A Farmer Rounds Up Monsanto

Percy Schmeiser. Photo by RLA Foundation
After a decade of battling agribusiness giant Monsanto, Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, came away with a clear win. Monsanto wrote him a check for $660, the cost of cleaning Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready” canola off Schmeiser’s land.

Schmeiser’s saga began in 1998, when Monsanto claimed it found its canola growing on 1,030 acres of Schmeiser’s farm. Schmeiser hadn’t bought seed from Monsanto. He’d grown canola for 50 years and, as farmers have through the ages, planted seed that he saved from his crops. But Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) product had found its way into Schmeiser’s fields.

Even though Schmeiser didn’t want the GM seed and didn’t hose his fields down with herbicide—the only practical benefit of the GM plants—Monsanto thought he should pay them for their patented seed, to the tune of $400,000. 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. Schmeiser didn’t pay; Monsanto sued.

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. The Canadian Supreme Court, however, saw it differently. The court said the patent was valid, and that Schmeiser had infringed, but held he gained no benefit from using the seed, and that he owed Monsanto nothing.

Schmeiser quit planting canola but, in 2005, 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. When Monsanto wouldn’t change the release, he hired help to remove the invading canola and sent Monsanto the bill. Monsanto wouldn’t pay; 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.

Doug Pibel wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Doug is managing editor of YES! Magazine.

Percy Schmeiser interview.

Photo of Doug Pibel
Image of other articles in the theme: Food for Everyone. Illustration by Nikki McClure
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