The Strange Case of Percy Schmeiser, by Steven L. Hopp

07/30/2011

Food

Steven L. Hopp wrote the article below.  It is part of Chapter Three, Springing Forward, in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  You really should read the chapter in its entirety.  It’s about the beauty of heirloom seeds and open pollination… but this story by Mr. Hopp really got to me.  I think the subject needs our attention:

In 1999, a quiet, middle-aged farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan, was sued by the largest biotech seed producer in the world.  Monsanto, Inc. claimed that Percy Schmeiser had damaged them, to the tune of $145,000, by having their patented gene in some of the canola plants on his 1,030 acres.  The assertion was not that Percy had actually planted the seed, or even that he obtained the seed illegally.  Rather, the argument was that the plants on Percy’s land contained genes that belonged to Monsanto.  The gene, patented in Canada in the early 1990s, gives genetically modified (GM) canola plants the fortitude to withstand spraying by glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup, sold by Monsanto.

Canola, a cultivated variety of rapeseed, is one of over three thousand species in the mustard family.  Pollen from mustards is transferred by insects, or by wind, up to one-third of a mile.  Does the patented gene travel in the pollen?  Yes.  Are the seeds viable?  Yes, and can remain dormant up to ten years.  If seeds remain in the soil from the previous years, it’s illegal to harvest them.  Further, if any of the seeds from a field contain the patented genes, it is illegal to save them for use.  Percy had been saving his canola seeds for fifty years.  Monsanto was suing for possession of intellectual property that had drifted onto his plants.  The laws protect possession of the gene itself, irrespective of its conveyance.  Because of pollen drift and seed contamination, the Monsanto genes are ubiquitous in Canadian Canola.

Percy lost his court battles: he was found guilty by the Federal Court of Canada, the conviction upheld in the court of appeals.  The Canadian Supreme Court narrowly upheld the decision (5-4), but with no compensation to Monsanto.  This stunning case has drawn substantial attention to the problems associated with letting GM genies out of their bottle.  Organic canola farmers in Saskatchewan have now sued Monsanto and another company, Aventis, for making it impossible for Canadian farmers to grow organic canola.  The National Farmers  Union of Canada has called for a moratorium on all GM foods.  The issue has spilled over the borders as well.  Fifteen countries have banned import of GM canola, and Australia has banned all Canadian canola due to the unavoidable contamination made obvious by Monsanto’s lawsuit.  Farmers are concerned about liability, and consumers are concerned about choice.  Twenty-four U.S. states have proposed or passed various legislation to block or limit particular GM products, attach responsibility for GM drift to seed producers, defend a farmer’s right to save seeds, and require seed and food product labels to indicate GM ingredients (or allow “GM-free” labeling).

The U.S. federal government (corporate friendly as ever) has stepped in to circumvent these proconsumer measures.  In 2006 the House of Representatives passed the National Uniformity for Food Act, which would eliminate more than two hundred state-initiated food safety and labeling laws that differ from federal ones.  Thus, the weakest consumer protections would prevail (but they’re uniformly weak!).  Here’s a clue about who really benefits from this bill: it’s endorsed by the American Frozen Food Institute, ConAgra, Cargill, Dean Foods, Hormel, and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.  It’s opposed by the Consumers Union, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety, and thirty-nine state attorney generals.  Keeping GM’s “intellectual” paws out of our bodies, and our fields, is up to consumers who demand full disclosure on what’s in our food. 

For more information, visit www.bitotech-info.net or www.organicconsumers.org.

This is Mary,the Mental Farmer again.  Ready to take a drive out to the nearest local, small farm or Farmer’s Market and buy an heirloom vegetable for supper?  I am.  Local food is worth the extra time and money!  Not only are  you doing what’s best for your body, you are keeping plant varieties intact for future generations.

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4 Comments on “The Strange Case of Percy Schmeiser, by Steven L. Hopp”

  1. Laura Machin Says:

    Ouch-scary, and now I look at the produce dept completely differently…..

    Like

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Seeds of Destruction: It’s Not Just About Food | Irish Paleo - 12/13/2011

    […] industry sues for “pollen drift”. In 1999 Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, was sued by Monsanto for $145,000 because Monsanto’s patented gene […]

    Like

  2. - healthfoodstorelocator.com - 12/13/2011

    […] industry sues for “pollen drift”.  In 1999 Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, was sued by Monsanto for $145,000 because Monsanto’s patented gene […]

    Like

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