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FEATURE Monsanto Attacks! A Canadian Canola Farmer Takes on a Seed Giant BY CHRIS WOMACK In 1998, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued by Monsanto, the multinational agribusiness company, for illegally growing a genetically engineered variety of canola that Monsanto has been aggressively marketing for the past five years. The plant, known as Roundup Ready Canola, is resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s popular herbicide. Monsanto argued, successfully, that Schmeiser had violated the company’s patent on the product by obtaining and growing the seed without its permission. In fact, Schmeiser claimed, it was Monsanto who was in the wrong. Either through cross-pollination or via wind-borne seeds, a neighbor’s Roundup Ready Canola crop had invaded his own canola fields, genetically contaminating his own carefully bred variety of canola, which Schmeiser had personally developed through natural methods. Schmeiser is appealing Monsanto’s first-round victory. A major producer of genetically engineered crops \(often called GE crops or GMOs, for genetically modified organin the world through rapid purchase of smaller seed companies. As the controversy over genetic contamination grows, Schmeiser’s case is being carefully watched by all sides in the worldwide fight over the spread of genetically modified food and, ultimately, control of the food supply. Schmeiser is touring the U.S., India, Europe, and Asia to talk about his fight with Monsanto. On October 10 he spoke at a forum at UT Austin’s Sid Richardson hall. Texas Observer: Had you ever planted any of Monsanto’s crops? Percy Schmeiser: No. I never, ever had anything to do with Monsanto. Never bought the seed, I didn’t even know a Monsanto rep or went to a meeting. I was developing my own seed for a long period of timefifty years in fact. So I never, ever planted their seed. TO.: How did you find out you had a Monsanto crop in your fields? P.S.: To maintain weed control, we’ll generally spray with Roundup. And this one year-1998we found that there were some canola plants that didn’t die. TO.: How did Monsanto find out? P.S.: It came out in my court case that -a former employee of Monsanto had rented some of that land a year or two before. He told Monsanto I possibly could have some of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola in it. And it was quite obvious when you drove down the main road, you’d see something dead, but plants growing in it, and they were canola. TO.: How did Monsanto claim this canola got into your field? P.S.: By either stealing itthey even went that faror getting it illegally from a seed-house or whatever. So, anyway, I stood up to Monsanto and said, “No way. I never had any.You destroyed my fifty years of development.” So eventually it went to court. But in pretrial just before court… they said that they had absolutely no proof… that I had obtained the seed illegally. But they said that didn’t matter. The fact that there are some of their plants growing on my land infringed on their patent. TO.: How likely is it that your canola became Roundup resistant by pollination with patented plants? P.S.: I’d say cross-pollination would be a smaller way. But the big waymy neighbor, we found out in court, had grown’ it in 1996 right next to me. A whole half-mile. There was a windstorm and a lot of it blew into my field. T.O.: The pollen blew over? P.S.: No, the seeds. So the judge ruled it doesn’t matter how it got there, even if my crop was cross-pollinated. He said if pure seeds got onto my land and mixed with my plants, my whole crop becomes their property because now you can’t distinguish which plants are GMO. So he ruled that all my profits from my 1998 canola crop go to Monsantoeven from fields that were tested and had no contamination. TO.: Some plants in your crop might have a single gene that Monsanto spliced into canola. Because Monsanto patented this canola, the presence of a single gene among all these plants, most of which don’t have this gene, means that Monsanto owns the whole thing? 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/9/01