Percy Schmeiser stands up to — and takes down — Monsanto

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Isn’t it nice when every now and then David beats Goliath?

Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, spent a decade battling GM behemoth Monsanto. In the end, after many setbacks, he came away with a win of $660, which was the cost of removing Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” canola oil seeds off Schmeiser’s land.

13 years ago Monsanto claimed it found its canola growing on Schmeiser’s 1,030 acre farm. Though he had never puchased the seeds and had grown canola for 50 years, and planted seed he had saved from his own crops, Monsanto didn’t care. They said somehow their genetically modified (GM) product had found its way onto his fields, and Schmeiser owed them money. $400,000 to be exact.

Although Schmeiser didn’t want the GM seed and didn’t spray his fields with herbicide — which is the only reason why you would use the GM seeds in the first place — Monsanto decided to sue when Schmeiser wouldn’t pay.

According to the Center for Food Safety, as of 2005, 186 farmers had paid Monsanto a total of $15 million in response to similar Roundup Ready claims. But Schmeiser fought back.

Schmeiser lost at trial and on appeal and was ordered to pay nearly $20,000 in damages and $150,000 for Monsanto’s legal fees.

But the Canadian Supreme Court didn’t see it that way.  They ruled for Schmeiser. The court found that Monsanto’s patent was valid, and that Schmeiser had infringed when the seeds were on his land, but it held he had gained no benefit from using the seed, and that he owed Monsanto nothing.

Schmeiser quit planting canola but, in 2005, he found more Roundup Ready canola in his fields. Monsanto had a standing offer to clean the stuff out of any fields where it was growing without the company’s permission. But they required farmers to sign a release that included an agreement never to discuss the terms under which the cleanup was done.

Schmeiser refused to be gagged by the release as a condition of getting Monsanto’s GM canola off his land. When Monsanto wouldn’t change the release, he hired help to remove the invading canola and sent Monsanto the bill. Monsanto wouldn’t pay. So Schmeiser sued.

On the eve of trial, the parties agreed to settle. Monsanto paid the cleanup costs and Schmeiser signed a release—without the nondisclosure clause.

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