Monsanto wins; pray you're not contaminated
Friday, May 21, 2004
Canadian Supreme Court Tramples Farmers' Rights - Affirms Corporate Monopoly On
Higher Life Forms
Civil society and farmers' organizations worldwide reacted with outrage to
today's 5-4 decision by the Canadian Supreme Court, affirming Monsanto's right
to prosecute farmers who are found to have GM crops growing on their land -
whether they wanted them or not. Gene Giant Monsanto accused Saskatchewan
farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser of violating the company's patent on
genetically modified canola (oilseed rape). Percy and Louise did not want
Monsanto's GM canola seeds that invaded their property, and they did not try to
benefit from the herbicide-tolerant trait in the GM seed (that is, they didn't
spray Roundup weedkiller), but still Monsanto prosecuted them for patent
infringement and demanded a portion of their income. The Schmeisers waged a
courageous, 7-year battle against Monsanto that went all the way to the Supreme
"The good news is that the Schmeisers don't have to pay a penny to Monsanto
[reversing the lower courts' ruling], but the decision has grave implications
for farmers and society everywhere the Gene Giants do business," said Pat
Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group, one of the interveners in the case.
Monsanto's GM seed technology accounted for over 90% of the global area planted
in GM seeds last year.
"The decision not only undermines the rights of farmers worldwide, but also
global food security and biological diversity. Ironically, the United Nations
has declared tomorrow to be International Biodiversity Day. We should all be
wearing black," lamented Mooney.
Inflatable Patent: The Canadian Supreme Court decision effectively nullifies the
Court's 2002 decision, which held that higher life forms, including plants, are
not patentable subject matter. According to today's decision, a patent on a
gene or cell can be infringed by a farmer's use of a plant or seed into which
the patented material has been incorporated.
"Monsanto has won an inflatable patent today. They can now say that their rights
extend to anything its genes get into, whether plant, animal or human," said Pat
Mooney. The Canadian Court goes even further than notoriously monopoly-friendly
US patent law because it finds that a gene patent extends to any higher organism
that contains the patented gene. "Under this ruling spreading GM pollution
appears to be recognized as a viable corporate ownership strategy," said Mooney.
The Court's ruling means that if a farmer is in possession of seeds or plants
containing a patented gene, the burden is on the farmer to prove that s/he is
not infringing the company's monopoly patent. "In Monsanto's world, we're all
criminals unless a court rules otherwise," observes Silvia Ribeiro of ETC
Group's Mexico office. "This will come as shocking news to indigenous farmers in
Mexico, whose maize fields have been contaminated with DNA from genetically
modified plants, and to farmers everywhere who are fighting to prevent
genetically modified organisms from trespassing in their fields," said Ribeiro.
Monsanto's newspaper ads in Chiapas, Mexico are already warning peasants that if
they are found using GM seed illegally, they risk fines and even prison.
"No doubt Monsanto will say this is a victory for their stockholders, but its
victory will be short lived. As always, Monsanto's hot air is the wind beneath
our wings," said Pat Mooney. "This ruling will unite farmers and others opposed
to corporate control of food and life, and galvanize civil society to take the
issue out of the courts and back to politicians," said Mooney.
One of civil society's first major responses in North America will be expressed
during the "Reclaim the Commons" meeting in San Francisco in about two weeks
(June 5-10). This international activist gathering parallels the annual meeting
of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) also in San Francisco.
Tell Monsanto Where to Go! ETC Group and others have initiated a letter-writing
campaign. Anyone (rural or urban based) who fears that Monsanto's GM seeds have
blown onto their property - as happened to the Schmeisers - can notify Monsanto
that the company's uninvited genes may be trespassing.
Go here to take action: http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=450
Go here to view the text of the Canadian Supreme Court's judgement:
For further information:
Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada) firstname.lastname@example.org: 204-453-5259
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA) email@example.com: 919 960-5223
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) firstname.lastname@example.org: 52 55 55 632 664
Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK) email@example.com: 44 (0)7752 106806 (cell)
The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is an
international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC group
is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human
rights. www.etcgroup.org. The ETC group is also a member of the Community
Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC). The CBDC is a
collaborative experimental initiative involving civil society organizations and
public research institutions in 14 countries. The CBDC is dedicated to the
exploration of community-directed programmes to strengthen the conservation and
enhancement of agricultural biodiversity. The CBDC website is
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