Score One for Monsanto

A Canadian farmer finds himself on the losing end of a legal battle over genetically modified crops.

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Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser has lost his landmark legal battle with chemical giant Monsanto. A federal judge in Saskatoon ruled on Mar. 29 that Schmeiser had violated the company’s property rights by growing and selling a proprietary strain of canola without a license. Schmeiser maintains that he did not do so knowingly. (See the MotherJones.com article “The Trouble with Percy” from December 2000.)

Genetic tests showed that Schmeiser was growing Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready” variety, which has been genetically engineered to resist the company’s signature herbicide, Roundup. Schmeiser insists that the seeds landed in his fields by accident; in court, he argued that he hadn’t profited by selling the canola, hadn’t known it was a proprietary strain, and hadn’t wanted it there in the first place.

Under the decision, Schmeiser must pay Monsanto about $15,000 Canadian in licensing costs for using the patented crop on his fields, and up to about $100,000 Canadian for selling the canola crops he harvested. The 70-year-old farmer says he’s already spent $200,000 Canadian — some of it donated to the cause by anti-GMO activists — on the legal feud and now fears he won’t be able to keep his farm.

“It will take totally all of my wife’s and myself’s retirement funds that we’ve worked for all our life,” Schmeiser told reporters after hearing the verdict. In addition, Schmeiser is barred from planting the seeds he’s saved, a farming technique he’s used for decades to refine his crop.

Monsanto representatives said the verdict was fair protection of their patent and would allow them to continue investing time and research to bring new products to market in Canada.

Schmeiser says he’s considering both appealing the verdict and filing a countersuit against Monsanto for polluting his canola’s genetic stock.

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