GMOs on Trial
Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto


On Tuesday January 20th, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case of Monsanto Canada vs. Percy Schmeiser. Sierra Club of Canada, along with five other organizations (the National Farmer’s Union, the Council of Canadians, the Government of Ontario, Action Group on Erosion Technology and Concentration, and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology) has been granted intervenor status in the case.

Previously, the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal found that Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto’s patent rights to its Roundup Ready canola when he saved and planted seeds growing on his farm. The genetically engineered (GE) canola plant, which is favoured for its resistance to Monsanto’s popular Roundup herbicide, was later found on Schmeiser’s farm.

The History of the Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser case

August 1998 – Monsanto launches a lawsuit against Percy Schmeiser, alleging that he had acquired Monsanto's GM canola seed without a licence, and that he had planted and grown these seeds, thus infringing on Monsanto’s patent on Roundup Ready canola seeds.

June 2000 – Because patents are under federal jurisdiction, Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser go to trial directly in the federal court of Canada. The trial lasts for two and a half weeks and is presided over by a single judge.

March 2001 – The Federal Court of Canada announces its decision. It decided that some of Monsanto's GM canola plants were found growing in the ditch beside Schmeiser’s field, not even in the field. The Federal Court of Canada rules that no matter how the GM canola got there (wind, birds…), the GM canola plants were present on Percy Schmeiser’s property and therefore he had violated Monsanto’s patent.

May 2002 – The March 2001 ruling is appealed and the case is heard in the Federal Court of Appeal by three judges.
September 2002 - Federal Court of Appeal rules in Monsanto’s favour in unanimous decision.

November 2002 – Percy Schmeiser applies to be heard in the Supreme Court of Canada.

May 2003 – It is confirmed that Percy’s case will be heard in the Supreme Court of Canada.

January 2004 – The Supreme Court of Canada is to hear the final showdown between Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser.

Who is Percy Schmeiser?

Percy Schmeiser, Bruno Saskatchewan native who has been farming with his wife Louise since 1947. Louise and Percy have five children, fifteen grandchildren and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in October of 2002. Percy was mayor of his community and a councillor for over 25 years. He also was a member of the provincial legislature and was on many agricultural committees, both on the provincial level and representing the province on the federal level. But despite spending much of his life fighting for the rights and bettering of farmers, Percy is first and foremost a farmer himself. Mr. Schmeiser has been saving and replanting seeds for over 50 years.

"In my case, I never had anything to do with Monsanto, outside of buying chemicals. I never signed a contract. 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."

Percy Schmeiser, June 19, 2000

What will the Supreme Court of Canada be looking at?

The Supreme Court of Canada will be addressing many fundamental issues related to this case, including:

  1. Who owns life?

  2. Can living things such as seeds and human organs be owned and protected by corporate patents on intellectual property?

  3. Can farmers’ rights to grow conventional non- genetically modified or organic crops be protected?

  4. Can farmers keep the ancient right to save their own seed?

  5. When weeds pick up the genetically modified traits and become resistant to herbicides, who is responsible for these superweeds?

What is at stake?

The Schmeiser family has already lost 50 years of research and development. Currently, the responsibility of dealing with the environmental contamination of GE genes is shouldered by the public, not the polluter. If Percy Schmeiser loses the case, the Supreme Court’s ruling would further promote the control of one corporation over agricultural resources and farmers. This will have a tremendous effect on the rights of non-GMO farmers, particularly seed savers. If farmers ever lose the right to use their own seed the future development of new seeds and plants suitable to their local climatic and soil conditions would be stopped.

The Court will have to confront the question of whether a patent on a gene within a seed can be infringed when the alleged infringer has not made use of or benefited from the properties of the patented gene. Percy Schmeiser did not use Roundup on his canola fields, he simply planted canola seeds which had the genetically modified gene. The court will also have to consider what constitutes patent infringement when dealing when dealing with life forms which reproduce themselves such as plants.

The importance of this case can not be understated. We sincerely hope that the Supreme Court of Canada will find in Percy Schmeiser’s favour and that the right of farmers to save their own seed will be protected. For more information please visit

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