

          • ed

            You are probably right. It certainly worked for Monsanto. For the time being at least.

  • 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.

    • Damo

      So, you agree, Percy intentionally stole the patented technology?

      • richard

        Quite likely…. but its funny I don’t hear of the now defunct Monsanto having travelled around the country to clean up the new roundup resistant weed….. aka GMO canola? Its all over the place which of course is why no one is listening to these carny hawkers any more.

        • Damo

          All over the country? LOL.

          • richard

            “all over the place”…..meaning everywhere it was grown, which is why its now a weed problem. And thats only funny to someone who knows nothing about weeds. Can you spell wild mustard?

          • Damo

            You said “Monsanto having travelled [sic] around the country to clean up the new roundup resistant weed….. aka GMO canola.” Which does not mean “meaning everywhere it was grown,”

            Which, by the way, is not accurate, as it has not shown up everywhere it was grown.

            Also, invasive species and weeds are two different things. And there are other herbicides besides Round Up. If you have an infestation of RR canola, you could apply another weed killer. I know it isn’t ideal, but you are the one making it sound worse than it is.

          • richard

            Wrong….its a weed…. a weed thats resistant to glyphosate…. a weed thats wilfully planted by farmers every year…..farmers who spend millions to control….. WEEDS??? Are we living on the planet of the apes?

  • 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.

    • obfuscate99

      Ah, you’re referring to the recently Pandora’s Potatoes by Caius Rommens, correct?

      Say hello to the reason why basing your beliefs on a mass market book is a bad idea.

      It’s so odd that, for something released in 2018, that he wouldn’t once cover the original retraction of his 2004 paper in 2013, which coincidentally he was notified about the previous month, and coincided with his very rapid departure from J.R. Simplot.

      Great source you have there considering that the publication was withdrawn when it came about that he just made up the data for several key analyses in the study. The fact that he openly admitted to this, and even made mention of this in the retraction notice…odd that he wouldn’t want to clarify this for his readers.

      …Out of curiosity, were you even aware of this before you started using his book as supporting evidence?

      Regardless, as is the case with almost every mass market publication, the author is heavy on hypotheses, but wanting when it comes to supporting data. He fails to offer any convincing arguments, and instead took snippits and individual points from over a dozen different sources, and then wraps it up in a fearful little package.

      – He implies that the transgenes are unstable: After over two decades of use, not a single translocation outside of homologous recombination has been observed (note this only applies to breeding populations, and the rate is identical to other regions in the genome).

      – He implies about health effects from GMO lines, but there have been multiple rounds of testing for this. There are far more illnesses attributed to natural breeding methods for
      Solanaceae species just from the variation in the natural phytotoxins (Lenap potato for instance).

      – And of course, he couches everything with the usual qualifiers…and since he has no evidence for any of his points, this isn’t surprising.

      BTW, that’s called cherry-picking, and it is not how one tests for direct causal effects (see OECD-452, 453, and Guidance Document 116 for the proper methods).

      Conversely, the FAO lists multiple compliant studies back to the 1990’s where the company received approval for multiple potato lines.

      Again, the science does not support your position, a mass market book is not an OECD-compliant study, and when it comes to the data, you have innuendo, and nothing more.

  • 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.

    • obfuscate99

      So out of curiosity, why do you feel that your voluntary dietary restriction should be subsidized by other consumers?

      In the case of other specialty diets, including those for religious (Kosher, or Halal for instance), or personal choice (Vegan, paleo, carnivore…not joking about that one either), the entire cost for the establishment, testing, and maintenance of the associated labeling is only born by those who make use of the program, not those who do not follow such practices.

      There are multiple examples of labels that you can use in the same way on the market right now. USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project, GMO-Free, each and every one of these are voluntary labels that do not rely on outside supplementation, or financial support from those who do not follow your chosen dietary restrictions.

      So again, what makes your dietary needs different deserving of a mandatory label?

    • Damo

      Didn’t realize you were being forced to buy anything.

