Percy and Louise Schmeiser

(2007, Canada)

... for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers' rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws.

About

With their fight against Monsanto's abusive marketing practices, Percy and Louise Schmeiser have given the world a wake-up call about the dangers to farmers and biodiversity everywhere from the growing dominance and market aggression of companies engaged in the genetic engineering of crops. 

Contact Details

Percy and Louise Schmeiser
461 Railway Ave.
Bruno, Saskatchewan S0K 0S0
CANADA

Biography

Career

Percy and Louise Schmeiser were born in 1931 into farming families in Saskatchewan; one of Canada's ten provinces. Percy became a leading farm figure in the area, and with his family he also owned a successful farm equipment dealership. He was a Member of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly (MLA) from 1967-71 for the Liberal Party of Saskatchewan, whose philosophy was based in conservative values and conservative politics. Percy was also Mayor of his home town of Bruno from 1963-82, where he also served as a town councillor, most recently from 2003-06. Percy also has been appointed to numerous provincial commissions and municipal boards. Both Percy and Louise have received many awards, among them the Mahatma Gandhi Award 2000, The Activists of the Year Award 2004 from The Council of Canadians and Advocate of Social Justice Award 2010. In 2014, Percy Schmeiser received the Canadian Health Food Association Hall of Fame Award.

Monsanto vs. Schmeiser

In 1998 Percy Schmeiser and his wife received a letter from the US agribusiness giant Monsanto claiming that they had used Monsanto seeds without a license in planting their 1997 crop. However, the Schmeisers had never bought Monsanto seed nor intended to have it on their land. It turned out that some Monsanto 'Round-up Ready' genetically modified canola (rape) seeds had blown over from the Schmeisers' neighbour or from passing trucks. Thus, genes that Monsanto claimed to "own" under Canadian patent law had ended up in the Schmeisers' seeds. Monsanto threatened to sue the Schmeisers for 'infringement of patent', seeking damages totalling $400,000 (CAD), including about $250,000 in legal fees, $105,000 in estimated profits from the Schmeisers' 1998 crop, $13,500 ($15 an acre) for technology usage fees and $25,000 in punitive damages. At the same time, Monsanto offered to withdraw the legal challenge if the Schmeisers signed a contract to buy their seeds from Monsanto in the future and to pay the technology use fee. 

But the Schmeisers neither gave in nor did they accept this blackmailing attempt. They contested the case up to the Canadian Supreme Court, whose ruling supported Monsanto in their claim to own the gene. Thus the Schmeisers lost their breeding research, which they had built up for decades, and the varieties that they had painstakingly adapted to their local environment for years through cross-pollination, because they now contained the Monsanto-"owned" gene. 

However, the court also concluded that the Schmeisers should not have to pay anything to Monsanto because they had not in any way benefited from having the seeds on their property. 

Schmeiser vs. Monsanto

Now, in a new legal case, the Schmeisers are trying to turn the notion of benefit to farmers from Monsanto genes around, claiming that Monsanto-"owned" genes are to be regarded as contamination. 

Since the first court case, the Schmeisers shifted their agricultural business from canola to wheat, mustard, peas and oats in order to avoid future problems. But soon they found genetically modified Monsanto canola plants on their land again. They called the company and demanded that they be removed. Monsanto conducted tests and confirmed that these were their Monsanto Roundup Ready plants. Monsanto agreed to remove them if the Schmeisers signed a document with a non-disclosure statement and an assurance that they would never take Monsanto to court. The Schmeisers did not sign this statement and again demanded from Monsanto to take these plants off of their land. When Monsanto did not react, they paid some workers to remove the plants and sent Monsanto the bill of $600. When Monsanto did not pay, the Schmeisers sued them in a provincial court. In March 2008, the Schmeisers settled their lawsuit with Monsanto in an out of court agreement, in which Monsanto agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of genetically modified canola that contaminated the Schmeisers' fields.

