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Heartbreak in the Heartland:
The True Cost of Genetically Engineered  Crops

Transcribed by Paul Goettlich / Mindfully.org

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  • More on Monsanto and its products

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  • What Makes Percy Schmeiser So Persistent? 
      An interview by Paul Goettlich / Mindfully.org 27may04


Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian canola farmer who has been sued by agricultural chemical and biotech giant Monsanto after some of Monsanto's genetically engineered Roundup Ready canola genes drifted onto his property from neighboring farms and contaminated his crop.

Mr. Schmeiser, who is now 70 years old, has traveled the world speaking to a wide variety of audiences about his experience.

Mr. Schmeiser received the Mahatma Gandhi award in October, 2000.

Percy Schmeiser speaking at the University of Texas at Austin - October 10, 2001:

I've been farming for 53 years, and 50 years of those I spent in developing a 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. I've always fought for farmers’ rights and farmers’ privileges, and regulations and laws that would benefit them.

Text on screen:

Rodney Nelson, along with his father and brothers, grows soybeans on their North Dakota farm. His family is also being sued by Monsanto, who  accused them of saving and replanting their patented Roundup ready soybeans, a charge Mr. Nelson adamantly denies.

Rodney Nelson (seen speaking from his fields in a tractor - note: taped for this event):

Our family comes from a long line of share renters. Our farm has grown quite dramatically in size over the years because we have always been honest and fair with people. And I believe our landlords realize this. And that's why they come to us to rent us a farm. It has been heart wrenching for us to watch our reputations be destroyed in our own community over something we did not do. 

My family has been enduring a living hell since this began. I am sure this is what led to my father's recent heart attack a few weeks back. He has 
been physically and emotionally shattered since this began, as our whole family has been.

Rodney Nelson:

A RUDE AWAKENING

I want to share with you my family's experience regarding a very dark side to patented genetically modified crops. My family is being sued by the Monsanto Corporation for alleged patent infringement. Monsanto claims we saved Roundup ready soybean seed from our 1998 crop and replanted it in 1999. And they believe that we continue to do so. I can assure you people this absolutely did not happen. We have a ton of evidence to prove that. Why Monsanto continues with this. . . only God knows.

In the summer of 2000, my family and I were discussing how rude we thought it was that Monsanto never sent us a letter or thanked us for cooperating with their investigation into our business that they conducted in the fall of 1999. We were stunned, when in late July of the year 2000, we received a letter from a law firm in New Orleans, that was representing Monsanto Co., accusing us of infringing on their patent.

How are we to go back in time to get crop samples, to disprove them a year later, when we were faced with these allegations? This is part of Monsanto's strategy. Every accused grower in the United States, that I've talked to, had nearly identical stories on Monsanto's tactics.

Percy Schmeiser:

In 1998, without any previous warning or any indication at all, Monsanto launched a lawsuit against me. In that lawsuit, they stated that I had illegally obtained Monsanto's genetically altered canola without a license, and that I had infringed on their patent. Before the main trial, Monsanto withdrew all their allegations against me that I had ever obtained their 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.

Rodney Nelson:

In late October, 2001, Monsanto dropped
the seed patent lawsuit against the
Nelson family and came to an
undisclosed settlement.

In the suit against us, we have tried to be as cooperative as possible with Monsanto. We have sent them all relevant information that they requested regarding our soybean crops from 1997 to present. They have even asked for our tax returns dating back to 1996.

When we sent our interrogatories to Monsanto, they refused to answer any of our questions, claiming work product doctrine and attorney client privilege. When we asked their claimed independent third party who gathered their supposed samples for the location and the results of the samples taken, they told us they could not answer those questions because they were retained as expert witnesses by Monsanto and instructed not to answer.

We feel that we were profiled by Monsanto because of the size of our farm, and that they wanted to try to make an example of us to scare other farmers into never saving their own seed - to be too scared to save their own seed - and that's happening.

