Finally... Solo Farmer Fights Monsanto and Wins
Monsanto has long been trying to establish control over the seeds of the plants that produce food for the world.
They have already patented a number of genetically altered food crops, which can only be grown with proper license, and the seeds for which must be purchased anew each year.
But genetically engineered crops cannot be contained.
And rather than being found guilty of contaminating farmers' property, Monsanto has successfully sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.
Many farmers have subsequently, quite literally, lost their farms.
Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan, Canada, was also a victim of Monsanto's vile ways.
Schmeiser worked on farming and developing his own seeds for 50 years, and when his fields were contaminated, Monsanto threatened him, intimidated him, and tried to take his land away.
But Schmeiser refused to give in, and eventually beat them in court.
David versus Goliath
Percy's story is a classic case of David versus Goliath, and his victory is no doubt momentous.
It all began in 1998, at which time Schmeiser had grown canola on his farm for 40 years. Like any other traditional farmer, he used his own seeds, saved from the previous harvest. But, like hundreds of other North American farmers, Schmeiser ended up being sued by Monsanto for 'patent infringement.'
More than 320 hectares were found to be contaminated with Roundup Ready canola—the biotech giant's patented canola, genetically engineered to tolerate otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate. The company sought damages totaling $400,000.
Most farmers end up settling, but Schmeiser was angry enough to fight back. In a 1999 interview, Schmeiser stated:
"I never put those plants on my land. The question is, where do Monsanto's rights end and mine begin?"
The case eventually went before the Federal Court of Canada. Schmeiser in turn accused Monsanto of:
- Libel, by publicly accusing him of committing illegal acts
- Improperly obtaining samples of his seed from a local seed plant
- Callous disregard for the environment by introducing genetically modified crops without proper controls and containment
- Contamination of his crops with unwanted GM plants
After 10 Years, Monsanto Agrees to Pay for Cleanup
After a decade-long battle, Schmeiser won when, in March 2008, Monsanto settled out of court, agreeing to pay for all cleanup costs. The agreement also specified that Schmeiser would not be under gag-order, and that Monsanto can be sued for recontamination.
This was a much-needed win not just for Schmeiser, but for farmers everywhere. It set the precedence that farmers may be entitled to reimbursement when their fields are contaminated with unwanted GM crops (as indeed they should!). On Schmeiser's website, www.percyschmeiser.com, he states:
"If I would go to St. Louis and contaminate their plots--destroy what they have worked on for 40 years--I think I would be put in jail and the key thrown away."
However, that's not to say that farmers have nothing to fear anymore… The Federal Court of Canada did uphold the validity of Monsanto's patent, dismissing Schmeiser's challenge to the patent based on the fact that Monsanto cannot control its spread. Worse yet, while the judge agreed that a farmer can generally claim ownership of crops growing in his fields when they're inadvertently carried there by pollen or wind, this does not hold true when it comes to patented, genetically modified seed. Schmeiser was deeply upset about this particular part of the ruling, as the implications are huge.
Still, in this case, while Monsanto's patent was still deemed valid and enforceable, Schmeiser was not forced to pay for the 'privilege' of having his fields contaminated…
This landmark case is now featured in the documentary film "David versus Monsanto." (See the trailer above.)
The Riceland Foods Lawsuit—Another Successful Strike-Back against GM Contamination
More recently, Riceland Foods, the largest rice cooperative in the U.S. won its lawsuit against the Bayer Corporation after its natural long-grain rice was contaminated with Bayer's unapproved genetically engineered rice. It was just one of about 3,000 similar lawsuits filed against Bayer in recent years. In April of last year, Bayer CropScience was also ordered to pay a dozen Arkansas farmers nearly $50 million "for allowing a genetically altered strain of rice to escape into the commercial market, damaging rice prices in 2006," a Bloomberg Law article reported.
As a result of the contamination with Bayer's unapproved experimental GM rice, countries within the European Union refused to purchase U.S. long grain rice, and American rice farmers and cooperatives lost $389 million in projected sales, not to mention the clean-up costs.
The jury determined that Bayer caused "tremendous harm to Riceland and the entire industry," awarding Riceland $11.8 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages.
In this case, the genetically engineered rice, known as LibertyLink, was never actually approved for commercial planting. It's an experimental crop, meant to be sown for research purposes only. However, it's a perfect example of just how impossible it is to contain genetically engineered crops once they're in the ground.
Biotech corporations have tried to convince everyone that their genetically altered crops pose no danger to the environment and other nearby crops, and that the issue of contamination is an insignificant one. Clearly, the reality is very different from what they've projected. There's simply NO way to avoid contamination! Genetically modified (GM) seed crops can, and most certainly do, spread beyond their designated fields.
GM Contamination Spreading Like Uncontained Wildfire
Contamination can occur in a number of different ways. Pollen drift from field to field via insects and wind is just the beginning.