    • richard

      Labelling and transparency Ted, would be the end for GMO…. hence they need to rationalize and obfuscate in the hope that if they can’t boggle you with brilliance, they can baffle you with —- —- !

  • Denise

    Thirty some odd years ago it was unthinkable that some company could claim ownership of seed by twisting around a few genes. Farmers saved their best seed.
    It’s been a slippery slope ever since and caused a lot of harm to many farmers. They lost their independence. It’s been particularily punishing for farmers conned into this game in poorer countries.

    • obfuscate99

      “Thirty some odd years ago, it was still unthinkable that some company
      could claim ownership of seed by twisting around a few genes.”

      Actually, breeders have been able to have a period of breeder exclusivity for ANY new variety, regardless of the methods used to produce it since 1930 after the adoption of the Plant Patent Act, which was then updated in 1970 with the Plant Variety Protection Act.

      Normally, this period of breeder exclusivity lasts for 20-25 years, although the rules for things like fruit and nut trees do vary, as these species can take years to produce the first crop.

      The important thing in regards to your quote is that this practice far exceeds the thirty year time frame that you mention. The use of transgenics in the production of new varieties is just another tool to be used as all IP are for their respective fields.

      Additionally, farmers have a lot of choice when it comes to which seeds to use, and no one is forcing them to make use of seeds under the period of breeder exclusivity. Off-patent seed is easily obtainable from private, public, and NGO sources. Heck, if the farmer wants to start their own breeding program using off-patent seed, they can absolutely do that; even going so far as to be able to release new varieties…and have the same variety protection on those lines.

      Very few farmers choose to go this route, however. Care to guess why?

      The new varieties are universally better. Be it from the inclusion of natural R-genes from broad crosses, or local variety adaptation, to the additions made through cis- or transgeneics, the newer varieties tend to have higher yields, more consistent growth habits, and of course, better resistance to biotic or abiotic stress.

      In terms of starting their own breeding program, are you aware of just what goes into a modern variety development pipeline. The notion of just crossing two plants and pumping out seed is an anachronism. Even conventional lines make use of multiple molecular techniques to track anywhere from single genetic traits, to thousands of major and minor quantitative trait loci, dealing with all aspects of crop development.

      …and they’d have to give up a chunk of their land to do so. In the case of hybrid lines, they’d need to do this each and every year, along with maintaining the parental lines.

      Buying registered seed is worth the expense for them.

      • Damo

        I wish you would open up your history, I would love to follow you. You are one of the few that use facts and not insults.

        • obfuscate99

          Unfortunately that’s not an option at this time. Both my institution, and my lab have had issues with activists who took exception to various research projects in the past, in addition to activities that other institutions have dealt with, including the more recent paper terrorism activities of USRTK.

          An open history makes data-mining that much easier, and as I don’t have tenure yet, I’d rather not see just how much of a headache the chair is willing to take.

          • Denise

            Here’s a little history lesson for you.
            History of Roundup Ready Crops
            https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/History_of_Roundup_Ready_Crops

          • obfuscate99

            …I’m a molecular biologist. I already know far more than what’s included in that link.

            Care to guess what specific mutation is behind the majority of the resistance trait in RR crops?

            An alanine residue at position 100.

            There are quite a few more, serine at position 106, alanine at position 96, and about a.dozen more.

            Want to guess why they work?

            Which residues does glyphosate interact with, and how does the substitution cause an effect?

          • Damo

            I understand. My history is closed as well. But you have much more to offer than I.

        • Denise

          Facts and truth go together.
          “Spinning Science & Silencing Scientists:
          A Case Study in How the Chemical Industry Attempts to Influence Science”
          https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/pdf/monsanto-documents/Final-minority-report-glyphosate-spinning-scien

          • Hi Denise,

            Your link is broken.

            Cheers,
            Paul – WP web editor

          • richard

            Look under the law firm’s Links….. Toxic Torte Law.

    • FarmersSon63

      Tell us why you belive no technology should ever be patented.

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