Percy Schmeiser vs Monsanto

Paul Goettlich / Socialist Action Dec 2002

Percy Schmeiser is building a legacy for his family. He wants to leave them something he can be proud of. He’s a 71-yearold Canadian canola farmer and his prime concern is his descendants’ ability to live free from the kind of tyranny he is experiencing right now.

In the last few years, Percy has become somewhat of a celebrity for standing up to Monsanto, the transnational bully. Monsanto brought suit against him, claiming that Percy illegally saved seed or obtained the patented Roundup Ready (RR) canola seed illegally.

RR crops are genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to Monsanto’s highly toxic herbicide Roundup, the cornerstone of Monsanto’s revenue. It accounts for about half of Monsanto’s $2.8 billion in sales.[1]

Mr. Schmeiser has been farming for more than 50 years, during which time he developed his own canola seed to be suited to the local environment. He did it the same way farmers have been doing it for millennia, by natural selection.

Percy is a warm, extraordinarily energetic person. And he strikes me as if there’s not a mean bone in his body. He’s told me he isn’t guilty of the charges, that he had nothing to do with Monsanto’s RR Canola, and I believe him.

Monsanto’s modus operandi makes him all the more believable. Percy has remained extremely civil considering the viciousness of Monsanto’s suit.

Schmeiser lost the original suit in federal court, appealed the decision and lost again. His lawyers recently submitted his 1-1 /4 inch thick appeal document to the Supreme Court of Canada. Schmeiser is also about to file a counter-suit against Monsanto in federal court charging that the company polluted his crops with its genetically engineered genes.

If you’ve never been involved in a legal action, you can’t imagine the amount of time, energy, and money it takes. Since 1998, Percy has been doing little else besides dealing with the suit. He’s been traveling throughout the world speaking to a wide variety of audiences-leaders of nations and consumer organizations, farmers, universities, and at international conferences-about his experience. In October 2000, he received the Mahatma Gandhi award. (photo at right).[2]

I’ve followed his struggle for years, and never once thought that Canada’s Federal Court would actually find him guilty. It just doesn’t make sense unless one considers the motive behind GM crops-the complete and final coup d’état of the world’s food and seed supply by transnational corporations. At this time, four companies undertake nearly 80 per cent of the genetic modification of crops worldwide.[3]

As the trial began, the original charges of theft were dropped. In the end, Percy was found guilty of patent rights infringement. In order to pay his legal fees, he mortgaged his house. His costs have been around $200,000 so far.

The following point from the judge’s ruling is especially troubling because of the extreme consequences for all farmers:

“[A] farmer whose field contains seed or plants originating from seed spilled into them, or blown as seed, in swaths from a neighbor’s land or even growing from germination by pollen carried into his field from elsewhere by insects, birds, or by the wind, may own the seed or plants on his land even if he did not set about to plant them. He does not, however, own the right to the use of the patented gene, or of the seed or plant containing the patented gene or cell.”[4,5]

To paraphrase that, it doesn’t matter how Monsanto’s patented RR canola got onto Percy’s property and into the genetic makeup of his seed-the seed he personally developed over 50 years-Percy can’t use it unless he pays Monsanto’s “technology use fee.”[6]

It doesn’t matter if the RR canola gets into a farmer’s field by wind or insects, seed blown from passing trucks, or dropping from farm equipment, or swaths blown from neighbors’ fields. Any plant containing traces of a patented technology belongs to the owner of that patent. Therefore, all of that farmer’s crops, seeds, and profits from them belong to the patent holder.

Monsanto’s hired detectives can trespass onto a farmer’s property, steal a sample of the crop, or coerce a grain elevator operator to give them a sample with or without the owner’s permission to find RR genes or crop. And when they find it, that crop becomes Monsanto’s property and can be legally impounded.

Intimidation is a major part of Monsanto’s control. Their “tips and rumors” program advertises that “if you think your neighbor might be growing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola without a license, squeal or rat on him.”

Monsanto’s thugs then visit and threaten the farmer with ruination. The reward for exposing their neighbor is a leather jacket. But it’s a wise farmer who realizes the risk involved in actually wearing one.[7]

Extortion letters to farmers demand $115 per acre and higher, give Monsanto the right to take samples from all of his owned or leased land and storage bins for three years, and force farmers not to disclose the specific terms and conditions of the “Settlement Agreement.” The last clause is what silences most farmers and keeps others from knowing about the viciousness of this tyrant.[8]

Monsanto has a long track record or lies, deception, and extortion. It has been a part of many notable environmental disasters, including Agent Orange and PCBs, research on uranium for the Manhattan Project that led to the construction of nuclear bombs, styrene monomer, an endless line of pesticides and herbicides, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), GM crops (corn, potatoes, tomatoes, soy beans, cotton), and its most significant product to date-Lies, Factual Distortions, and Omissions.[9]

Roundup is highly toxic.[10] It’s been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,[11] a type of cancer, and it’s an endocrine disruptor.[12, 13] Suffice it to say it’s extremely bad stuff. But Monsanto had to be sued to make them stop lying about the safety of Roundup.

In 1996, the New York state attorney general won an injunction against the chemical’s manufacturer, Monsanto, for falsely claiming that it is “as safe as table salt” and other false advertising claims such as it being “environmentally friendly” and “biodegradable.” They also had to pay $50,000 toward the state’s legal expenses in the case. However, the damage was done, and people still think it’s the safest herbicide.[14]

In the case of GM crops, Monsanto follows their MO, adamantly claiming that their GM crops are more productive, reduce pesticide use, and are more nutritious. But in fact, they’re less productive[15], use more pesticides[16], and are not as nutritious[17]. Possibly more important to the farmers is the fact that they are less profitable[18].

