May 19, 2004

Canada's Supreme Court Rules on 'David & Goliath' Friday: Tell Monsanto Where to Go!

Letter warnings for Monsanto: There are 5 million Percy Schmeisers

Bees, beetles and blowing prairie winds can carry Monsanto’s genetically-modified canola a good 26 kilometers – and a whole lot farther if the transgenic seed or pollen hitches a ride on passing trucks, trains or trousers. After eight summers in Canada’s West, GM canola has earned the dubious status of a major weed – a common sight in fields, boulevards and cemeteries – and even backyard gardens. "Canola can winter over for 8 years," says ETC Group’s Pat Mooney in the NGO’s Winnipeg headquarters, "meaning GM pollen has probably travelled a minimum of 200 km since Monsanto first commercialized its patented seed in 1996." Which is why, Mooney reasons, just about everyone on the prairies has a direct, personal interest in the May 21st Supreme Court decision. Gene Giant Monsanto has accused Saskatchewan farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser of illegally growing the company’s canola. "It’s not just farmers," insists Mooney. "There are about 5 million Percy Schmeisers out here [roughly the population of Canada’s three prairie provinces]. For all any of us know, we could have Monsanto’s canola in our window boxes."

Canada’s Supreme Court decision will set a global precedent that will be studied closely by farmers, jurists, and Gene Giants around the world. Although Canada doesn’t allow patents on higher-order life forms such as plants and animals, Monsanto believes that its patent on transgenic material gives it a de facto patent on anything its genes get into. If the Court agrees, the right of farmers to save seed – a right that has been upheld for 12 thousand years – will be imperiled and the 1.4 billion people on this planet who depend on farm-saved seed for their food security will be still more food-insecure. And the burden of coping with GM contamination will be placed on the farmer rather than the corporate polluter. If the Court finds for Monsanto, however, it could still conclude that the Schmeisers did nothing to benefit from the GM seed that blew onto their property and agree that the corporation is not entitled to damages. This would not only be a great relief to the embattled family but it would also be a sharp setback for Monsanto. "With hundreds of other lawsuits pending, the company’s lawyers will be hard-pressed to show that their GM seeds benefit anybody," Mooney suggests.

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