Magazine article New Internationalist

Genetic Giant Swats Seed-Saving Farmer: Monsanto Notches Up Legal Victory in Canada

Magazine article New Internationalist

Genetic Giant Swats Seed-Saving Farmer: Monsanto Notches Up Legal Victory in Canada

Article excerpt

[Graph Not Transcribed]

PERCY Schmeiser's long legal battle has reached an end. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, in a tight 5-4 decision, that the farmer was guilty of violating the agri-business giant Monsanto's patent on a gene for resistance to glyphosate - in 'Roundup', a broad-spectrum herbicide.

The Court determined that patent rights on a gene extend to the living organism in which it is found. Consequently, saving and planting seed containing a patented gene without authorization from the patent holder is illegal.

Canadian farmers have a long and strong tradition of seed saving, especially in the western prairies where Schmeiser farms. Canola (oilseed rape), the crop he grew, is itself a product of farmer seed saving, farmer selection and publicly funded research. It's an example of what plant breeding can accomplish without patents.

It is also an example of why co-existence between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM crops is impossible. Today, all the canola acreage in western Canada is contaminated with Monsanto's patented 'Roundup-Ready' gene.

None of this mattered to the majority of the judges. Their decision focused on a narrow interpretation of case law, treating plants like any other manufactured good - even though they repeatedly pointed out the special nature of biological 'inventions'. They reasoned that the owner of a patented gene should have monopoly rights over any living organism containing that gene, no matter how it got there and even if, as the majority of judges confirmed, the plants themselves are not patentable. …

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