Percy Schmeiser

Patented Seed

Doc Harry was thoroughly pleased.  His friend Sulo Lahti's wife Annie scooped a large serving of salmon on his plate as Sulo poured him a glass of his "home made" berry wine.   Harry liked wine, particularly when he did not have to buy it.
The friends sat together in Sulo Lahti's "entertainment room." This room was situated a good 100 feet from the Lahti's home in a remodeled section of Solo's barn. It was never Solo's intention to use it for anything more than a place for his friends to drink wine and play cards. His wife, Annie, had other ideas, and Solo's barn room was eventually converted into a place for entertaining guests.

Harry pushed a chunk of salmon into his mouth, swallowed, and made a smacking noise with his lips. He then wiped his face with a napkin.   "How's business, you doing much farming?"

Sulo replied: "The best thing that has happened is that we have Annie working again."

Annie narrowed her eyes and looked at Sulo.  "I can teach again, only because we can afford daycare for Emmi.  Daycare isn't cheap."

"That's for sure," said Sulo.  "Daycare cost us almost $500 a month.  I only wish I could make enough on the farm so that my Little Annie would not have to work."

"Little" Annie stood six foot in her stocking feet and was a remarkably attractive blond.  The children in her classes all professed to be in love with her, and she had the reputation for being an outstanding teacher.

"I like working," chirped Annie." 

"I know you do," said Sulo, "But I would like us to raise our kids rather than have a daycare center doing it for us.

"Emmi has a good time playing with the other children," said Annie, and we are still the ones that raise her, not the daycare center."

Harry reached for some more salmon and poured himself another glass of wine.  He looked at Sulo and asked.  "You mentioned last year that you were considering raising some seed crops.  Have you been able to do anything or is the weather out here too wet?"

"The weather is fine, "answered Sulo.  "I am raising some oil seed crops.   My problem is that I have to follow my contract exactly.  I have to plant on a certain date, apply certain fertilizers when the field men tell me to, do required tillage operations on certain dates, and harvest on a certain date.   The seed I harvest isn't mine and I can't keep any back to replant unless I pay royalties."

"Royalties?" asked Harry.  "Why would you have to pay someone for seed you raise?"

"Because," said Sulo; "The company that sold me the seed has the intellectual property rights to that seed.  Even if I raise the seed myself, they still own it. I have contracted to only to sell it to them"

Harry stopped eating. "You don't own your own crop? I thought that this was America, not medieval Europe."

Annie put on a very serious face as she looked at Harry. "This is not just an American situation, it is world wide.  In India a couple of companies have worked to patent enough seeds so that they have a grain monopoly.  You can not plant any rice or wheat without first paying the company for the seed, even if you produce the seed yourself. 

Harry looked at his empty wine glass and reached for more wine. "You must be referring to genetically modified seed.  Right?"

"No" said Annie.  "These companies are patenting native seeds as well.  Ever hear of the Enola bean?"

"No." said Harry (who normally claims wide knowledge of everything).

"A lady in Arizona," continued Annie, "remembered eating yellow colored beans in Mexico.  All she could find in Arizona were red pinto beans, so she thought it would be a great idea to import yellow beans.  Some twenty years ago she started an import business.  Her bean imports all stopped when she was sued by the Proctor Company.  Not only was she sued, but so were a number of farmers and seed producers in Arizona and Colorado.  Evidently the proctor company took it upon themselves to patent the bean color, and is insisting that they be paid a royalty for all beans that are raised, imported and sold in the United States.

"Harry, this is a bean that was raised by the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru" continued Annie.   "I am both amazed and appalled that a private company could patent a native seed, or worse yet, a color. I am appalled that they are allowed to patent something that they never developed." 

"Doesn't sound legal to me" said Harry as he poured more wine.

"It's legal" said Annie.  The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of seed patents in 2001.  Monsanto's ex employee, Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion.  Seed companies from the big multinationals like Dupont, Monsanto, Cargill, and others are patenting numerous indigenous plant varieties, as well as individual genes. They are trying to monopolize anything that consumers or farmers might find essential or desirable…And guess who is going to end up paying for all of this?"

Sulo placed a newly filled wine carafe in front of Harry.  "Don't forget to tell Harry about Percy."

"Percy who?" asked Harry as he reached for the wine carafe.

Percy Schmeiser" answered Annie.  "Percy is over 70 and a third generation Canadian farmer.  He lives in Saskatchewan and farms about 1400 acres.  Sounds like a lot of land here, but in Saskatchewan, 1400 acres is only a medium sized farm. Percy raises Rape (or Canola) seed.  He has been doing this for at least fifty years. 
In 1998 Monsanto sued him for "illegally planting their company's patented genetically modified Canola seed. 
Percy insisted that there was nothing illegal about his seed.  He said that he has been raising his own Canola for well over 50 years.  He has experimented and developed his own verities of seed, and had no reason to want to plant anything produced by Monsanto.
Monsanto proved scientifically that Percy's plants contained some of their patented genetic material and had "Round up Ready" characteristics."

"Round up ready?" asked Harry

"Round up ready means that the plants are resistant to Roundup herbicide sprays," answered Annie.

"Evidently" continued Annie. "Percy's plants were contaminated from pollen that blew over from other farms planted with Monsanto's plants.  Bees and other insects also cross pollinated them.  Monsanto said that they are willing to risk negative publicity by going after small farmers like Percy because they spend hundreds of millions in developing their genetically modified products. To ensure the company gets a return on its investment, Monsanto charges steep prices and insists that farmers sign "Technology use agreements" before they can plant seeds.

"Did you sign an agreement?" asked Harry

"I did" replied Sulo.  "My contract states that I must buy new seeds each growing season, and that the company has the right to take samples of their plants for three years following each purchase."

What happened to Percy?  Asked Harry

Annie shook her head and smiled.  "He fought Monsanto.  He fought them.  Monsanto asked for $300,000 in damages from Percy.  They took it to the Canadian Supreme Court and they won.

Harry raised his eye brows "They won?" 

"They won," answered Annie, "but that is not the end of the story.  Percy did not have to pay Monsanto damages.   They have a very strong organization in Canada called the Canadian Farmers Union.  The Farmers Union has counter sued Monsanto for pollution.  They have polluted a number of farms with pollen from their genetically modified crops.  Percy and other farmers feel that they were entitled to damages.  *You can read about Percy Schmeiser on the Internet and I expect that there will be a lot more to this story in the future."   

Harry held down his half filled wine carafe as Annie started to collect the dishes.

Sulo finished his wine. "In the meantime I am buying my seed and following my contract.  We don't have a farmers union here to protect me. Fortunately Annie is bringing home a regular wage to support our farm and still pay for daycare.

I do so love my family, and I love farming.  I pray to God that we will still be able to keep this land…"

Harry held up his wineglass for a toast  "God bless the Farmer, they made America, let us hope that they are never forgotten."



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*(  There is a toll free hotline for farmers facing lawsuits of threats from Monsanto 1-888-FARMHLP.

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