In August of last year, the Food Freedom blog reported that the Irish government discovered they'd accidentally planted banned GM maize, originating from Monsanto. In this case, the contamination originated from the seed supplier, Pioneer Hi-Bred Northern Europe, a subsidiary of DuPont. Random tests by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF), discovered that three out of 1,000 plants were contaminated by Monsanto's illegal GM maize, NK603. The crop was subsequently destroyed to protect organic farms in the area.
But the full extent of the contamination is uncertain, as it was only discovered through random testing. The seed had already been verified as "GM-free" by Pioneer Hi-Bred itself.
Other recent cases of widespread contamination include:
- 2010: Monsanto's GM corn was discovered across 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) in seven German states. Since Germany doesn't allow GM corn to be planted, the farmers had to destroy their crops. These farmers had to "eat" their losses, as the seed companies refused to accept liability for the contamination.
- 2007: Pollen drift from GM maize (MON810) fields were found to have contaminated hundreds of conventional and organic farmers in Spain, the only country in the EU that allows GM maize to be cultivated.
In the latter case, a 2009 Greenpeace report documents the profound socioeconomic and human impacts the contamination has had. Part of the summary reads:
"The farmers' stories tell of an alarming reduction in the amount of organic maize being grown and the direct negative impacts that genetically modified organisms have on the population. These organic producers have voluntarily opted out of the conventional or GM farming model, many out of dedication to the principles of sustainability.
Now, they face contamination from neighboring GM crops, even when they take measures to try to avoid cross pollination of the plants. For an organic farmer, genetic contamination is an unmitigated disaster. This report tells the stories of real people who have experienced losses not of their own making. Adding insult to injury, they often have to pay for testing or other protection measures themselves.
… There are no safeguards for MON 810 cultivation, and co-existence of GM and non-modified crops is impossible." [Emphasis mine.]
That's the reality of the situation, and this is precisely why we must fight against the approval of each and every new genetically engineered crop. They simply cannot be contained. And the same will be true for other genetically engineered foods, such as salmon. All genetically engineered foods absolutely WILL contaminate their conventional and organic counterparts, and destroy diversity.
This is also what makes the recent approval of GM alfalfa in the U.S. so incredibly dangerous. The release of GM alfalfa quite literally threatens the entire organic industry, including organic meat, as alfalfa is the fourth most grown crop in the US, and is used to produce forage seed and hay to feed cows and other livestock.
Protecting Our Food Supply is Everyone's Business!
It's quite clear that genetically engineered foods threaten not only biodiversity and the environment, it can also pose potentially serious threats to animal and human health when consumed. Unfortunately, the revolving door between the biotech industry and the agencies in charge of industry legislation makes it very difficult to stop the ongoing madness.
That does not mean it's impossible, however. But it does require your active participation.
First and foremost, avoid buying GM foods! Since the industry has successfully squelched every attempt at getting genetically engineered foods labeled, avoiding them requires you to be an educated consumer.
- Print out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide and refer to it often. It can help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs. You can also download the free iPhone application that is available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
- Better yet, always buy USDA 100% Organic products when possible as these do not permit GM ingredients, or buy whole fresh produce and meat from local farmers. The majority of the GMO's you're exposed to are via processed foods, so by cooking from scratch with whole foods, you can be sure you're not inadvertently consuming something laced with GM ingredients.
- When you do purchase processed food, avoid products containing anything related to corn or soy that are not 100 percent organic, as any foods containing these two non-organic ingredients are virtually guaranteed to contain genetically engineered ingredients.
- For ongoing updates, follow our Non-GMO’s page on Facebook.
We CAN shift the balance by simply voting with our pocketbooks. Europe successfully did this over a decade ago, without any government assistance, and Americans can drive GMO's out of our food supply as well, but it requires educating the public about what GM foods are.
Important Action Item: Support California's Ballot Initiative to Label GMO's!
In 2007, then-Presidential candidate Obama promised to "immediately" require GM labeling if elected. So far, nothing of the sort has transpired.
Fortunately, 24 U.S. states have (as part of their state governance) something called the Initiative Process, where residents can bring to ballot any law they want enacted, as long as it has sufficient support. California has been busy organizing just such a ballot initiative to get mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods sold in their state. The proposed law will be on the ballot for 2012.
Michigan and Washington are also starting similar campaigns.
Since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, a win for the California Initiative would be a huge step forward, and would affect ingredients and labeling nation-wide. Last month, a coalition of consumer, public health and environmental organizations, food companies, and individuals submitted the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act to the State Attorney General. Now, they need 800,000 signatures to get the Act on next year’s ballot.
I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can.
If you live in California, volunteer to gather petition signatures. If you live outside of California, please donate to help support this Initiative and spread the word to everyone you know in California. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S. states, so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!