(NaturalNews) Percy Schmeiser has a check for $660 and a Right Livelihood Award to prove that sometimes the little guy wins. In a modern version of the David vs. Goliath story, a 77 year-old Saskatchewan farmer and his wife are now considered folk heroes following settlement of their legal battle with agribusiness giant Monsanto Canada Inc., after the company sued them for patent violation of genetically engineered canola seeds in 1997.
The Schmeisers were sued after plants from the genetically modified canola seeds were found on their farm near Bruno, Saskatchewan.
The company claimed that the Schmeisers had violated its patent on the seeds, which had been genetically modified to resist Roundup herbicide. The couple was accused of knowingly planting the seeds without paying the royalty fees to Monsanto, which sought damages for $400,000.
The Schmeiser's claimed they did not plant the seeds, and argued that the seeds blew onto their property from a nearby road or neighboring farm.
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of Monsanto, saying that plant genes and modified cells can be patented. However, the court ruled the Schmeisers free of damages.
More of the genetically modified canola seeds appeared in the Schmeiser's field the following year. They pulled the plants out themselves and sent Monsanto a bill for $660.
Monsanto agreed to pay the costs associated with removing the canola seeds in 2005, but the Schmeisers refused the offer because the company insisted the couple sign a release stating they would not talk about the terms of the agreement.
"That release was a gag order", Mr. Schmeiser said. "We could never talk to anyone for the rest of our lives about what the terms of the settlement were. There was no way we were going to give up our freedom of speech to a corporation."
The Schmeisers filed a claim against Monsanto in small claims court. On March 19, 2008, Monsanto agreed out of court to pay the Schmeisers the $660 in settlement of their case without them signing the release. According to Mr. Schmeiser, "By settling out of court, Monsanto now realizes the seriousness of the liability issue."
While the final agreement with the Schmeisers does not prohibit them from talking about the terms of their settlement, several other Western Canadian farmers have agreed to sign Monsanto's standard release form.
"Although we are pleased Mr. Schmeiser finally approached us and agreed to settlement terms, it is frustrating that he essentially accepted the same offer we put before him in 2005," said Monsanto public affairs director Trish Jordan. "This entire matter could have been resolved more than two and a half years ago and Mr. Schmeiser would have saved himself some legal costs."
As a result of their fight with the giant corporation, the Schmeisers have achieved celebrity status and been invited to speak at universities and parliaments all over the world. Their appearance fees have helped them pay for much of their court costs. In December, 2007, they were presented with the Right Livelihood Award, which is considered to be an alternative Nobel Prize.
Mr. Schmeiser doesn't grow canola on his farm anymore, and he rents out most of his land to other farmers. He hopes the fight to bring awareness of the issues surrounding genetically modified foods will continue.
"This is a great victory for farmers all over the world", he said. "Now they have at least an opportunity to have some recourse on a corporation when they are contaminated."
Matt Hartley, "Grain Farmer Claims Moral Victory in Seed Battle Against Monsanto", The Globe and Mail (Canada), March 20, 2008.
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