Don’t look to new movie for historical accuracy

Hollywood tells some interesting tales. Some are based on true stories. Others, such as the soon-to-be-released move entitled Percy, appear to be based on untrue stories loosely connected to events.

Based on the pre-release movie trailer, the narrative pits a prairie farmer and his collection of home-bred, saved seeds against an evil, multi-national genetics and chemical corporation.

It looks like the classic David versus Goliath story where David, being noble, poor and acting for the good of mankind, challenges Goliath, being evil, powerful and in need of a good thrashing. The original Bible story pitted a rock-throwing boy against a giant soldier. Most of us learned to cheer for the kid.

Authors and moviemakers love these types of tales because of their broad public appeal. It puts bums in the seats, as they say in the entertainment business.

It’s likely because many people see themselves as derivatives of David in a world that has kept them from being as successful, rich or powerful as a proverbial Goliath. They can identify with stories in that vein, which are especially popular if David wins.

Percy Schmeiser, a farmer from Bruno, Sask., has the real-life role of David in the movie adaptation of a reality that played out on the pages of this publication in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Well-known actor Christopher Walken plays Schmeiser in this “based on a true story” cinematic interpretation. The movie will likely aid public misunderstanding of modern plant breeding, farmers’ and breeders’ rights to seed, genetic modification and glyphosate. To some extent it seems likely to misinform about commercial crop production and Canadian farmers’ cultural lives as well.

The actual court fight and its subsequent attention in the popular press did modern agriculture no favours. Urban reporters and video producers generally got the tale wrong.

In the post-courtroom world, Schmeiser became a hero of the anti-GM, anti-Monsanto, anti-commercial agriculture and food crowd and was paid to travel the world telling his version of events. Like this new movie, that version differed from the one the courts heard and ruled upon.

In the late 1990s Monsanto asked Schmeiser to pay for his use of glyphosate tolerant canola on his farm. He refused to pay and the seed company sued him for violating its Roundup Ready patent, claiming that he knowingly seeded canola containing the trait and used the company’s technology without paying the required fee.

Schmeiser said the Roundup Ready seed had blown onto his fields and he was innocent. The courts sided with Monsanto. The dispute ended at the Supreme Court of Canada in a five to four decision.

“(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,” the court ruled.

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

The new film will perpetuate the David and Goliath myth, along with others about the agriculture and food industry, farming culture, plant breeding and the safety of herbicides in crop production.

According to the movie trailer and poster, it also takes artistic license with gun use in Canada and the use of what must be history’s shortest corn crop, instead of canola.

Those seeking to read the facts of the case can check, where we’ve made a special spot for past coverage.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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