As a result of the court decision, Percy can no longer plant his own canola unless he pays Monsanto a technology use fee. In other words, he is not able to freely use the seed he personally developed because Monsanto’s gene polluted his crops. Even if Percy did submit to this extortion, the market for GM canola has been extremely depressed because most countries outside of the US. won’t buy them if any detectable level of GM genes is found.

In south-central Africa, Zambia is experiencing extreme food shortages. Three million people could starve because of a food shortage caused by drought. As food aid, the United States shipped more than 62,000 tons of corn to Zambia, which they refused after finding detectable levels of GM pollution. US. officials criticized that they had disregarded “scientific evidence,” ” inferring that they are ignorant and should accept it for all those starving people. They also attempted to manipulate the situation behind the scenes via international aid organizations. I consider the Zambian government significantly more intelligent than the US. by refusing the GM leftovers.

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph (UK), Dr. Mwananyanda Lewanika is a biochemist at Zambia’s National Institute for Science and Technology who holds two degrees from American universities and has specialized in biosafety for five years. He explained that his team rejected the maize largely because of health concerns raised in Europe.

One reason for Zambia refusing the GM corn was the possibility of gene transfer from the GM corn to human cells or gut flora. Depending upon what type of genetic modification the corn received, it’s likely to be encoded for antibiotic resistance. At the time, the US. would not tell Zambian officials what type it was, nor would they help transport non-GM grains that were readily accessible if given the proper support.

Worried about the possibility of rapidly spreading disease caused by people gaining antibiotic resistance from the corn, Dr. Lewanika said, “The people of Zambia are in poor health. Many are immune-compromised. If the health concerns are true, they are more likely to affect those in Zambia.”[19]

The US. media has portrayed these people as foolish and ignorant. They also accused international NGOs of colluding to starve these people to death with their scare tactics. But it’s easy to see why the US. donated the corn without mentioning it was GM. It has a great surplus of GM corn that’s swelling. If they could ditch it in Zambia, it is likely that some would find its way to being planted. It would then overtake the indigenous varieties.[20]

And at that point, Zambia would never be able to sell its corn crops because wholesale suppliers are refusing to buy it, or offering very reduced rates.

The GM industry hopes and prays for the quick and complete GM contamination of the world so they can start racing about charging a technology use fee. Don Westfall, senior VP at Promar International, told the Toronto Star that GM crops may soon be so prevalent that there may no turning back, despite the cost. “The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded that there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “You just sort of surrender.”[21]

Monsanto’s goal is nothing less than complete domination of the world’s seed and food supply. And it’s becoming a reality in very short time. There aren’t many people such as Percy Schmeiser who take a stand. Without more people speaking out against GM food, Monsanto’s dream of domination will come true, along with the end of life as we know it.

Paul Goettlich is an activist and writer on the health and social economic effects of technology.

Note from the author (31 Aug 2020)
This article was originally published in Socialist Action as “Canadian Farmer Percy Schmeiser takes on Monsanto & Genetic Engineering” I remain in contact with Percy even today. He’s over 90-years-old and remains somewhat active. He spent the better part of 2 decades touring the world, speaking out against GMOs and Monsanto. When he visited the SF Bay Area I used to provide a home and transportation for both him and his wife Louise, his devoted partner for life on their farm in Canada.


  1. A Weed Killer Is a Block to Build On: Monsanto. David Barboza / New York Times 2aug01
  2. Schmeiser receives Mahatma Gandhi Award ZITA MAIER, OSU / Prairie Messenger 25oct00
  3. 13 Firms Own 80% of GM Crop Patents The Times of India 14jan02 
  4. Original case before Federal Court – At Canadian Federal Court website
  5. Percy’s Appeal – At Canadian Federal Court website
  6. Monsanto Technology Agreement
  7. Heartbreak in the Heartland: The True Cost of Genetically Engineered Crops. Transcribed by (Also translated into Spanish, French (Quebec), and Chinese.)
  8. Monsanto Extortion Letter dated 12nov02
  9. Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health. Dan Fagan, Marianne Lavelle, and the Center for Public Integrity / Birch Lane Publishing Group 1996
  10. Glyphosate Factsheet. Cox, C. Journal of Pesticide Reform v.108, n.3 Fall98 rev.Oct00 
  11. A case-control study of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to pesticides. Hardell, L. and Eriksson, M. Cancer v.85, i.6 12mar99 
  12. Roundup Inhibits Steroidogenesis by Disrupting StAR Expression Walsh, Lance P. Environmental Health Perspectives Aug00 
  13. What are Endocrine Disruptors? Paul Goettlich rev. 17 Mar 2002
  14. Monsanto: A Checkered History Brian Tokar / The Ecologist September/October 1998 
  15. Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998 Dr. Charles Benbrook / Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, Sandpoint Idaho
  16. Do GM Crops Mean Less Pesticide Use? Charles Benbrook / Pesticide Outlook Oct01
  17. Is Organically Grown Food More Nutritious? Virginia Worthington / The Co-op Connection Nov01
  18. Troubled Times Amid Commercial Success for Roundup Ready Soybeans: Glyphosate Efficacy is Slipping and Unstable Transgene Expression Erodes Plant Defenses and Yields Dr. Charles M. Benbrook / Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, Sandpoint Idaho AgBioTech InfoNet Technical Paper Number 4 3may01
  19. Will their protests leave her hungry? Daily Telegraph (UK) 23nov02
  20. Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Nature v.414, 541-543 29nov01 
  21. StarLink fallout could cost billions — Future of modified crops thrown in doubt, report says Stuart Laidlaw / The Toronto Star 9jan01
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