Farmer Percy Schmeiser
Engineered Seeds of Controversy:
Biotech Bullies Threaten Farmer and Consumer Rights.
University of Texas at Austin 10oct01
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Heartbreak in the Heartland: The True Cost of Genetically Engineered Crops
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It’s really a pleasure to come to Austin, and I’d like to thank the organizers for bringing me here.
I’m here now not to tell you what may happen, or could happen, or possibly happen, but now what has happened with the introduction of GMOs or GE canola and soybeans in our country.
I should maybe back up a little bit and give you a brief outline. I’ve been farming for 53 years, and 50 years of those I spent in the development of in the natural breeding of canola. I was known in western Canada as a seed saver and a seed developer. Besides being a farmer, I’ve also spent 25 years in public life. I was a member of parliament, and I was also mayor of my community for that length of time.
In those years of public life I was on every agricultural committee you can imagine, both federally and provincially. And I’ve always fought for farmers’ rights and farmers’ privileges, and regulations and laws that would benefit them. When this thing happened to me, which I’ll go into a little more detail later on, I had to stand up to them.
So anyway, that gives you a brief background. Now, I’ll go immediately into what happened to me.
In 1998, without any previous warning or indication at all, Monsanto launched a lawsuit against me. In that lawsuit, they stated this; that I had illegally obtained Monsanto’s genetically altered canola without a licence, and that I infringed on their patent by doing so. They went on to say that obtaining it illegally, they said I either stole it, I got illegally from a seed house, or from a neighbor, or whatever.
So, I stood up to Monsanto, and I said, “look, I never, ever bought your seed, I never had nothing to do with you. And if there are seeds, Monsanto’s genetically altered seeds or plants in my canola, which I developed, you people have contaminated, you people have basically destroyed my seed.
So, my wife and I made a decision that we would stand up to them, and say that, “you people are liable.” One of the reasons I think that my wife and I stood up to them, my grandparents came from the old country, first to the United States in the 1890’s, from there into Canada. My father and mother were both born in the United States.
And why did my grandparents leave Europe? They left Europe to get away from this sort of thing, and to be free to do what they want, and to seed what they want. That is one of the big reasons I think that my wife and I took the stand.
Eventually, my case went to court after two and a half years. And Monsanto dragged me through those courts in pretrial. They did everything to break me, to mentally break me down, and other things that cost me a lot of money. Both my wife and myself basically took all of our retirement funds, because just my lawyer fees alone, up to date, have been about $200,000.
Before the main trial, Monsanto withdrew all their allegations against me that I had ever obtained a seed illegally. They went on to say that it didn’t matter how the seed got onto my land, I still infringed on their patent.
In June of 2000, it went to trial, and my trial lasted two and one-half weeks. And what did the judge rule after two and one-half weeks of trial? I think the next three things that I’m going to tell you will alarm you, as it has alarmed people all over the world.
My case now has become a focal point on patent law versus the private rights, or we call farmers’ privileges, and in Canada, plant breeders’ rights. The farmer always has the right to plant his own seed under federal law.
This is what the judge ruled. Number one, there were many aspects, but I’ll give you the most important ones. He said this, number one; “It didn’t matter how Monsanto’s genetic (sic) altered canola got into my field.” And then he went on to specify, he said, “whether it cross-pollinated, or if it blew in by the wind, by birds, bees, animals, or falling off a farmer’s truck, a combine, and so on, it didn’t matter, the fact that there was some plants there, I had violated Monsanto’s patent, even though I didn’t want it in my field.
Number two, which is the most important one I think. He ruled, any farmer that has a regular conventional plant, it doesn’t matter what kind of plant, if it’s a tree, if it’s a seed, and it gets cross-pollinated with Monsanto’s gene against your wishes, and destroys your property, my plant becomes Monsanto’s property.
Stop and think what that means to farmers all over the world—farmers, gardeners, anything to do with a life-giving form, my property becomes Monsanto’s property against my wishes and because it gets cross-pollinated by their gene.
The third issue he ruled; the fact that I never used Monsanto’s patent, which means I didn’t ever use Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide or glyphosate on my crop, he rule, “that’s immaterial.” He said that the fact was that there was some plants there.
That shows you the extent of the power of patent law over farmers’ rights. You can have farmers’ rights, farmers’ privileges ‘til the cows come home, basically. And it doesn’t mean a darned thing, because patent rights take the farmers’ rights away. And basically, patent rights are the same all over the world.
What did we do immediately after the judge came down with that decision? First of all, we launched an appeal to the federal court of Canada, with three judges. And that will probably be heard next spring. We also launched a counter lawsuit against Monsanto. And in that lawsuit it states this; first of all, there’s a liability issue now. If Monsanto has a patent, that still doesn’t give them the right to release it to the environment—a life giving from that they knew they couldn’t control, they had no intentions of controlling—now it’s out of control. There’s a real liability issue.
The second part, we had said, in regards to patenting of life giving forms, if anybody can patent a life giving form—especially a seed or a plant—where do you stop? What about animals, birds, bees, insects, fish? And who can patent it—whether an individual or a multinational? How far do go? And ultimately, we said “can you patent a human being?”
With regards to the judges ruling, it doesn’t matter how that gene gets into anything; they become the owners of it. We’re challenging the patent law also, because when patent laws were drawn up, they were never drawn up for life giving forms. That is the reason that we are challenging that.
We’ve also stated that once you release into the environment a life giving form there is no calling back. It is there forever. I’ll go into a little bit further into that about the patent. But before I go any farther… Why did farmers sign onto Monsanto to grow genetic altered canola in 1996, when regulatory approval was given? And right across the border to us in the U.S., Monsanto was allowed to sell to [soybean farmers] genetic altered soybeans.
I think the reasons were this; number one; Monsanto told farmers that it would be more nutritious, it would be a bigger yield, but most of all, less chemicals. In Western Canada, the same as right across the border, we as farmers, use hundreds and hundreds of tons of chemicals, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, you name it.
Our land is contaminated. Our water is contaminated. Farmers now realize that we’re just killing ourselves and we’re killing the environment—our insects, our birds, and everything else. When farmers heard that, it was not only an economic reason, it was the fact that they realized—farmers realized themselves, like myself—the damage that we were doing to the environment. So, when Monsanto said “less chemicals,” I think that’s what really caught the farmer’s ear.
What happened after four and five years? Number one; it was not more nutritious, it was not a bigger yield. When Monsanto advertised a bigger yielder, always note they never say anything about quality. The quality drops about in half.
And a third issue; less chemicals—farmers are now using from six to ten times more chemicals. The reason for that is because now canola has become a super weed. It now, as I said, takes six to ten times more chemical to try and control it.
What is a super weed? That super weed, in four or five years, has spread all over Western Canada, into fields where people never ever grew canola—wheat fields, barley fields, oats fields, flax fields—it’s all over. What has happened is this; there’s about five or six companies in Canada selling GMO canola, and probably that many companies in the US selling GMO soybeans. If farmer “A” buys a GMO canola from this company, and farmer “B” buys GMO canola from this company, and over here, a farmer buys GMO canola from Monsanto. The genes felled from these three GMO crops are now into one conventional plant, which makes it now a super weed. Now you need three chemicals to kill one plant. Monsanto says, “Don’t worry. No problem. We’ll now come out with a new super chemical. But, I guarantee you, by the end of the year 2001 that after tests are done, we will have five of the GMO genes in one plant. You can see what has happened when I say super weeds.
How does Monsanto regulate their contract? To me, it is the most vicious, suppressive contract on the face of the earth. People don’t realize what is going on in North America—in Canada and the United States—the rights and freedoms of people are being taken away.
Monsanto gets farmers to sign a contract. In that contract it states that; you can never use your own seed—you sign away all your rights away to be able to use your own seed. And as I said to you, under federal law in Canada, you’re always allowed to use your own seed.
You must also buy the chemical from Monsanto. You must also sign a nondisclosure statement, that if you happened to have used some of your seed the following year, and they find out about it, they can fine you or take all the profits from your crop, or make you destroy it. They can say anything about you, but you cannot say anything about Monsanto.
You must pay fifteen dollars an acre, each year—a technology charge. But what is the most revolting part of this contract is that you must allow Monsanto’s police force to come on your land for three years afterwards, go in your granaries, go on your land, with or without your permission, and check to see if your cheating or not.
Monsanto doesn’t stop there. That was a farmer that maybe has signed his contract, but they go onto other farmers’ land. They trespass. And I’m not scared to use the word steal. They steal seeds and plants from a farmer to check on other farmers, to see if they’re growing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola or not.
(Holding up a piece of paper) This is an advertisement that Monsanto has in the brochures. On the bottom it says, “If you think your neighbor might be growing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola without a licence, squeal or rat on him.” What happens after that is that Monsanto’s police will come out to this farmer’s house or his yard, and they’ll come into that home, and they’ll threaten the farmer or his wife, and say, “We got this tip or rumor.” That’s always what they say—tip or rumor. “If you don’t come clean, we’ll get you, destroy you. You won’t have a farm left.
This is in a free country. And they get away with it because if a farmer catches them in his field, and he says, “ you’re trespassing, you’re taking some of our grain, or some of our seeds or plants.” Monsanto says, “OK, you take us to court. If you do, we’ll drag you through the courts. By the time we’re through with you, you won’t have a farm left.”
It’s the power of money and might. You can imagine what does this do to the social fabric of a community. When a farmer gets a visit from two of Monsanto’s police, and generally they come in pairs, he’ll think these police leave, “Was it this farmer, this farmer, or my neighbor, or that neighbor?” So, you have to the breakdown of working together—of trust amongst farmers.
In North America (sic), the same as here in the United States, farmers had to work together to develop our country. And now, you have a company that is so low that it’s trying to break down that social fabric of our community.
They don’t stop there. If they don’t find a farmer at home, they send a farmer extortion letters. And I mean extortion letters. In this particular letter that was sent to a farmer—we don’t know how many thousands of these letters they send out—but basically what they say is, in this particular letter to a farmer, it states this; “we have reason to believe that you might be growing Monsanto’s genetic altered canola without a license. That we may not take you or take you to court, please send us, in this case, $28,750 and we won’t charge you. We may or may…”
These are the extortion letters. Not only that, it goes on to say, “You agree that Monsanto shall, at it’s sole discretion, have the right to disclose the facts and settlement terms associated with this investigation and settlement agreement. And you may not say anything to anybody about it,” a total muzzling of farmers’ freedom of speech and rights. This is what’s happening in a free society. The power of Monsanto.
Where are farmers’ rights and privileges? Where’s the government on this?
At my trial, it came out that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a division of the Canadian Department of Agriculture, and Ag Canada, had been receiving grants from Monsanto to do research work on agricultural test sites and development sites in Western Canada. These same people, after taking grants from Monsanto, it came out that they were the ones that gave regulatory approval to Monsanto so they could sell GMO canola to farmers.
So, you had on one hand, they were taking grants, on the other hand, they were given regulatory approval. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which was regarded as one of the most reliable and trustworthy departments in Canada, in regards to the safety of foods, admitted at my trial that they had done no testing on genetic altered food. They only used Monsanto’s data.
They also stated, in questioning, that they gave their approval on the fact, and this is the words (sic) they always use, that it was “substantially equivalent.” It had some proteins in, and it had some [?] in. It was substantially equivalent. They didn’t say nothing else. The other part that was not substantially covered because they did no testing. There you have our government agencies basically in bed, taking grants from Monsanto, and then giving regulatory approval. And I’m sure the same thing has happened in the United States. As I said, these things didn’t happen in a third-world country. They’re happening in a first-world country. The control, as the person [Jim Hightower] before me said how they infiltrated into all sectors of our government.
[Video of Rodney Nelson shown]
A brief excerpt from the video:
“I can also assure you that it is not possible for a farmer in the United States to buy soybean seed from a major seed supplier that is not already contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically modified organism.” Contact Rodney Nelson at 701-347-5456, or visit his website http://nelsonfarm.net
[Video ends and Percy begins speaking again]
I’ve been contact continuously with Rodney Nelson. His father had seven bypasses. My wife spoke to him about a month ago, the day after he came home from the hospital. He got so excited over the phone that my wife said, “Settle down, settle down, you’re going to have another heart attack.”
The farmer he referred to in the video was the farmer I was telling you about, where Monsanto sent that extortion letter to. That farmer had four heart attacks. He no longer can farm, and it’s in my home province of Saskatchewan. His wife told Monsanto, “Look, put me in jail, my husband is too sick.” She is now doing the farming along with a hired man. Monsanto said, “No, we don’t want to put you in jail. Just sell your farm so you can pay us.” That is exactly what they said, she told me.
That shows you the ruthlessness of Monsanto and the fear culture that they put into farmers all over Canada and all over the United States. It’s hard to imagine that a multinational would stoop to such a low level.
In my case also, they offered one farmer $20,000 worth of chemicals—they never pay anything in cash—if he would say something false against me in court. He has now admitted this.
They also went to one of the seed dressers—sometimes farmers will get their seed dressed for certain fungi and certain disease—they went to this company that does the seed dressing, and also in my case, and they offered the company… the manager a better discount on the products that this company was selling for Monsanto. Basically there was bribery. They said that this company would supply in return to Monsanto a sample of each farmer’s seed without the farmer’s knowledge. Basically what they were doing was stealing seed from each farmer, turning it over to Monsanto, and then in turn, getting a better discount. This is the level that Monsanto stoops to.
One farmer… well, it’s more than one farmer…in Saskatchewan, the lady who was quite vocal, Monsanto’s police came to her door and she literally chased them off the farm. And they said, “We’ll find out.” And what they did, about a week later, an airplane flew over this farmer’s canola fields. They didn’t realize what was going on. About a week later, another plan came over, about ten days later. When the farmer went to harvest, just like you see here, he noticed that there was round spots about 30 feet across in each of his canola fields where the canola had died. Then they realized that Monsanto had spray-bombed—they have little spray-bombs, they use Roundup. They go over farmer’s fields and drop them. If the canola dies, they know the farmer has not been using GMO canola. And if it didn’t die, they know the farmer’s been cheating. This is the extent to which they are going to.
There’s a few things that I would like to bring to your attention. Basically, there’s three things to the whole issue of GMOs. I’ve divided it into those three parts. One is the one that I’m involved with; property rights vs. patent law—the rights of farmers always to be able use their own seed worldwide. That is what my issue is. The other issue is the health and safety of GM foods. And a third issue; the damage to the environment. I’d like to touch on some of those briefly now.
As you have seen in the video, there is no such thing in Canada, or in North America, anything as pure canola seed. It is all contaminated. There is no such thing now as pure soybean seed. It is all contaminated.
What has that done? The organic farmers in North America no longer can no longer grow organic canola or organic soybeans. It is all contaminated. Two crops have been taken away from them. Our markets. . .we can no longer sell canola into Europe. It is all contaminated, so the farmers, the economic losses have been tremendous. The organic farmers can no longer sell it. The corn, or maize growers of the United States are losing an estimated billion dollars this year in lost sales. These are some of the things that are happening economically.
There is no such thing as containment. And as Rodney has also said, pollen doesn’t only move by wind. It brushes off the fur of an animal, the feathers of a bird, or a vehicle. So there’s no such thing as containment. When Monsanto says, “We’ll have a test strip,” and “We’ll keep so many feet as a buffer zone,” there is no such thing as containment.
What I have told farmers all over the world is never ever sign that contract. Never give up the right to use your own seed. Because if they do, they become slaves and serfs of the land. That’s why you’ve got to maintain that seed supply. Because some of the best seeds and plants in the world were not developed by science or research people. They were developed by farmers over centuries. We should never ever lose that because that research will be gone if you allow the control of the seed supply to be in the hands of companies like Monsanto.
It doesn’t stop there with the environment. With the bee, it doesn’t know which plant is genetic altered or not. As a result of that, all our honey shipments into Europe have been cut off, because all our honey is now contaminated with GMO. German scientists have just released a report to us that now they have found the GMO is now entering into the bee itself. We don’t know what effects that will have. Two crops, you use spray-on. That’s canola and soybeans. The other two crops are cotton and also maize. You use a Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] toxin, which you insert into the plant. When you eat that corn or you eat cottonseed oil, you’re eating an insecticide. You still have to use chemicals [on GMOs]. So when Monsanto says “less chemicals,” indeed you’re using more chemicals. That is the difference with canola and with soybeans. They’ve adapted the plant to withstand a certain chemical. Again, with corn and canola, they put a Bt toxin in.
The whole issue now, in regards to health and safety of the food. I’ve traveled with many scientists around the world—scientists that have done a lot of work in regards to health and safety and testing of GMO foods, especially potatoes—Bt potatoes, which you have in the United States. They have found that the growth cells in the large intestines [grow] more rapidly, especially in young children and infants, which leads to cancer. Now, in Canada the biggest cause of farm-related illness is cancer, or death by farmers is cancer, directly related to, we feel now, to the various chemicals, Bt foods, and GMO foods that are eaten.
There is not one published peer-reviewed report in the world stating that GM foods are safe. But there are now two published, peer-reviewed reports in the world—from Switzerland and Scotland—[telling] of the danger of GM foods.
The liability issue. I’ve been asked many times “Am I totally against GMOs?” And I answer it this way, “It’s a difficult question to answer. I think all of us ought to be on the leading edge of technology, but GMOs… I say at what price?” If something is released into the environment, a life-giving form, that destroys the property of others, I say then it is wrong. If it’s not safe to eat; if it’s not safe for our environment, then I say it’s wrong.
We should adopt a new principle, a risk assessment, a precautionary method or principle, and go slow. That’s what we have to do with that whole issue of GMOs. But until that time arrives, I say no to GMOs.
The liability issue, the loss of income. That’s an issue that we feel [we can really get Monsanto] on, and that’s what my lawsuit [is about], the liability issue. Because we have said, “All right, you own the patent,” but as I said before, that doesn’t give you the right to destroy the property of others.
I’ll just go over a few items before I close. I mentioned the quality is poorer, the price that farmers receive is less, it’s a poor yielder, the loss of markets, the loss of crops that can be grown—because now you need a permit or a licence from Monsanto—but most of all, food security. I think this is very important.
What I’m going to say, I don’t want this to alarm you. In Canada, in the last four years, Monsanto has come out with new varieties of canola. In 1997, a canola by Monsanto that had an unwanted gene in it that was dangerous to human health. There was a massive recall—millions of dollars worth. But some farmers had already seeded it. Canola has unique characteristics because it doesn’t germinate all at the same time. It can lie dormant in the soil for up to ten years. Some of that is still in our land and in our soil, and we don’t know what the results will be.
The biggest danger happened last May . Monsanto came out again with a new variety of canola. After they had sold it to some farmers, and some farmers in the southern of our province already had seeded it, they notice again a gene in it that was detrimental to the health of human beings. And there was a massive recall.
If Monsanto can not control their own products in a controlled laboratory, what can happen in the environment? Again, as I said, we now have the super weeds. And there are major reports coming out now that the chemical Roundup, which we were told 15 and 17 years ago, which is made by Monsanto, it was safe enough to drink, it was safer than table salt. This is what farmers were told by Monsanto.
As Rodney pointed out, these were the people that said PCBs, DDT, 2-4,D, Agent Orange were safe. And now we find out that Roundup is the third-largest cause of farm-related illnesses in North America, cancer is included, and is one of the main ones.
To give you an example, back home I don’t have a single neighbor, a farm neighbor, left alive. Every one of my neighbors has died [voice breaking up] from cancer. [ Catches his breath] That’s why I’ve said, as farmers, we’re getting very very concerned. We’re now realizing that after 20 and 30 and 40 years of chemicals, the results of that.
Why am I so…? I’m 70 years old and I don’t know how any years I’ve got left. And I want to leave a legacy to my children and to my grandchildren. I have five children and fourteen grandchildren. I don’t want to leave a legacy of land and food with poisons. I want to leave them a legacy of land and food without poisons.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to bring you this message.
Transcribed by Paul Goettlich / www.mindfully.org, from the video “Genetically Engineered Seeds of Controversy: Biotech Bullies Threaten Farmer and Consumer Rights” Featuring: Percy Schmeiser, Rodney Nelson, Jim Hightower, and Fred Walters. 10oct02 University of Texas. Run time: 96 min. Note: In several cases, the words “and, so, any way …” have been omitted in order to facilitate ease of reading. The content and meaning have not been altered in any way. Mindfully.org is extremely grateful to Neil Carmen of the Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter, Austin, Texas, for sending the video. < firstname.lastname@example.org >
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