Among the 2007 winners of the Right Livelihood Award, presented annually on December 9 to honor those “working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today,” are Percy and Louise Schmeiser, two farmers from Saskatchewan.
In 1998 the Schmeisers were successfully sued by Monsanto for patent infringement for growing Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” genetically modified canola plants without purchasing the annual licensing fee of $15 Canadian per acre.
The genetically modified strain of canola was found on the Schmeisers’ land in 1997, and confirmed by Monsanto in 1998. Mr. Schmeiser had been warned by Monsanto before the 1998 growing season that it believed he was growing Roundup Ready canola without a license. Indeed, the Schmeisers were growing Roundup Ready canola — but according to Schmeiser the seeds had gotten there either as debris a passing truck or by natural cross-pollination.
The judge ultimately decided in Monsanto’s favor, deciding that none of the natural sources for contamination could be explained. In Canada property rights are not guaranteed in the Constitution, and therefore do not override federal laws like the Patent Act. However, no monetary damages were awarded to Monsanto, since Mr. Schmeiser established that his profits were the same with the Roundup Ready canola (C$19,832, to be exact) as without it, nor were the farmers responsible for Monsanto’s enormous legal fees. The Schmeisers, however, were stuck with $400,000 of their own in legal costs.
On the advice of his laywers, Mr. Schmeiser elected to destroy all the seed from his strain of canola, , because he could not prove it did not include seeds for Roundup Ready canola. The strain of canola he grew had taken him 50 years to develop. Courts later ordered him to turn over all his remaining seed from the 1997-8 growing seasons to Monsanto.
Percy Schmeiser has since become a well-known spokesperson against genetically modified crops. Not incidentally, he recently demanded that Monsanto remove Roundup Ready plants from a more recent contamination; Monsanto agreed, provided the Schmeisers would sign a nondisclosure agreement and a contract never to sue Monsanto. Declining, the Schmeisers had the contaminating plants removed and sent Monsanto the bill for $600. Monsanto declined to pay, and the Schmeisers sued. The trial date is set for late January, 2008.
Other winners of the 2007 awards are Sri Lankan legal scholar Christopher Weeramantry for “his lifetime of groundbreaking work to strengthen and expand the rule of international law,” Kenyan peace activist Dekha Ibrahim Abdi for her work on reconciliation and conflict resolution, and Bangladeshi solar energy company Grameen Shakti “for bringing sustainable light and power to thousands of Bangladeshi villages.”
Link: Right Livelihood Award; Percy Schmeiser’s website; Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser.
Image via percyschmeiser.com.