The destruction of seed markets through "patents on life"
The Schmeiser case was one of the first and most prominent cases involving a company claiming to own patents on life. It revealed how traditional seed economics and treatment is currently giving way to a dependency on only a few big multinational enterprises, such that in the end the whole food production chain could be dominated by a few giant food enterprises, relying on very few genetically engineered crops. This would drastically reduce the genetic diversity of staple crops and the economic autonomy of farmers, especially in developing countries.

Monsanto's treatment of the Schmeisers is their standard practice. According to a 2005 report by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety (CFS), as of 2005, Monsanto, with teams of full-time investigators out in the field, had filed lawsuits for patent violations (often, as with the Schmeisers, because of drifted seed) against 147 farmers and 39 small farming businesses in half the states of the US. Farmers have so far paid $15million (USD) to Monsanto (mean payment about $400,000). The CFS report concludes: "No farmer is safe from the long reach of Monsanto. Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else's genetically engineered crop; when genetically engineered seed from a previous year's crop has sprouted in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year; and when they never signed Monsanto's technology agreement but still planted the patented crop seed. In all these cases, because of the way patent law has been applied, farmers are technically liable. It does not seem to matter if the use was unwitting or a contract was never signed."

In Canada there is still no specific law regarding patents on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) so the Schmeiser case was decided under the old patent laws, enacted before GMOs existed. But in its verdict, the Canadian Supreme Court called on the Canadian Parliament to enact a specific law. This process is currently under way and it may be expected that Monsanto will lobby lawmakers vigorously for a legislation that serves the company's interest.

Schmeiser's principles for food and agriculture

Percy Schmeiser is also a member of the International Commission on the Future of Food and was a core member of the drafting of the Manifesto on the Future of Seed which has had an impact worldwide. In his speeches, Schmeiser promotes 12 principles for food and agriculture in an age of biotechnology, which may be summarised thus:

  • All humans have a right to food or to produce it.
  • Natural systems must be protected so that they can produce healthy food.
  • Humans have a right to safe and nutritious food.
  • No rules should prevent countries controlling food imports.
  • Everyone has a right to information about how their food is produced.
  • Regions should have the right to regulate for their own agriculture.
  • Local production and consumption should be encouraged.
  • Regional biodiversity must be protected.
  • Seeds are a 'common property' resource.
  • No life form should be patented and terminator seeds should be globally banned.
  • Freedom to exchange seeds should be protected.
  • Farmers should have the right for their land to be free of genetic contamination.

Percy Schmeiser has been inducted into the Canadian Health Food Association Hall of Fame in regards to the awareness of GMOs and their effects on human health (2014). Percy and Louise Schmeiser both received the Environmental Justice 2014 award in regards to the dangers of contamination of indigenous seeds in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and the United States.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Percy & Louise Schmeiser

December 7th, 2007

Madam Speaker, Dignitaries, Members of the Swedish Parliament, Right Livelihood Foundation, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege for my wife Louise and I to appear before you today to accept the Right Livelihood Award. The recognition that comes with this award is something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. This has been a humbling experience for us, and in some respects the conclusion to a very long journey that we decided to pursue.

When we look back at our accomplishments, we hope that people will recognize the significant mark in agriculture and farmer's rights that we have made in my home province of Saskatchewan, my country of Canada and in many other countries around the world. 

Both Louise and I have come from modest backgrounds. Our parents and grandparents were immigrants that came to North America from Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and Hungary. They came to Canada for a better life and a new beginning. They came to become stewards of the land and to respect it at the same time. They came to build their community and to start their families. It was a dream that was pursued by many and unfortunately there were as many failures as there were successes.

But to this day, the importance of agriculture to the economy of Canada is the utmost. 

However, the ideals and principles on which our society is built and what brought our ancestors to North America in the first place have been challenged by competing interests. Our situation made us fearful that the farmer's control over their land and their rights was being challenged.

Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

When Louise and I faced the threats and intimidation that came from Monsanto over the spread of their canola into our fields, we believed that we would have to do something that no one else would do. We stood up to Monsanto and said what you are doing is not right. If we don't stand up to you, you will do this to everyone and break down the fabric that built our communities.

At times we felt that we were against the world and that we could not defend our rights. It is an experience that we would not wish upon anyone, but with the encouragement of people from around the world, we found the strength and courage to persevere. 

Facing a lawsuit from a multinational company with unlimited resources can be an intimidating process for any individual. During the trial and subsequent appeals, Louise was my main supporter and the strength of her faith helped both of us face the challenge before us. We and our family approached each step of the process with a belief that we had done nothing wrong and that we were unfairly targeted because we would not back down to their threats to destroy us and our farm. 

At the very least, our struggle has given the world a raised awareness about the dangers to farmers and the loss of bio-diversity. Additionally, our case really raised the issue of whether or not patents should be granted on life giving forms.

We have been troubled by governments from around the world who have bowed to the pressure of big multinational corporations who have requested patents on life forms. It is our opinion that the full ramifications of allowing patents on plants and other life forms have not been fully examined, yet there has been this rush to agree to the requests of these companies. 

It also troubles us that with the patenting of seeds by major corporations, there is the potential for a small group of companies to control the world's seed supply and make farmers dependent on these companies year after year. This concept goes against everything that farmers tried to achieve when they emigrated to Canada in the pursuit of owning their own land and controlling their destiny. 

The result of our struggle was a partial victory in Canada's Supreme Court. At the same time our efforts in speaking about farmer's rights have not been in vain. 

In 2003, the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee - set up by the Canadian federal government to advise it on a wide range of issues - released a series of recommendations on higher life forms and The Patent Act. Their recommendations included that a "farmer's privilege" provision be included in The Patent Act that should specify that farmers are permitted to save and sow seeds from patented plants. 

They also concluded that The Patent Act included provisions to protect the innocent bystanders from claims of patent infringement. My defense of this patent infringement case and my ongoing pursuit of a farmer's right to save and use their seed brought these issues to light at a critical time and were fundamental in the advisory committee's recommendations.    

At this time the Canadian Parliament has not yet enacted stronger farmer's privilege laws to ensure that a farmer has the right to save and reuse his own seed. But we are optimistic that that time will eventually come when this right will be strengthened.

As long as our health allows us to, we will continue to be advocates and champions for farmers and their rights; not only in Saskatchewan, but across Canada and the world. With Louise's support over the last nine years I have redirected all of my energies to the cause of the rights of farmers and property rights, versus the intellectual property rights of corporations. I will continue to give my time and energy for the rights of people around the world; especially the rights of farmers to use and develop their own seed and plants. I believe that no one should have the right to patent a life form and will continue to speak out against this practice.

We would like to thank you for your consideration of our efforts by being named recipients of the Right Livelihood Award. Looking back at previous winners of the award is an awe-inspiring experience and the honor that has been bestowed upon us is overwhelming.

At the end of the day we hope that people will see that we have dedicated our efforts to the common good of humankind and we intend to live the rest of our life this way. 

Thank you.

  Pictures
 Videos

Three questions to Percy Schmeiser

Percy Schmeiser on Democracy Now!

Percy Schmeiser tells his story

David versus Monsanto (Trailer)

Interviews

Interview with Percy and Louise Schmeiser

Questions asked in 2007

 
Q: You were conservative farmers in Canada. Did you ever imagine yourself fighting a David vs Goliath battle against one of the world's biggest multinational corporations?

A: My wife and I have never ever thought or been engaged in a dispute with a multinational corporation. Besides being farmers, we also had a business where we dealt with corporations and in my role as a politician I also had negotiations and discussions with corporations.


Q: Has your perception of globalisation and its effects on people changed, since you learned about Monsanto's practices?

