Theft of Life: A story of the struggle against Monsanto and the corporate takeover of our genetic inheritance
By Percy Schmeiser
I am a seed developer from western Canada, where since 1947 my wife and I have been developing a strain of canola that is resistant to certain diseases that we have on the prairies. I am also a seed saver, like hundred of thousands of farmers around the world who save their seed from year to year, to plant and harvest.
I was also the mayor of my community for over twenty five years.
In 1998 without any prior knowledge, Monsanto laid a lawsuit against me alleging that I had infringed their patent by growing their genetically modified conola without a license. It was a real shock to me, as we had never had anything to do with Monsanto.
But the real issue that concerned us was the possibility that our pure seed, which we had developed after half a century of research would now be contaminated. We stood up to Monsanto, arguing that if any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were present in our pure seed, then Monsanto were liable for destroying the property of others.
It took two years for this case to go to trial at the Federal court of Canada, with one judge, but no jury, and I had no choice in the matter. In the two years of allegations Monsanto withdrew all allegations that I had obtained their seed illegally, but because they had found some GMO canola plants in the ditch along my field, I had infringed their patent. That is the basis on which the case went to the Federal Court of Canada.
This is what the judge ruled: it does not matter how Monsantoâ€™s GMOs get into or onto any farmerâ€™s field or into a seed supply (He went on to specify how this could happen: direct seed movement by birds, by wind, especially on the prairies, by floods, and through cross-pollination by bees). It doesnâ€™t actually matter how the genetically modified organisms get into an organic farmerâ€™s field or into the fields of a conventional farmer like myself: once there, those seeds and plants become Monsantoâ€™s property.â€
It was a very startling decision. The judge also ruled that we were not allowed to use our seeds or plants again and that all the seeds and plants that we had developed over 50 years became the property of Monsanto. The judge also ruled that all the profit from my 1998 canola crop was payable to Monsanto. The judge further ruled that even from the land that had no contamination, all profit would be payable to Monsanto because there was a probability that our seed contained some of Monsantoâ€™s GMOs.
We immediately applied to the Federal court of Appeal which has three judges but no jury. After a year the Appeal Court upheld the first judgeâ€™s decision, but did not agree with all his decisions. After this second ruling in 2002, we appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The case began in January 2004.
There were many issues to be decided, including the whole issue of patenting life forms. At the original trial, Monsanto said that by putting a gene into a seed, they invented the seed. When the seed becomes a plant, they invented the plant. Now if you look at the implications of that: if you put one gene in any seed, or any plant, or any life form, whether it be a bird, an animal, or a fish or a human being â€” does that say the corporation responsible has invented that life form?
It is an important issue not only of the rights of farmers being able to use their seed from year to year but the whole rights of controlling and owning genes â€” the controlling and owning of human beings, animals, birds, bees and so on.
In December 2002 the Supreme Court ruled on one very important issue: in Canada you cannot patent a higher life form, including a seed or a plant.
The really worrying thing is how we can lose our rights and freedoms. The contract from Monsanto, takes all farmersâ€™ rights away. Here is a paraphrase of a few clauses.
â€œYou cannot use your own seed.
You must always buy your seed each year.
You can only use Monsantoâ€™s chemicals.
You have to pay a fixed fee, per acre, per year as license fee or technology charge to Monsanto.
If you commit some violation of this contract
you must sign a non disclosure statement, and
you cannot talk to the press or
you cannot discuss the situation with your neighbor.
So it takes a farmerâ€™s freedom of speech and expression away.
There is another clause:
You must permit Monsantoâ€™s police force to come into your land for 3 years after you sign this contract. Even though you may only grow their seeds one year, they can go into your grain reservoir, into your silos, onto your land, to inspect and see what you are growing or what you have in storage.
They can ask for your farming records, your income tax records, anything. And you must permit them to do that.
Another clause has been added in 2003 contract :
The clause says you can no longer sue Monsanto, for whatever reason.
So that is why it is important for people to know the true impact of the introduction of GMOs and how rights of people are being taken away by corporations.
Another very important issue is how Monsanto advertise in their brochures. They state that if you think your neighbor is growing Monsantoâ€™s GMO canola or Soya beans without license, you should inform on your neighbor. If you inform on your neighbor you get a gift from Monsanto.
Now what happens when Monsanto gets this tip off? They will immediately send 2 of their police out to a farmerâ€™s home, and accuse the farmer of growing their product without a licence, and threaten the farmer with the full force of the law.
The effect this has on the community is appalling as the accused try to work out which neighbour informed on them.
These are the methods Monsanto uses to instill fear in farmers, because the best way to control people is by the culture of fear.
There are some other points that need to be borne in mind when considering the implications of Monsantoâ€™s business practices:
There is no such thing as containment. Believe me, as a farmer for over half a century. I know that you cannot contain a life form once you put it into the environment. Whatever the level of contamination of plants, whether 1% or 0.3% of genetically modified material, this genetic pollution will become all pervasive. There is no such thing as containment.
There is no such thing as coexistence. Introduce a genetically modified organism into the environment and it becomes dominant. It will contaminate an organic farm or a conventional farm in a matter of just a few years. After the introduction of genetically modified canola in 1996 within two years super weeds had become dominant. Now what is a super-weed? A super-weed in this case is mutant canola which carried genes modified by two other companies as well as those of Monsanto. These modified genes are now all in one plant it has become a super weed, polluting the entire western prairies. It is in wheat fields, barley fields, and oat fields, and it takes a new, more powerful highly toxic chemical to kill it. There is no such thing as co-existence.
Organic farmers in Canada can no longer grow two crops: Soya beans and canola. All our seed is contaminated. We can no longer sell one bushel of canola to the European Union. We have lost our markets all over the world.
But I think the greatest curse is still coming. And thatâ€™s coming in the line of prescription drug plants or â€˜pharma-plantsâ€™. There are six major drugs that are now being produced by genetically modified plants: vaccines, industrial enzymes, blood thinners, blood clotting proteins, growth hormones and contraceptives. What if somebody has had major surgery and they then eat food that is contaminated with genes from a plant manufactured to be a blood thinner? Or what about a pregnant woman who eats food contaminated by genes from a plant that is manufactured as a contraceptive? Remember, there is no such thing as containment or co-existence.
What kind of a legacy do we want to leave to our children and our grandchildren? A legacy of land, food, water and air full of poisons? No we want to leave a legacy of land, food, air and water full of health and vitality. I have a message especially to the younger generation: Your rights and your freedoms can be lost overnight, your choice to eat healthily can be taken away. The law in Canada has enabled corporations to deny the rights of farmers to grow and save their own uncontaminated seeds. We are determined to spend the rest of our lives, if necessary, protecting our human rights.
Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer and activist. For further information visit ;