One Farmer Takes a Stand

Percy Schmeiser and eight other winners of the Bioneers Awards

| January / February 2003

WHEN MONSANTO Corporation accused Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser of stealing its patented genetically modified (GM) canola seed, it ignited a legal battle that has serious implications for the rights of farmers around the world.

The genetically modified seeds, which Schmeiser claimed drifted into his fields from neighboring farms, destroyed the 70-year-old farmer?s lifelong work developing a variety of canola seeds ideally adapted to local conditions. Worse, the corporation sued him for using its patented seed without paying for it.

When brought to court, the judge sided with the biotechnology giant, ruling that the way the seed got to Schmeiser?s land was irrelevant. