David vs. Monsanto—The Story of How a Lone Farmer Prevailed Against One of the Most Powerful Companies on the Planet_Featured_, Monsanto Friday, October 26th, 2012
Monsanto has long been trying to establish control over the seeds of the plants that produce food for the world. They have patented a number of genetically altered food crops, which can only be grown with proper license, and the seeds for which must be purchased anew each year.
Alas, genetically engineered (GE) crops cannot be contained. And rather than being found guilty of contaminating farmers’ property, Monsanto has successfully sued hundreds of unsuspecting farmers for patent infringement when unlicensed GE crops were found growing in their fields. Many farmers have subsequently, quite literally, lost their farms.
Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan, Canada, is but one of Monsanto’s victims, but contrary to so many others, he refused to quietly tolerate the injustice. In a classic case of David versus Goliath, Schmeiser fought back against one of the most powerful businesses in the world.
David versus Goliath
It all began in 1998, at which time Schmeiser had grown canola on his farm for 40 years. Like any other traditional farmer, he used his own seeds, saved from the previous harvest.
But, like hundreds of other North American farmers, Schmeiser ended up being sued by Monsanto for ‘patent infringement’ when more than 320 hectares were found to be contaminated with Roundup Ready canola—the biotech giant’s patented canola, genetically engineered to tolerate otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate.
The company sought damages totaling $400,000. Most farmers end up settling, but Schmeiser was angry enough to fight back, and countersued Monsanto for:
- Libel, by publicly accusing him of committing illegal acts
- Improperly obtaining samples of his seed from a local seed plant
- Callous disregard for the environment by introducing genetically modified crops without proper controls and containment
- Contamination of his crops with unwanted GE plants
The case eventually went before the Federal Court of Canada, and after a decade-long battle, Schmeiser won when, in March 2008, Monsanto settled out of court, agreeing to pay for all cleanup costs. The agreement also specified that Schmeiser would not be under gag-order, and that Monsanto can be sued for recontamination. This landmark case is now featured in the documentary film “David versus Monsanto,” which you can view in its entirety below.
The Dangerous Contamination Propagating All Around Americans
Sadly, Schmeiser’s victory is a rare case. While Monsanto and the rest of the opposition of California’s Proposition 37 try to instill fear of lawsuits, which they claim could result if genetically engineered foods were to require labeling, they themselves have no problems suing farmers for patent infringement when their seeds migrate and contaminate neighboring fields.
This despite the scientific evidence (in addition to the common knowledge of every traditional farmer out there) that GE contamination is an absolute given. You simply cannot contain it within a given area. What’s worse, we now have proof that GE crops not only spread outside the boundaries of any given field, they’re also combining into brand new, completely unintended forms in the wild! According to a study published in the journal PLoS ONE1 last year:
“[W]e conducted a systematic roadside survey of canola (Brassica napus) populations growing outside of cultivation in North Dakota, USA, the dominant canola growing region in the U.S. We document the presence of two escaped, transgenic genotypes, as well as non-GE canola, and provide evidence of novel combinations of transgenic forms in the wild. Our results demonstrate that feral populations are large and widespread. Moreover, flowering times of escaped populations, as well as the fertile condition of the majority of collections suggest that these populations are established and persistent outside of cultivation.” [Emphasis mine]
Still, Monsanto gets away with these ridiculous lawsuits, when in fact they are the ones who really should be held responsible for cleaning up the mess when its seeds spread beyond intended perimeters. But contamination isn’t the only issue showing up in court. Farmers also sign an “iron-clad” agreement to not save or use the seed for the next planting season. They must repurchase the seed for each planting. This has turned ancient agricultural practices into an outright crime…
Patented Seeds Turn Ancient Agricultural Practices into a Crime
Most recently, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal by Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman—one of seven current appeals before the court—who disputes Monsanto’s claim that his farm used the patented seeds without authorization.