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Fiction by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Posted on Feb 27, 2007 in Blog, food | 2 comments

GMO’s and Farmers

This is related to my spluttering about GMO’s on Daniel Abraham’s blog a week or so ago…

Dr. Katherine Miller (who happens to be teaching a course this semester on sci-fi and science, how cool is that?) just pointed me to the Monsanto vs Schmeiser case, in which a farmer was sued by Monsanto for re-planting Roundup Ready seeds. The farmer took the case to the Canadian supreme court… and lost. I wasn’t aware of it at the time that I wrote “The Calorie Man” but it fits into my overall jaundiced sense of the world.

The most interesting part of it to me, (other than the fact that Monsanto has a snitch-on-the-IP-stealing-farmer hotline) comes from this Cornell Cooperative Extension website, which comes down strongly on the side of Monsanto’s intellectual property right. Their stance (and the court’s) is that Percy Schmeiser had no right to selectively glean seeds from the crops that were growing on his property.

“In this case, Mr. Schmeiser cultivated glyphosate resistant canola plants. His 1998 canola crop was mostly glyphosate resistant, and it came from seed that Mr. Schmeiser had saved from his own fields and the adjacent road allowances in 1997. Although the Trial Judge did not find that Mr. Schmeiser played any part initially in causing those glyphosate resistant canola plants to grow in 1997, the Trial Judge found as a fact, on the basis of ample evidence, that Mr. Schmeiser knew or should have known that those plants were glyphosate resistant when he saved their seeds in 1997 and planted those seeds the following year. It was the cultivation, harvest and sale of the 1998 crop in those circumstances that made Mr. Schmeiser vulnerable to Monsanto’s infringement claim.” [section 56 and 57 in document below; emphasis in original]

This process of a farmer selecting from his/her own crop, and saving the best for next year’s crop (in Schmeiser’s case the glyphosate resistant aka Roundup Ready canola seed ) is exactly what friends of mine do when they run their garlic farm. The little bulbs get sold, the biggest, juiciest, nicest ones get saved for next year’s planting, to improve the overall stock. Schmeiser did it with Roundup Ready seeds. The upshot seems to be that he cannot legally selectively glean seeds from his crop.

As genetically modified crops continue to contaminate non-GMO farms, the potential legal liability to farmers seems set to increase if they participate in anything as transgressive as — God forbid — replanting the seedstock from their land.

Science Creative Quarterly has a nifty roundup (har!) on the topic, as well.

2 Comments

  1. The first time I heard about this a couple of years ago, I was so angry that I wanted to punch someone in the face. Monsanto has become an uncontrollable behemoth. Not only do they sue farmers for accidentally using Monsanto seeds that have contaminated their land, but they also sell seeds to third world countries, seeds that contain a “suicide gene,” meaning that they go sterile after only after one season and cannot be used reused.

    If you get a chance, check out The Future of Food, which goes into all of this stuff and more.

  2. Dr. Miller passed me a bunch of links regarding the case that she’s going to be having her students use in class. She’s planning on dividing them into opposing groups to argue the Monsanto vs. Schmeiser conflict. Her links follow:

    Links for discussion of the case of Monsanto Canada vs Percy Schmeiser

    A quick overview of the case:
    http://apacweb.ag.utk.edu/weekpdf/202.pdf

    The case from Percy Schmeiser’s point of view:
    http://www.percyschmeiser.com/

    The Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling on the case:
    http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2004/2004scc34/2004scc34.html

    Monsanto’s response:
    http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=195

    A compendium of hyperlinks about the case for further study:
    http://www.biotech-info.net/percy_schmeiser.html