A: Globalization affects people around the world. It has drastically changed not only trading practices but also the culture of many countries. In North America we have the North American Free Trade Agreement which includes Canada, the United States, and Mexico. This is besides the WTO Agreements. This Globalization has affected the agricultural industry drastically in all our three countries, so while certain industries might benefit, agriculture is severely affected and farmers now have a very difficult time making enough money to stay on the land. This is because of high input costs and low prices for their products.


Q: What about Monsanto makes you most upset?


There are a number of reasons why Monsanto makes me upset. First of all, they are the only company in the world at this time which promotes that farmers should never own their own seed and/or plants. Each year they should have to buy from a company like Monsanto. Monsanto has drastic tactics they use against farmers, such as: sending letters to farmers to intimidate and harass them, if they think the farmer is using GMO's without a license from them. Farmers call these letters extortion letters. Monsanto also have their own investigating persons and police force (former police officers) who they send out to check on farmers and to go into crops planted by farmers to check to see what is growing. This is done without the permission of the farmer and is trespassing.


Q: Has Canada's legal system failed you?


A: I feel that the Canadian legal system has really failed not only myself and my wife but thousands of other farmers. A farmer does not have the money and time to stand up to a multinational corporation in court which may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and involve maybe 6-7 years in court. Monsanto knows this and abuses people's rights because they know that it is very difficult for any individual to stand up to them in court. What we say is we have a legal system in Canada but do we really have justice?


Q: Why is there still no specific law regarding patents on genetically modified organisms in Canada? And what would you like to tell lawmakers who will, for sure, be lobbied vigorously by Monsanto?

A: The patents' issue regarding GMO's has not really been presented in parliament up to now. Although the Supreme court's decision in my case, stated that the parliament of Canada has to address this whole issue on whether life can be patented (including seeds and plants). There is a lot of pressure on the government now to bring in legislation that will give the rights back to people. Corporations should not be able to control people, seeds, plants, and food through patent law. Monsanto and other companies have lobbied vigorously against bringing in any patent law that would hurt the corporation.


Q: What has your fight cost you?

A: Besides my legal costs, which were in excess of $400,000, there were also 8 years of my time, the stress on our family and my friends and neighbours. Also the many threats my wife and I received from Monsanto that they were going to destroy us because they have stated to us that no one stands up to them. At one point Monsanto tried to seize our house, our farmland, and our machinery, through loans and charges. They were determined to destroy and stop us. That is why when many farmers get threats from Monsanto, they just give in because they can not afford to fight them in court. When farmers give in, they must sign a non-disclosure statement to Monsanto, that they can not talk or give information to anyone about what Monsanto has done to them.  So the farmers' freedom of speech and expression is taken away.


Q: You are/were a farmer in one of the richest countries in the world, yet, it is a hard and draining fight. How much do you think the poor farmers in the 3rd World will suffer from Monsanto?

A: Many third world farmers have suffered and continue to suffer from Monsanto's policies. How can a third world farmer purchase his/her seeds each year from the corporations and buy the chemicals and pay license fees? Many times when I have spoken in third world countries, people have said to me, "Percy don't give up your fight with Monsanto, you in Canada at least have a chance to stand up to them. We don't have the resources to do so". This always gave me an incentive to continue to fight for the rights of farmers and that we always have safe and good food and that no one has a right to patent life.


Q: How have your farmer friends reacted to your resistance?

A: Many of my friends have stood behind me all these years. Even at times when Monsanto would come to some of my neighbours, and offer them as high as $20,000 worth of free chemicals to say something false or negative about me they refused to do so. Monsanto used every tactic possible to try and discredit me and my family. This was one of the hardest parts in fighting a multinational corporation.


Q: How do you think this Award can help your fight?


A: This award is a great honour to my wife and myself. It will motivate us to continue our fight for the rights of farmers and consumers around the world.

Links

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
Stockholmsvägen 23
122 62 Enskede
Sweden

Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
Maison de la Paix
Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Building 5
1202 Geneva
Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0)22 555 09 55

E-mail: