AMY GOODMAN: Weíre broadcasting from
Bonn, Germany, where the thirtieth anniversary of the Right
Livelihood Awards is being held.
The Right Livelihood Award was
established in 1980 and has become widely known as the
Alternative Nobel Prize. Gathered here in Bonn this week are
some eighty Right Livelihood Award laureates, including the
Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has battled the biotech
company Monsanto for years.
In 1997, Percy and his wife Louise
won the Right Livelihood Award for their courage in defending
biodiversity and farmersí rights. I spoke with Percy Schmeiser
yesterday in Bonn, but first I want to turn to Bertram Verhaagís
Percy Schmeiser: David versus Monsanto.
NARRATOR: The pesticide Roundup produced by the multinational
concern Monsanto is the most widely sold spray in the world.
Monsanto made its canola resistant to Roundup. This means
Roundup kills every plant without exception. Only Monsantoís
genetically modified canola remains alive.
PERCY SCHMEISER: It was introduced without really much testing
being done. And I think, even at that time, when it was
introduced in the middle of the '90s, that even the governments
were taken in by what these corporations told what it would do,
like increase yields and less chemicals and more nutritious. And
I think the governments even believed the corporation.
NARRATOR: In 1996, the chemical giant Monsanto introduced its
brand of canola into Canada, a brand resistant to the pesticide
Roundup. In Schmeiser's region, three farmers agreed to plant
Monsantoís new GMO canola. Due to a heavy storm during the
harvest, freshly cut GMO canola drifted into Percy Schmeiserís
fields. His work of fifty years of breeding was destroyed,
because his harvest was contaminated by Monsantoís seed.
PERCY SCHMEISER: It came like a - like a time bomb, like a shock
to me, that my seed was ruined through cross-pollination or
direct seed drift by a substance, by a seed I didnít want in my
land. And so, it was very disgusting and hard to take that I had
lost something that I worked fifty years on.
NARRATOR: Contamination and destruction of his own breed was
irrevocably damaging to Percy Schmeiser. But on top of that,
Monsanto turned him, the victim, into a culprit.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the documentary Percy Schmeiser:
David versus Monsanto.
Well, I met Percy Schmeiser yesterday here in Bonn and asked him
to talk about this epic struggle he has with the biotech giant
Monsanto. Itís one of the largest biotech companies in the
PERCY SCHMEISER: It started in 1998, when Monsanto laid what
they call a patent infringement lawsuit against my wife and
myself, and they charged us that we were growing their genetic
altered, or GMO, canola, as we call it in Canada. And that was
the beginning of it. And as GMOs were introduced in North
America in 1996, so this was two years after the introduction.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what a GMO is.
PERCY SCHMEISER: Genetic modified organisms. And what that
really means is that they took a gene from another life form,
put it into canola, which made it resistant to Monsantoís
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what canola is.
PERCY SCHMEISER: Canola is - well, here
- in most parts of the
world, we call it rapeseed. But canola is an oil-based crop, and
primarily it is used for making cooking oil. And the meal from
it, after itís pressed, is good animal feed, both for cattle and
AMY GOODMAN: And explain how it ended up on your property.
PERCY SCHMEISER: My neighbor had grown it in 1997, and the
following year it had true cross-pollination. But at that time,
we believe it was primarily the contamination came from seeds
blown in the wind, transportation by the farmer to the market,
to his field, and from his field to his granaries.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you didnít buy it and plant it, how could
Monsanto sue you for using it?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, they said that it does not matter how it
gets into any farmerís field, and they specified just what I
said before - cross-pollination, seed movement and so on. And
because they have a patent on one gene that makes that plant
resistant - canola plant resistant to a chemical, then they - that
they own the ownership. So it doesnít matter how it gets to your
field, for patent law.
They can take the whole total farmerís
crop from him or make him destroy it. And in our case, my wife
and I were seed developers in canola, which we had been doing
for over fifty years, research in the development of disease
control and so on. Even we lost all that research when the court
ordered, through patent law, they own it.
AMY GOODMAN: That Monsanto owned it.
PERCY SCHMEISER: That Monsanto owns it.
AMY GOODMAN: And how much did they fine you?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, initially they wanted so-much-an-acre
fine, but it ended up that they laid another lawsuit of $1
million against my wife and myself. And that also, we had to
fight. And besides that, there was another lawsuit in the seven
years before it went to the Supreme Court, where they tried to
seize all our farmland.
They tried to seize our whole - our farm
equipment, so they could stop us, because we were using
mortgages on our farmland to pay for our legal bills.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, then explain what happened. You appealed
this right to the Canadian Supreme Court?
PERCY SCHMEISER: It went all the way. It went through the lower
courts and the court of appeal and so on, and then it went all
the way to Supreme Court of Canada.
But there were other issues
at the Supreme Court we could bring in that we could not bring
in at the lower courts - first of all, farmersí rights, farmersí
rights to use your own seed from year to year to develop them,
and then also the whole issue that we said, in regards to
patents, there should be no patents allowed on higher life
forms - basically, anything that comes from a seed. So that was
one of the main things.
We said to the Supreme Court that life
is sacred. No one, no individual, no corporation, should ever,
ever control it.
You have to remember that in Canada, and I believe also in the
United States, that thereís nothing in our patent acts of 1867
and 1869 that talks about genes, because it was unknown at that
time. So even at the present time, all these decisions are only
decisions of the court and of a judge.
And I should also mention
that in the Supreme Court, it was a split decision, five-four,
where they ruled that Monsantoís patent on the gene is valid.
AMY GOODMAN: So, they ruled against you or for you?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Against me.
AMY GOODMAN: At the Supreme Court.
PERCY SCHMEISER: The Supreme Court of Canada. But they also said
that the whole issue of the patents on life has to go back to
the Parliament of Canada to bring in laws and regulations in
regards to the patents of seeds, plants, farmersí rights and so
on. And thatís where it stands now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened to you?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, actually, what was the real
- it was
actually a real victory for us, because the Supreme Court ruled
we would not have to pay Monsanto no money. And the issue of the
million-dollar lawsuit, the issue of trying to seize our land
and our farm equipment, our house and so on, and the whole issue
that they could not have punitive damage against us and so on,
was a major victory.
But we thought it was over at that time. But little did we know,
about two years later, in 2005, we noticed that one of our
fields, or we felt one of our fields were contaminated again
with Monsantoís GMOs. And we notified Monsanto, and we did
testing ourselves, and we were quite sure it was Monsantoís GMO
canola in our field again.
We notified Monsanto, and they said
they would come out and check it, which we were surprised. And
indeed, two days later, they came. Several days later, they
"Yes, it is our GMO,
Monsantoís rapeseed, in your field again."
And they asked us what we wanted to
have done with the contamination. We said to Monsanto, because
we were starting to do research on mustard on the field, we
wanted every rapeseed - GMO rapeseed plant of Monsantoís pulled out by hand on
this fifty-acre field. And they agreed to do that.
But hereís the unusual part of it, and they do this to farmers
across North America. They said, first of all, weíd have to sign
a release form. And in this release form, it said my wife,
myself or any member of our family could never, ever take
Monsanto to court again for the rest of our lives, no matter how
much they contaminate us in the future on our land or on this
farm. And we said thereís no way we will ever, ever do that.
And the other thing in the release form, they said that our
freedom of speech would be taken away. In other words, we could
never, ever talk what the terms of settlement were. I couldnít
even talk to you here this morning. So we said to them thereís
no way weíre going to give up our freedom of speech. Thereís too
many people in our countries, United States and Canada, have
given our lives for the freedom of speech, and weíll never give
it away to a corporation.
"If you donít sign the release, then we will not
remove the offending plants," the GMO Monsanto plants.
said to Monsanto, we, with the help of our neighbors, will
remove the contamination. And then my wife received a very nasty
email or a fax from Monsanto that said,
"We wish to remind you
that those GMO plants on your field, Monsantoís GMO plants on
your field, are not your property. They are Monsantoís property
through patent law. And you cannot do with them what you want."
And we notified Monsanto,
"We will do what we want with those
plants. Theyíre on our land, our property. And we paid our
taxes, and we own the land."
And we did remove the plants.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean, they were threatening you now not to
remove the plants.
PERCY SCHMEISER: Not to remove them, because it was their
property, and we could not do with them what we want, because
they have a patent on it.
They own it, even though itís on our
land. So, we removed the plants. And with the help of our
neighbors - and this was very unusual. We paid our neighbors 640
Canadian dollars, and then we sent Monsanto the bill. And
Monsanto refused to pay it. And eventually, after another year
of letters going back and forth, Monsanto said they would pay
the $640, plus a $20 cost, if we would sign that document. We
refused to do that.
So, Iíll never forget March 19th, 2007 - or '08, and it went - at
the beginning of the court, the Monsanto's lawyer got up and
said, "Your Honor, we will pay" - well, there was mediation and
everything before that - "We will pay the $640 and the $20 cost."
The whole issue was never the $640. The whole issue now became
If Monsanto owns the patent on a gene, and you cannot
control it when you put it in the environment as a seed - in a
seed or in a plant, then they should be responsible for the
damages they do to organic farmers and conventional farmers. So
that was a major victory, because now it has set a precedent
that if a farmer is contaminated, he can seek relief in the
courts that the damage - that the contamination damage is paid for
or taken care of. So itís worldwide.
So we were very happy,
after ten years of legal battle, that we finally had a
corporation - first of all, like a corporation of Monsanto, to
have a billion-dollar corporation plus in court on a $640 bill.
AMY GOODMAN: Canadian farmer and Right Livelihood laureate Percy
Schmeiser describing his struggle with Monsanto. Weíll come back
to his story in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We are here in Bonn for the thirtieth anniversary
of the Right Livelihood Award winners. About eighty of them have
gathered here. Before we go back to our interview with the Right
Livelihood Award-winner Percy Schmeiser, I want to turn back to
an excerpt from the documentary Percy Schmeiser: David versus
Monsanto, about Percy and his wife Louise, how they were
repeatedly threatened after they took on Monsanto.
LOUISE SCHMEISER: It was scary at times. You just never know.
PERCY SCHMEISER: And the phone calls, you know, where there
would be somebody on the line saying, "You better watch it.
Theyíre going to get you." So it was pretty scary, and I was
very concerned, when I was gone, that something would happen to
LOUISE SCHMEISER: And when they would watch us, especially in
our own house here - they watched days on end every move we made,
in our house and for our office, what we use for the land, I
felt like I was a prisoner in my own home.
PERCY SCHMEISER: They did everything to bring us down
financially and mentally. And thatís what theyíre doing, is to
mentally and financially break people. They are totally
ruthless. They have no ethics. They have no morals. Itís the
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the documentary Percy Schmeiser:
David versus Monsanto. Here in Bonn, I asked Percy Schmeiser
yesterday to talk about how things stand now between, well, he,
Louise and Monsanto.
PERCY SCHMEISER: I hope my battle with Monsanto is over. But I
realize that as long as I bring awareness around the world about
Monsantoís patent - not only Monsantoís patent, but Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont
- what their patents do for the control of the
future of our seed and our food supply, and thatís what it was
all about. GMOs were never meant to feed a hungry or starving
world. They were meant to get control of farmersí seed supply.
That gives them the control of the world food supply. And so,
thatís where we stand at now, to bring that awareness around the
AMY GOODMAN: Percy Schmeiser, weíre sitting here in Bonn,
Germany, and youíre traveling through Germany. In fact, there is
a law here named for you, the Schmeiser law.
PERCY SCHMEISER: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: People here are extremely interested in your case.
What is the Schmeiser law?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Basically is that, here in Germany, that if a
farmer is contaminated with Monsantoís GMOs, Monsanto cannot
come after that farmer to seize their crop, whatever it may be,
or take them to court, if they are contaminated.
AMY GOODMAN: And how much of an issue is that here in Germany?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Thatís a big issue, because that has become, I
think also in North America, a big issue, the liability issue.
And to give you an extent of that is that in North America, a
farmer cannot - if he grows GMOs, he cannot get genetic insurance.
So if - but I should go back, that at the last lawsuit with
Monsanto in the courts, initially, before the final one,
Monsanto said, first of all, the farmer is responsible for the
contamination, because he knows if he grows GMOs, he will
contaminate his neighbor by whatever means.
When that did not go
over in the courts, then Monsanto said the government is
responsible for the contamination, because they gave us
regulatory approval to sell it. And that did not go over. And
so, in the end, Monsanto paid for the contamination cleanup.
So, that has become a very big issue around the world, that if
you have a patent on a gene, doesnít give you the right to
release it into the environment, where it destroys biodiversity,
where it destroys organic farmers and so on. And I think it has
become a bigger issue in Europe now, itís because the organic
industry, I believe, is much stronger in European countries than
it is in North America, although itís growing very fast in both
our countries, in the United States and Canada.
AMY GOODMAN: Percy Schmeiser, you mentioned that you figured out
that probably your property was contaminated, the second time,
with GMO, with Monsanto GMO crops. How did you know that?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, what happened was that we were using this
fifty-acre piece of land for, as I mentioned, for mustard
research. And we did not grow any crop that year. And we had
used a herbicide on it, and there were canola plants that did
not die. And that field did not have canola in for at least ten
Where did it come from? And so, we did testing then
with - we, from our neighbor, got a little bit of Roundup,
Monsantoís herbicide Roundup, and we sprayed it on ten plants,
and then those plants were marked.
And then, when they did not
die after about twelve days, we realized it had to have some
sort of - some of Monsantoís glyphosate in it, because Monsanto
said, in the previous court trials, that if anything - any green
thing is sprayed with Monsantoís herbicide Roundup and it does
not die, itís their gene thatís in it.
So thatís why we
suspected immediately it was Monsantoís gene, herbicide gene,
Roundup gene, in it. And thatís why we asked Monsanto to come,
because what they had said, that if a farmer thinks heís
contaminated, he should notify Monsanto. And thatís what we did,
on what they had said in the courts before.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the Schmeiserís principles of food and
PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, first of all, that all humans
- number one,
all humans have a right to food or to produce it, and that,
number two, is that natural systems must be protected so that
they can produce healthy food. Humans have a right to safe and
nutritious food. And no rules should prevent countries
controlling food imports.
And everyone has a right to
information about how their food is produced. Regions should
have the right to regulate their own agriculture. Local
production and consumption should be encouraged. So, like we
say, local consumption or local produce, then you save the
energy and the fuel that itís required to move it thousands of
miles, which happens, although, to a lot of us in North America.
And seeds are a common property resource.
And thatís where we
felt very strongly that no one should have the right to the
future of seeds. And then, no forms - no life forms should be
patented. And terminator seeds should be globally banned. And we
have a strong opinion that terminator seeds should never, never,
ever be introduced, because, to us, itís the - I think the most
serious assault on life weíve ever seen on this planet.
they come out with - want to come out with a gene that terminates
the future of the germination of that seed, so that would
totally control the world seed supply.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by a terminator seed.
PERCY SCHMEISER: A terminator gene basically, quite simply, is a
gene thatís put into a seed. And when the seed becomes a plant,
all seeds from that plant are sterile. And so, it cannot be used
the following year for seed. But the danger also of the
terminator gene, it can cross-pollinate into indigenous crops,
heirloom crops, and render those seeds from those plants also
sterile. So itís a termination of the future of life.
AMY GOODMAN: So it forces farmers to buy seeds every year,
rather than to conserve seeds so that they can be used every
PERCY SCHMEISER: Exactly. And thatís why we say itís the
greatest assault of life weíve ever seen on this planet, where
you terminate the future of life. Farmers would be forced to buy
the seed each year, whether youíre a gardener, a tree planter or
a grain producer.
And then the - so, and then, another one, farmers - freedom to
exchange seeds should be protected. And one of the reasons for
that is that, in the seed industry, we say that one glove does
not fit all. My wife and I were developing seeds and plants
suitable for our local climatic and soil conditions.
But if we
probably would have went to Montana or to the next province or
200 miles away, climatic conditions are different, soil
conditions are different, and thatís why the farmers should
always have that right to develop seeds and plants suitable for
their own conditions. And that should never, ever be taken away,
because we would use the biodiversity of our seeds and plants.
And then, farmers should have the right
- the right for the land
and to be free of genetic contamination.
AMY GOODMAN: And how far have you gotten with these principles?
Do you feel like, in the world, independent farmers are losing
ground or gaining? I mean, is Monsanto gaining strength or
PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, to answer that, I think that on the four
crops that were introduced in 1996, which was maize, or corn,
soybeans, cotton, especially in Canada, canola, is that it would
be very difficult to find a way - and scientists say they donít
know if it ever can be recalled back out of the environment.
Have we been able to solve it?
I would say yes, because there is
more concern, because when they wanted to introduce GMO wheat,
GMO rice, GMO alfalfa, there was a big uproar by people in both
our countries that no more GMOs should be introduced, because we
saw the damage of what the four have done. So thatís why itís so
What we do today will affect generations to come in
the seed - control of the seed and food supply of this world.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you now travel around the world. I mean,
you were the - a member of the Saskatchewan legislature, '67 to
í71. You were the mayor of your own hometown of Bruno in
Saskatchewan. Were you traveling much then? And now, after these
lawsuits against Monsanto, how much are you spreading word, like
seeds, around the world?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Well, I could be probably traveling full times
if I accepted all the invitations. But to give you an example,
last year I probably was gone ten months from Saskatchewan, all
over every continent, except Antarctica, to bring this
information and awareness out. And at our age - we're in
retirement age - we felt thatís the least we can do.
And one of
the other reasons that we look at it is the - as I mentioned
before, the future generation. My wife and I have fifteen
grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. And then we look at
what kind of a future are we going to leave for them. And
another thing that weíre very concerned about is how much of the
funding for our research in our university now comes from
And that really scares me, because we know that if
the funding is applied to these universities and the land-grant
colleges in the United States, how much control will the
companies then have over our universities? So, what kind of a
future? My wife and I have six grandchildren in university right
What kind of future will they have if their academic
freedom is controlled? And we donít want to see that. A
scientist should be free to express and release the findings
that he develops or finds.
AMY GOODMAN: Has Monsanto dared to take you on again?
PERCY SCHMEISER: Theyíve threatened us many times.
AMY GOODMAN: How did they threaten you?
PERCY SCHMEISER: They, with - Iíll give you an example. My wife
and I were speaking in the Parliament in Cape Town of South
Africa, and coming out of the Assembly, one of Monsantoís
representatives from Johannesburg ran face-to-face into us.
he lost his cool, and he said to my wife and myself - and he shook
his fist in our face and said,
"Nobody stands up to Monsanto. We
are going to get both of you, somehow, some day, and destroy you
Phone calls my wife would receive:
"You better watch it.
Weíre going to get you."
They would come into our driveway and
watch what my wife would be doing all day. They would use their
vehicles and sit on the roads alongside of our farmland, watch
us all day long, to try and intimidate us and to put fear into
AMY GOODMAN: So, what keeps you going?
PERCY SCHMEISER: I think that we feel that we have to stand up
for the rights of farmers around the world. All my life Iíve
been in agriculture and worked for agricultural policies and
And we feel that a farmer should never, ever lose the
rights to his seeds or plants, because if we do, weíre going to
be back to a serf system, weíre going to be back to a feudal
system, that our forefathers, our grandfathers, left countries
in Europe many years ago to get away from. Now, in less than - or
100 years, weíve come full circle, where the control is not by
kings or lords or barons, but now itís corporations.
AMY GOODMAN: Percy Schmeiser, I want to thank you very much for
being with us.
PERCY SCHMEISER: Thank you very much. Itís a pleasure to be with
you this morning in the beautiful sunshine.
AMY GOODMAN: Right Livelihood laureate and Canadian farmer,