Percy Schmeiser: The Man Who Stood Up to Monsanto

This is a near verbatim transcript of an on-camera interview done with Percy Schmeiser for ‘Open Sesame – The Story of Seeds’. Percy is in the film but there was so much of his great interview we couldn’t use that we decided to put it online. We’ve done our best to correct for common grammar and spelling mistakes. Any mistakes that remain are the fault of the filmmaker/transcription and this website, not the fault of Percy Schmeiser.

Percy Schmeiser, who came from a farming family in Saskatchewan, Canada, is known as “the man who beat Monsanto.” Percy and his wife had been growing canola for over 50 years before Monsanto laid a patent infringement on them in 1998. The corporate giant found their GM crops on Percy’s farm the year before, and when he refused to pay their technology fee, they took him to court. After several unsuccessful battles, Schmeiser pushed his case to the Supreme Court of Canada where he received a different ruling. The court found that Percy owed Monsanto nothing because he didn’t profit from using the GMO seeds.  But in 2005, he discovered more contaminated plants. Monsanto agreed to remove the plants if Percy and his wife signed a nondisclosure agreement. They refused because it would take away their rights. Percy paid his neighbors get rid of the crops, but when Monsanto wouldn’t reimburse him, he took the company to small claims court. Before the trial began, they offered to pay for the cleanup and the court cost. As a result of these trials, Percy is recognized as a hero for standing up to Monsanto. Additionally, new laws have been set in Canada. Trucks are required to cover the seeds they’re transporting to prevent

Percy Schmeiser at the Heirloom Seed Festival

contamination. Also, farmers can now sue for damage if their crops become tainted.

PERCY SCHMEISER: My name is Percy Schmeiser, and a lot of people know me because of the court cases and battles I’ve had with Monsanto on the whole issue of patent rights and laws.

Interviewer: And tell me, walk me through what happened. You were mentioning earlier that this started in a different way than people realize.

PERCY SCHMEISER: Well first of all, I should mention that my wife and I were seed developers, especially in canola. But we grew other grains like wheat, peas, barley, and oats. But we liked canola most of all and that’s what we were growing.

PERCY SCHMEISER: Now GMO’s were introduced in 1996 in both Canada and United States at the same time. There were four crops: canola, cotton, soya, and corn. But the crop that really concerned us in Canada was canola  because we were one of the world’s biggest producers of canola. And so it was introduced in 1996.In 1998, two years after the introduction, Monsanto laid what they called a patent infringement lawsuit against my wife and I. They claimed that we were growing their GMO canola without a license from them. And that was a real surprise to us because that was the last thing, as seed researchers and developers, to have a contaminated genetic modified crop. Especially from Monsanto.  We stood up to Monsanto, and eventually,  the trial judge ruled in Monsanto’s favor that it doesn’t matter how you’re contaminated.  It  was  proven that it came in from cross-pollination and direct seed movement, seeds blowing in the wind from my neighbor’s field. But he said it didn’t matter how you were contaminated. We lost at that point, and then we applied to the Canadian Federal Court of  Appeal. Basically, we had three judges, and they upheld the trial judge’s decision even though they didn’t agree with everything. We all felt that at that point it should have been thrown out because, if they didn’t agree with all of the trial judge’s rulings, it should not be preceded. And then we were successful going to the Supreme Court of Canada.  At the Supreme Court of Canada they ruled that we didn’t have to pay Monsanto any money whatsoever. But we had to pay our court costs and Monsanto had to pay their court costs. And that was not fair, because they laid the lawsuit against us; we didn’t lay it against them. So  they lost. But on the ruling  during the court proceedings at the Supreme Court, we challenged Monsanto that they should have no right to put a patent on any higher life forms. The Supreme Court ruled in Monsanto’s favor on that issue. They said  Monsanto’s patent law would hold and  that they would have their rights under patent law. But they did say that it should go back to the Parliament of Canada, and bring in new laws and regulations  in regards to the patents of higher life forms. So what the court ruled, and it still stands today,  is that Monsanto’s patent on  higher life forms is valid. That opened up a lot of  new areas because how far can you go with that? Seeds, plants, animals, birds, bees, even  human beings.

Interviewer: Can you  walk me back through the fact that you found their canola, you called them, and you asked them to remove it?  Just tell me that story that you mentioned.

PERCY SCHMEISER: Yeah., After the Supreme Court case, we thought we were really done with Monsanto. My wife and I decided we would never grow canola again because we knew our land was contaminated.  Most of the land was contaminated with it. And we decided that we would start with mustard green  because we had had grown mustard many years ago. And in preparation of that fifty acre research field, in the fall time of one year,  there were canola plants growing in that field. There was no other thing because we had left that field  as we call it, “summer-fallowing “. There were no crops  on it so that the plant would rejuvenate and be good for summer-fallowing. The plant can get its nutrients back. And in the fall time, looking at the land, we noticed there were canola plants growing on there, and we had never seen the canola on it. And so we did some testing of some of the plants. We sprayed twelve plants  with Roundup. We sprayed it on, and we waited ten or twelve days. The plants didn’t die. So we realized they had to be Monsanto’s  GMO plants because we had used their chemical, Roundup, on it. And we notified Monsanto that we think that we have GMO, your GMO canola in our research field, and  we’d like you to come out and test it.  Indeed they did. They tested and took samples of the twelve plants, plus other plants in the field. It was scattered throughout the fifty acres. And  two days or three days later they notified us that yes,  those canola plants in our field are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready plants. They asked us what we wanted to have done with them. My wife and I said that we wanted, because we didn’t want any seeds from  plants to develop,  all those plants to be pulled out by hand.

PERCY SCHMEISER: On that fifty acre field, as I said, there was a reason for that. And Monsanto agreed to do this. They gave a date when they would be coming. A couple of days before that, my wife received a fax. It was a fax from Monsanto and they said that they wanted us to sign this release form. But, on the release form, there was a whole paragraph blacked out. So we fired it back and we said that we’re not signing a document that is blocked out.  We wanted the complete document. And so they did that. They sent the complete document. In the area they had blocked out, it stated that my wife, myself, or any member of our family could never take Monsanto to court for the rest of our lives, no matter how much they contaminated us in the future. And the  other statement they wanted was that we could never have a gag order. That we could never, ever talk about this to the press. I couldn’t even talk to you today about what the terms of settlement were, that they were gonna remove the plants and the contamination. And we said no, we’ll never give our freedom of speech up, and we would not sign it. Monsanto said ‘alright, you don’t sign it, we won’t remove the plants.’ Then we sent Monsanto a fax that said ’cause we don’t want the contamination, we will remove the plants with the help of our neighbors. Monsanto then replied back and they said “We wish to remind you, Mr. and Mrs. Schmeiser, that those canola plants on your field are not your property and you’re not allowed to do with them what you want. You cannot remove them.” And  we fired back to Monsanto, “we are, with the help of our neighbors, going to remove them.”  We did, and notified Monsanto the day we were doing it. Once we had them removed I paid my neighbors six hundred and forty dollars. It took about three days and six hundred and forty dollars; it was very cheap.

PERCY SCHMEISER: But they were, concerned that they didn’t want contamination either. In a year’s time, we had sent Monsanto the bill many times. They refused to pay it unless we signed the document. And  we finally decided to take Monsanto to court. We didn’t want another court battle. We thought that was the cheapest way. We’ll take Monsanto to  the small claims court. And the judge agreed with us. We had Monsanto in court for a six hundred and forty dollar bill. Eventually went to court and Monsanto paid the six hundred and forty dollars as well as the twenty dollar  court cost. And so it was not the six hundred and forty dollars. It was the whole issue. If you contaminate, you should pay for the damages you do. The precedent has been set into courts now that if a farmer’s contaminated, they can take Monsanto to court on the contamination issue. Now I think that was one of the major, major victories against the corporation in Canada and in the United States.

Interviewer: Excellent. Where did that contamination come from?

PERCY SCHMEISER: This field was along the main road  where a lot of farmers haul canola to the gathering plant, or the crushing station. So that’s where it came from. The contamination came from this piece of land right next to a main road where farmers haul canola to the crushing plant, and also to the gathering station. So that’s where the contamination came from. What the farmers were hauling, some of the loads at that time had to be GMO. That shows you an example of how farmers can get contaminated. And under patent law you no longer own your seed to your plants.

Interviewer: And tell me how did Monsanto manipulate the figures? They said that 95% of your crop was contaminated?

PERCY SCHMEISER: Well what gave me the impression was when they said, in one statement, that our canola that we harvested in 2008 was 97% theirs. But  that was misleading. Their variety of the canola, the GMO canola, was the one that we were contaminated by. There’s other companies that were selling  GMO canola. There’s Liberty Link, Pursuit Smart, and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready. The variety of our canola, GMO canola contamination, was 97% Monsanto’s variety, not our total field. Scientists, in their court statements said that some of the fields, two fields, had no contamination. One or two had one percent, two percent, four percent, or eight percent. But in the ditch alongside our neighbor, who had grown GMO canola in the ditch, and not in our field, had around sixty percent. Monsanto has been very misleading. Trying to get the figure that our fields were total GMO canola, that’s wrong. The variety of contamination was Monsanto’s Roundup Ready.

Interviewer: And what has your daughter said to you  about this? About, you know,  what  toll this has taken on you?

PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, we’ve received a lot of threats from Monsanto.  They’d come into our driveway, and watch what my wife would be doing all day long. They would also sit on the roads along our fields when the fields were being worked all day long. She’d receive phone calls like “you better watch it, they’re gonna get you.’’ But the worst was this one time when one of Monsanto’s representatives just lost his cool. He shook his fist in both our faces and said “Nobody, nobody stands up to Monsanto. We’re gonna get both of you somehow someday, and we’re going to destroy you both.” So you can imagine the fear that we live under, the threats we live under, and now being here today – Monsanto will know about it, and what they will do to us next, we don’t know.  And that’s why there’s such  fear, not only in our family, our children and grandchildren, but also our neighbors. .That prompted my daughter, one of our daughters, to say a couple of months ago, “Dad, if you don’t quit this, you’re going to come home to me in a box.” So there’s a lot of fear, and it really puts stress on people. Not only us, but other farmers who have been threatened by Monsanto, investigated by Monsanto, or have lost their farms or paid huge fines. In fact, two weeks ago I had a call from a farmer. They wanted two hundred or three hundred dollars an acre as a fine, and he said he never seeded it. But he’s been contaminated and refused to do anything about it. So they want all of his crops. It’s  destroying our world’s social fabric.

Interviewer: And what happens when a farmer buys Monsanto’s seed, they decide they don’t like it, and they want to grow something else?

PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, he’s really trapped. When he buys Monsanto’s seed, he’s talked into it by a Monsanto representative who tells him how great it is. He might seed it once, but he signed a contract when he bought it that he must permit Monsanto’s police or investigation people to come on his land for three years after he’s bought that. And they can go on his land, they can get his tax records, and they can see his farming records without his permission. And so he decides  after the first year he doesn’t like it.  Many farmers, especially now, do not like GMO  plants or seeds and the chemicals. The increased amount of chemicals you have to use. So they decide not to use it the next year, but they want to buy other seed. If it’s other varieties of seed, Monsanto knows because it has a record of who seeded that. And when the farmer doesn’t buy it the second year – because you have to buy your seed every year – they’ll come out to that farm and say, ‘why didn’t you buy our seed again this year?’ And the farmer will say, ‘we didn’t like it, it didn’t produce.’ And there’s more chemical use. And they’ll say, ‘well you know, in your field, you’ve used our canola. That field is contaminated.’ And they said anything that grows from that field belongs to us under patent law. So a farmer’s trapped then. If he doesn’t abide by it he gets taken to court or he gets fined. So he no longer has a choice. Or if an organic farmer is contaminated he loses his organic status and  it’ll be three or four years till he’s got  the situation under control. We really don’t have any pure canola or any pure soya left in Canada. It’s all GMO’s, and that’s what will happen throughout the world if people don’t stop it now. It’s getting to a crucial point.

Interviewer: Is it too late? Or is there something we can still do about that?

PERCY SCHMEISER: In many areas it is not too late. In certain areas, in certain crops, in Canada and the Midwest it’s too late. If you would stop, go back to regular varieties or non-GMO  varieties, it might take a generation.  Maybe though some scientific way, it could be taken out. But at the present time they said once it’s introduced there’s no going back. You cannot recall it. In certain crops, especially canola where it’s been introduced, I’d say it’s too late.

Interviewer: And you mentioned that your fight has had a positive aspect in terms of trucks. Now they need to travel in a different way? Can you explain that? The trucks need to cover their grain now, yeah?

PERCY SCHMEISER: Some good things have come out of the lawsuit. In our municipalities back home, which are similar to your counties, they brought in regulations that you cannot haul grain or, any seed down a road without a tarp over it, so you don’t spread the seeds – whether it’s canola, wheat, barley, oats, whatever – into somebody else’s field. And I think that was a very good law to have passed, because it’ll stop a lot of the contamination from farmers hauling grain on their uncovered trucks down the road. But that doesn’t stop a wind, a little tornado,  desert devils, or little whirlwinds, from picking up a swath of grain and taking it ten, fifteen, twenty. or fifty miles away. And that’s a big cause of contamination. There is one final word on this:  there is no such thing as coexistence. You introduce it, it’s over. That’s what we were told at the beginning, and that’s what they were telling, up to a few years ago, people  in Europe. Oh, you can have organic farmers. You can have conventional farmers. You can have GMO farmers. That is totally wrong. It’s false, and it’s a misleading statement. It all becomes GMO’s.

Interviewer: What’s in your future? What’s ahead for you?

PERCY SCHMEISER: I often thought that my wife and I could probably take Monsanto back on again on the liability issue for damages. But we felt we could do more good in the world by bringing awareness of what happens if we ever introduce GMO’s. We’re in our retirement age and we felt, since we have worked for twelve years in bringing this message, that that’s what we should continue to do. And that’s why we’re here today in California; to bring awareness to how great it would be for the people of California to vote for the right to know. Or labeling. No, you should have a right. It’s a human rights issue here, to know what’s in your food, what you’re feeding to your children, your grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And by that right being taken away, that you don’t know these corporations have that much power in our two countries, that you don’t even know what’s in your food; where is our‘ we’re the land of the free?’: Our liberties, our freedom of speech, are being taken away because of corporations and because government officials are not doing anything. They have not used the precautionary principle. They have done nothing to protect the food industry or the food supply of people today in regard to what we’re eating. And they have to. They can no longer turn a blind eye to it and only listen to the corporations that it’s safe. There’s no documentation that it’s safe, but there’s a lot of documentation that it’s not good to eat as well as the dangers it’s doing to human health and the environment.

Interviewer: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think is important to know?

PERCY SCHMEISER: I think that one of the things we should know is that we should control the seed supply and food supply. It should never ever be under the control or in the hands of corporations. Food and seed supply in the hands of farmers is safe. It’s not safe under corporations because they look at it totally different. It’s about how much money they can make on a product. How much more chemicals they can sell and control the seed supply. Monsanto’s making more money on the seed supply because they’re the largest seed company in the world now. So they have the best of both worlds now. T

They control the seed, and when they buy the seed, you have to buy their chemicals. So  what they have, it’s everything they wanted. They had the least care of whether it was good or bad, or fed a hungry world. That was further from their mind. It was how much more they could make the bottom line and how much more they could supply to their shareholders and their stockholders.