Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has battled biotech company Monsanto for a decade, last week settled a lawsuit that he said will allow farmers with fields contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed to get "compensation without giving up their freedom of speech or their future rights to sue."
Schmeiser, 77, has been involved in two lawsuits with Monsanto since 1998, after the company discovered its GM Roundup Ready canola seeds growing on Schmeiser's 1,400-acre Saskatchewan farm. Monsanto billed Schmeiser for unauthorized use of its seed, but Schmeiser claimed the seed drifted onto his fields from neighboring farms and passing trucks. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Schmeiser violated Monsanto's patent by knowingly replanting and harvesting the GM seeds, but he didn't have to compensate Monsanto because his profits weren't affected by the Monsanto seeds.
In 2005, Schmeiser said he discovered GM canola growing in a 50-acre fallow field he was using for mustard research. He notified Monsanto, which agreed to remove the plants through its "unexpected volunteer response program," provided he sign a standard release form. But Schmeiser balked at two provisions he said were in the form: a "gag order" that would prevent him from talking about the seed cleanup, and a prohibition against suing Monsanto for any future contamination of the field.
"It said my wife, myself or any member of our family could never ever take Monsanto to court for the rest of our lives irregardless (sic) of how much they contaminated that field," Schmeiser said. "And we flatly refused to sign the gag order because we will never give our freedom of speech away to a corporation."
Monsanto Canada spokeswoman Trish Jordan said the form is "standard business practice" and that none of the farmers who have requested similar GM seed cleanups from Monsanto have ever "expressed any concerns" with the form. She also said the form doesn't state that "the person [who signs it] cannot sue us in subsequent years."
She provided a copy of the form, which reads: "The grower does hereby for himself and/or the corporation, his heirs, executors, partners, joint venturers, administrators, successors, affiliates, subsidiaries and assigns, release and forever discharge Monsanto Canada Inc., its affiliates, successors and assigns, and its officers, directors and employees, servants and agents (past, present and future) (hereinafter referred to as the "Releasees") from any and all actions, causes of action, suits, claims, demands and damages of whatever nature or kind for, upon or by reason of any damage or loss to person and/or property which has been or may be sustained in consequence of the purchase, use and or application of" whatever product Monsanto gives the farmer to get rid of the GM seeds or plants.
Schmeiser paid $660 to have the GM plants removed from his fields and then sued Monsanto in small claims court for the sum. Jordan said at a court case-management conference in 2007, Monsanto offered to revise its release form to meet Schmeiser's approval, but he declined. Schmeiser disagrees. Monsanto "refused to revise the conditions [in the form], and the court records would prove that," he said.
Schmeiser said he offered to settle the case a year later provided Monsanto write a new form that would allow him to discuss the case and sue Monsanto for any GM contamination of his field for any year other than 2005, when he discovered the contamination. Monsanto rewrote the form, and the case was settled March 19.
"It's a major breakthrough for farmers, giving them back their freedom of speech and their right to sue," Schmeiser said. "After 10 years of fighting Monsanto, this is a good way to end it."