Percy Schmeiser:

So eventually, my case went to court after 2 1/2 years. And Monsanto dragged me through those courts. In pretrial, they did everything to break me. They basically took all of our retirement funds, because just my lawyer fees alone, up to date, have been around $200,000.

And what did the judge rule after 2 1/2 weeks of trial?

Text on Screen as Percy speaks:
1) It doesn't matter how Monsanto's patented genes got into the wrong field.
2) All cross-pollinated plants become the property of Monsanto.
3) Use of patented traits is irrelevant Farmers' rights are secondary to Monsanto's patent rights.

[He said] it didn't matter how Monsanto's genetically altered canola got into my field. And then he went on to specify that whether it cross pollinated or if it blew in by the wind, by birds, bees, animals, or falling off a farmers truck, a combine and so on, it didn't matter. The fact that there were some plants there, I had violated Monsanto's patent, even though I didn't want it in my field.

Number 2, which is the most important one I think - he ruled that any farmer that has a regular conventional plant, it doesn't matter what kind of a 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 [sic] plant becomes Monsanto's property.

Now 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 because it gets cross-pollinated by their gene.

The third issue. He ruled that the fact that I never used Monsanto’s patent - which means I never used Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide or glyphosate on my crop - he ruled, “that’s immaterial.” He said the fact was that there were some plants there. So that shows you the extent of the power of patent law over farmers’ rights.

Now, 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. It will probably be heard next spring.

We also launched a counter lawsuit against Monsanto, in which it states that 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 form that they knew they couldn’t control, they had no intentions of controlling , and now it’s out of control. So there’s a real liability issue.

If anybody can patent a life-giving form, where do you stop? What about animals - birds, bees, insects, fish? How far do you go? Ultimately we asked, “can you patent a human being?”

Jim Hightower:

Heavy-Handed Tactics

Monsanto is a bully. Monsanto is a thug. For fun and profit, it has long been tampering with the world's food supply.

Percy Schmeiser:

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.

Text on screen as Percy speaks:

  1. Cannot save and replant Monsanto's genetically engineered seed.
  2. Must use Monsanto's proprietary chemicals.
  3. Must comply with Monsanto's confidentiality statement.
  4. Must pay Monsanto of technology fee of $15 per acre every year.
  5. Must allow Monsanto to monitor the entire farm for three years after using patented seeds.

Monsanto gets farmers to sign a contract. In that contract it states you can never use your seed. You sign all your right 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 buy the chemical from Monsanto.

You must also sign a nondisclosure statement. And if you happen to use 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 $15 an acre each year, which is a technology charge.

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, to go into your granaries, with or without your permission to see if you’re cheating or not.

What I have told farmers all over the world is to “never sign that contract, never ever give up the right to use your own seed.” Because if they do, they’ll become slaves and serfs of the land.

(Percy holds up a piece of paper)

This is an advertisement that Monsanto has in brochures. On the bottom it says, “if you think your neighbor might be growing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola without a license, squeal or rat on him. And what happens after that is that Monsanto’s police will come out to this farmer’s house, and they’ll come into that home, and they’ll threaten that farmer or his wife, and say “we got to this tip or rumor.” And that’s always what they say - tip or rumor. And if you don’t come clean, we’ll get you, we’ll 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.

So, you can imagine what this does 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 when these police leave, “Was it this farmer, this farmer, or my neighbor, or that neighbor?” So, you have the breakdown of working together - of trust amongst farmers.

In North America (sic), the same as here in the United States, farmers have 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 sent out - but basically what they say is, “We have reason to believe that you might be growing Monsanto’s genetically altered canola without a license. Please send us, in this case, $28,750 and we won’t charge you.

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.” [It's] a total muzzling of farmers’ freedom of speech and rights.

MORE FARMERS
IN CORPORATE CROSSHAIRS

We estimate that there are now over 2000 farmers that Monsanto is ready to charge, depending on the outcome of my case. We estimate that they have investigated at least 40,000 farmers in North America. That’s the extent of their police force. Monsanto has 35 ex-Royal Canadian Mounted police that they have hired to interrogate and harass farmers.

Jim Hightower:

Monsanto is not going to stop until we stop it. And that is the basic message here tonight.

Percy Schmeiser:

Why did farmers sign on to Monsanto to grow genetically 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] genetically altered soybeans.

I think the reasons were this. Number one, Monsanto told farmers that it would be more nutritious, it would be a bigger yielder, 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.

But what happened after four and five years?

Number one, it was not more nutritious. It was not a bigger yielder. 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.

GMOs:
THE BIG PICTURE

Text on Screen as Percy speaks:

3 GMO ISSUES:

  1. Property rights vs. patent law.
  2. Health and safety
  3. Damage to the environment.

There are three things to the whole issue of GMOs. One is the part that I’m involved with - property rights vs. patent law - the rights of farmers always to be able use their own seed worldwide. The other issue is the health and safety of GM foods. And a third issue, the damage to the environment.

Rodney Nelson:

GMOs:
OUT OF CONTROL

In Bismarck ND, our state capital, this past spring, a legislator asked a Monsanto representative at what level of contamination in a farmer's field do you consider a patent infringement has occurred? We were told that if a farmer represents a field of soybeans to be non-GMO and Monsanto finds as little as one plant that tests positive in that field, they may consider that patent infringement, regardless of whether the farmer used conventional chemicals on the crop.

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.

Percy Schmeiser:

There is no such thing as pure canola seed. It is all contaminated.

Also there is also no such thing as containment. The reason for that is that now, canola has become a super weed.

What is a super weed?

If farmer “A” buys a GMO canola from “this company,” and farmer “B” buys a GMO canola from “that company,” and over here another farmer buys GMO canola from Monsanto, the genes from these three GMO crops are now into one conventional plant. That makes it a super weed because you need three chemicals to kill one plant. In four or five years, that super weed has spread all over Western Canada, into fields where people never grew canola. It’s in wheat fields, barley fields, oats fields, flax fields - it’s all over.

Monsanto says, "don't worry, no problem. We'll now come up with a new super chemical." But I guarantee you by the end of the year 2001, after tests are done, we will have five of the GMO genes in one plant.

Rodney Nelson:

ARE GMOs SAFE?

On the aspect of the safety of these products . . . we're growing crops out here that, if any bugs or worms chew on them, the crops have a built-in pesticide that was genetically engineered to kill worms and bugs that chew on the crops. The pesticide is in the total plant, including the kernels that we eat.

If our DNA is the same as these little creatures that chew on them, and it kills them, I don’t know about you people, but it quite frankly scares the hell out of me to be eating these crops.

Percy Schmeiser:

There is not one published peer-reviewed report in the world stating that genetically modified foods are safe.

Rodney Nelson:

As a farmer, when I first heard about these things coming on the market I thought it would make things easier for us and I assumed that everything would be safe. But what I’ve learned is that just because our government approves it and companies introduce it, it isn’t necessarily going to be safe. We look in the past . . . we were told that PCBs were safe. DDT, we were told that was safe. There is an old commercial that the government put out showing children eating at a picnic table while a DDT fog was rolling over them, because the chemical companies that produce these assured our government and people that these things were safe.

The list goes on and on of products like this. We’ve now learned, years down the road, that they were very dangerous. They are probably are the reasons why our country has the highest cancer rate of any nation in the world.

Now we're being told that these genetically modified crops are safe. [long pause] I don’t believe it.

Percy Schmeiser:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a division of the Canadian Department of Agriculture, and AgCanada have been receiving grants from Monsanto to do research work on agricultural test sites and development sites in western Canada. It came out that these same people, after taking grants from Monsanto, were the ones they gave regulatory approval to Monsanto so they could sell GMO canola to farmers. So on one hand, they were taking grants, and on the other hand, they were giving regulatory approval.

Money Talks,
Governments Listen 

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 of genetically altered food. They only used Monsanto’s data.

Fred Walters, editor and publisher of Acres USA:

Monsanto’s response is, “Monsanto should not have to vouch safe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” That’s from Phil Angel, a Monsanto spokesman.

Text overlay on Screen:
Percy Schmeiser's web site www.percyschmeiser.com

So, there you have our government agencies basically in bed with Monsanto, taking their grants and then giving them regulatory approval. And I’m sure the same thing is happening in the United States.

Rodney Nelson:

I have written a letter to our attorney general, John Ashcroft, and I begged him for help with this monumental crisis that farmers are facing. His response was that it is not their policy to get involved in private litigation matters. I have since learned that Mr. John Ashcroft has submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding a similar patent infringement case to be heard in October of this year. He preyed upon the Supreme Court to uphold these new plant patents to protect the corporations that owned the patents. I also learned that Mr. Ashcroft had received the largest campaign contribution that Monsanto gave any 2000 political candidate, in his failed bid for Senate reelection. This knowledge felt like a cold slap in the face. It makes a person wonder if all of our government’s for sale to the highest bidder.

 GMOs
AT WHAT PRICE?

I’ve been asked many times, am I totally against GMOs? That’s a difficult question to answer. I think all of us want to be on the leading edge of new 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. And then we should adopt a precautionary principle, and go slow. That’s what we have to do with the whole issue of GMOs. But until that time arrives, I say no to GMOs.

Jim Hightower:

NO LABELING REQUIRED

We’ve got a saying here in Texas, Percy. We say that if you find you've dug yourself into a hole, the very first thing to do is quit digging. However, the ag establishment - the corporations, and their puppets in government - continue to say, “we’ve got to dig ever deeper.” If 8 billion pounds of pesticides every year is not doing enough damage to our food, our environment, and ourselves, then let’s add genetic engineering to this Kafkaesque stew. Let’s tamper with the very DNA of our food - transgenic mutations. And then they say, “here’s an idea. Let’s also fool our customers by disallowing labeling.”

Fred Walters:

Famous molecular biologist, John Fagan said, “without labeling of GMO products it will very difficult for scientists to trace the source of new illness caused by genetically engineered foods.

GENETIC MELTDOWN?

Dr. Erwin Chargoff is an eminent biochemist. He’s often referred to as the father of molecular biology. He said that he considers genetic engineering a “molecular Auschwitz,” and warned that “the technology of genetic engineering poses a greater threat to the world than the advent of nuclear technology. An irreversible attack on the biosphere is something so unheard - of, so unthinkable to previous generations, that I only wish that mine had not been guilty of it.”

Jim Hightower:

TAKING CONTROL

The issue is the most fundamental issue of democracy. It asks this question, the same question that democracy-seeking people have always had to ask. “Who the hell is going to be in charge? A handful of corporate greed-heads, or we the people?” That’s what it comes down to. Who’s going to be making the decisions in a society that supposedly is self-governing?

Mary Helen Lease was a famous populist orator, a fiery orator. Back in the 1870’s and 1880’s, when women could not even vote, Mary Helen Lease was on the political stump, opposing the monopoly power that was squeezing farmers off of the land back then. And she said to the corn farmers throughout the plains states, “It’s time to raise less corn and more hell.”

I think that’s our job too.

Thank you very much for being here.

 

TAKE ACTION

Percy Schmeiser es un granjero canadiense de canola que ha sido demandado por Monsanto, el gigante químico, agrícola y de biotecnología, después que algunos genes de canola Roundup Ready diseñados por ingenieria genética de Monsanto volaron por el viento desde las granjas vecinas hasta su propiedad y contaminaron sus cultivos.

Percy Schmeiser

FARMER'S STORIES

LEARN MORE

Excerpted from:
Genetically Engineered Seeds of Controversy: Biotech Bullies Threaten Farmer and Consumer Rights. October 10, 2001 University of Texas at Austin

Videography:
Tim Jones, Kathy Nelson, Pam Thompson, and Stefan Wray

The opinions expressed and the facts given in this production are those of the individual participants and do not necessarily represent the opinions of those involved in the production.

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