It is our opinion that the full ramifications of allowing patents on plants and other life forms have not been fully examined. But governments from around the world have bowed to the pressure of big multinational...
Acceptance speech – Percy and Louise Schmeiser
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.
Percy and Louise Schmeiser
461 Railway Ave.
Bruno, Saskatchewan S0K 0S0