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Dec 28 2011

Solo Farmer Fights Monsanto and Wins Over Patented Seeds

Monsanto is one of the largest conglomerates in the world. For years, they have been trying to corner the world’s food production by patenting genetically-altered seeds. If a farmer wants to grow Monsanto’s crops, they have to actually license the seeds and renew that license every year. But these are seeds that grow into crops and as we all know, crops in turn produce seeds some of which get blown by the wind and sometimes land on other farmer’s property. So what happens when (without the farmer’s knowledge) some of his crops are in fact the by-product of Monsanto’s super seeds? THEY GET SUED!

That’s right, Monsanto has made a habit out of bringing hundreds of massive Federal lawsuits against unknowing farmers over patent infringement. Many farmers have subsequently, quite literally, lost their farms over these lawsuits. But then Monsanto sued the wrong guy – a hardy Canuck by the name of Percy Schmeiser. For 50 years, Percy has been growing crops on his farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, developing his own organic seeds. When Monsanto’s genetically engineered canola found its way, uninvited, into Percy’s canola fields Monsanto threatened him, intimidated him, and tried to take his land away. When Monsanto filed suit, Percy filed a counterclaim for contamination. More than 320 hectares of his farm were found to be contaminated with “Roundup Ready Canola” —the biotech giant’s patented canola, genetically engineered to tolerate otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate, a herbicide Monsanto developed and marketed under the name Roundup. The company sought damages totaling $400,000. After a decade-long battle, Schmeiser won when 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. His fight has been turned into an indie documentary called David versus Monsanto

The story has important implications in many arenas. Of course for small farmers across the United States, it should set a precedent and end these harassing lawsuits. But for folks who are victims of copyright, trademark and patent trolls of all shapes and sizes,it stresses the importance of fighting back; of not taking their claims for granted; of being creative and fighting for your own rights. As Percy the giant-killer said in a 1999 interview:

“I never put those plants on my land. The question is, where do Monsanto’s rights end and mine begin?”

A simple question that you have to wonder why no one else asked before?

I got this story from the website Mercola.com, a natural health website. The site also documents other recent “contamination” issues caused by unwanted invasion of genetically engineered corps onto natural, organic farmland:

Riceland Foods, the largest rice cooperative in the U.S. won its lawsuit against the Bayer Corporation after its natural long-grain rice was contaminated with Bayer’s unapproved genetically engineered rice. It was just one of about 3,000 similar lawsuits filed against Bayer in recent years. In April of last year, Bayer CropScience was also ordered to pay a dozen Arkansas farmers nearly $50 million “for allowing a genetically altered strain of rice to escape into the commercial market, damaging rice prices in 2006,” a Bloomberg Law article reported.

As a result of the contamination with Bayer’s unapproved experimental GM rice, countries within the European Union refused to purchase U.S. long grain rice, and American rice farmers and cooperatives lost $389 million in projected sales, not to mention the clean-up costs.

2010: Monsanto’s GM corn was discovered across 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) in seven German states. Since Germany doesn’t allow GM corn to be planted, the farmers had to destroy their crops. These farmers had to “eat” their losses, as the seed companies refused to accept liability for the contamination.

2007: Pollen drift from GM maize (MON810) fields were found to have contaminated hundreds of conventional and organic farmers in Spain, the only country in the EU that allows GM maize to be cultivated.No word on whether lawsuits were brought as a result of that contamination.

In August of last year, the Food Freedom blog reported that the Irish government discovered they’d accidentally planted banned GM maize, originating from Monsanto. In this case, the contamination originated from the seed supplier, Pioneer Hi-Bred Northern Europe, a subsidiary of DuPont. Random tests by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF), discovered that three out of 1,000 plants were contaminated by Monsanto’s illegal GM maize, NK603. The crop was subsequently destroyed to protect organic farms in the area.

I highlight these stories not because they are directly related to the practice of law, but because they show the high stakes involved in these cases. Going up against a global Goliath like Monsanto or Bayer can be daunting but courts can be the great equalizer and as everyone who went to grade school can attest often the best thing to do when being pushed around by a bully is to stand up and fight back!

1 comment

  1. Maiden

    The above quoted article implies that Percy Schmeiser won by settling out of court. The Supreme Court of Canada did in fact rule against him in 2004. In 2008 Monsanto’s ‘out of court’ settlement was for $660. That was the cost of ‘clean up’ that Schmeiser did himself by pulling a few plants.
    If we are going to fight this fight we HAVE to get our facts straight or no one will listen to our argument. The internet is a wonderful instrument we can use to make people aware but it is also just as easy to type and pass on misinformation to incite support whether the you support a good cause or a bad one.

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