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Schmeiser on a World Circuit

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Recent events in the farm community have greatly reduced my level of cynicism about our individual rights in the global village and the international institutions we have established to protect our rights.

Recent events in the farm community have greatly reduced my level of cynicism about our individual rights in the global village and the international institutions we have established to protect our rights.

One event I am thinking of in particular is the recent trip to Rome of the well-known Bruno, Saskatchewan, grain and oilseed farmer, Percy Schmeiser. Since his trial in Saskatoon, June 2000, Schmeiser has been invited to speak at meetings on five of our six continents.

His most recent trip was the result of an invitation to speak at the sixth extraordinary session of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The topic of the conference was "International Undertaking of Plant Genetic Resources." Schmeiser was asked to speak on the topic of "farmers' rights to save their own seed." The conference was attended by representatives from 170 of the world's nations.

To me the most sensational part of Schmeiser's trip to Rome is the fact that he doesn't represent any provincial or national farm organization, nor is he an elected politician: he represents only himself. However, the reason he was invited is because he has had the courage to defend himself in a Saskatoon federal court of law when the transnational corporation Monsanto charged him with using their genetically altered Roundup Ready canola without a contract. Schmeiser lost the case but he has gained international recognition as a farmer willing to fight for a cause he believes in despite great legal expense to his family. However, with the help of donations to a special trust fund established for this purpose, he has launched an appeal against Monsanto.

While in Rome, Schmeiser addressed two luncheon sessions of delegates, one with African delegates and one with delegates from all nations. The rest of the time was spent meeting with smaller groups of ambassadors from non-governmental organizations and other interested people. He said the vast majority of the representatives are concerned about world food security as a result of genetically modified foods or organisms (GMOs). They see GMOs as a threat to the world's food supply. Schmeiser received no support from the Canadian and US representatives. In fact they did everything possible to keep him from speaking.

Canadian and US farm policy is obviously dominated by transnational corporations. Both countries have the Plant Breeders Rights legislation, which gives transnational corporations the right to patent and control our seed supply and our agriculture policies.

At the United Nations' conference in Rome, Schmeiser said many important decisions were made, but the following four were outstanding:

  1. Acknowledging that the conservation, exploration, collection, characterization, evaluation and documentation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are essential in meeting the goals of the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and for sustainable agricultural development for this and future generations. And that the capacity of developing countries and countries with economies in transition to undertake such tasks needs urgently to be reinforced;

  2. Acknowledging further that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are the raw material indispensable for crop genetic improvement, whether by means of farmers' selection, classical plant breeding or modern biotechnologies, and are essential in adapting to unpredictable environmental changes and future human needs;

  3. Affirming that the past, present and future contributions of farmers in all regions of the world, particularly those in centres of origin and diversity, in conserving, improving and making available these resources, is the basis of Farmers' Rights, as unanimously agreed through resolution 4/89 of the 25th session of the FAO Conference;

  4. Affirming also that the rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material without restriction, and to participate in decision-making regarding the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, are fundamental to the realization of Farmers' Rights and should be monitored at national and international levels.

Schmeiser is also invited to the next session of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome this November and he will speak to an American conference of Roman Catholic bishops this fall.

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