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Saskatchewan Farmer Fights to Keep Seeds Free


Schmeiser Receives Ghandi Award Sixty-nine year old Percy Schmeiser has farmed at Bruno, Saskatchewan most of his life along with Louise, his wife of 48 years.

Schmeiser Receives Ghandi Award
Sixty-nine year old Percy Schmeiser has farmed at Bruno, Saskatchewan most of his life along with Louise, his wife of 48 years. He farms nine quarter sections of land (1,440 acres) where, last year, he grew 1,100 acres of wheat, canola, peas and oats.

On October 2, 2000, he received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for non-violence at the Research Foundation of Science, Technology and Ecology at New Delhi, India. The award was presented because of Mr Schmeiser's fight for farmers all over the world to save and use their own seed.

His fight was carried out in a Canadian court in Saskatoon. The award was presented by Gandhi and Dasham Samite of the Gandhi family. (Mahatma Gandhi was an internationally known pacifist who, through non-violent means over many years, lead India to freedom from British rule in 1947.) The award stands for "The Betterment of Mankind in a Non-violent Way." Parliamentarians, supreme court judges, academics and farmers were present for the presentation to Schmeiser.

Schmeiser has been growing canola for 50 years, saving his own seed from one year to the next. In the summer of 1998, the transnational drug and chemical company, Monsanto, inspected his farm without his permission and then claimed that he was growing the genetically engineered Roundup Ready canola to which the international company has patent rights.

On August 6, 1998, Monsanto charged him with "patent infringement." They claimed the genetically engineered canola they found on his farm was an infringement of "intellectual property rights." The case was heard in federal court in Saskatoon, in June, 2000. It lasted two and a half weeks. We don't know the decision yet.

Schmeiser could have settled immediately with Monsanto for between $4,000 and $5,000. He refused. Today his legal bill is $160,000. He has also accumulated another $40,000 in expenses related to the case. Monsanto's legal bill is $400,000 and, depending on the decision of the judge, the cost to Schmeiser could be as much as $600,000.

The Plant Breeders Rights Act (see alive #219) passed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's government in 1991, gave corporations the right to patent seeds. Monsanto developed genetically engineered canola and patented it. If a farmer wants to use the Monsanto seed, he must sign an agreement to use Monsanto's genetically engineered canola, use their Roundup Ready herbicide, sell all the seed he grows (the farmer must not keep any for seed the next year) and pay Monsanto a $15-an-acre royalty for the privilege of using Monsanto's seed.

Monsanto claims that Schmeiser used the seed illegally. Schmeiser claims that it must have blown off a passing truck or the pollen must have drifted from an adjoining field. The judge will decide eventually. In the meantime Schmeiser has won his case in the court of international public opinion.

World Seed Control
Schmeiser has become an international figure in the debate about who controls thre world's seeds.

Prior to the court case, French, Dutch, British and Danish national television crews had come to Bruno, Saskatchewan, filming documentaries on the Schmeiser case. The Schmeisers went to Europe in October to speak at meetings in Germany, Holland and England on the topic of who should control the world's seeds. Following the European meeting they went to South Africa, the Philippines, Bangladesh and California.

The general topic of these meetings is the "globalization of agriculture and the failure of the Green Revolution." The Green Revolution was headed by Norman Borlague in the mid-1960s. The theory was to use the maximum amount of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to grow more food for a hungry world. Most of the countries in the world have since realised that the Green Revolution is a failure.

Schmeiser spent two weeks in India visiting agriculture research stations and agriculture facilities. He said that India has a rural or farm population of 750,000,000 people. The average farm size is one acre.

"It's obvious the farmers of India don't have any room in their family budgets to pay royalties to Monsanto or any other transnational corporation," says Schmeiser. "India has been farming for over 2,000 years and has bred and developed a wide variety of seeds for many different growing conditions."

He added that there was a close working relationship in India between farmers, researchers and academics. He also noted that there was a very strong support for farmer's rights to save their own seed.

I sincerely hope that all political parties will support rescinding the Plant Breeders Rights Act so the farmers of the world can use and control their own seed. No company or government has the right to control the seeds of the world.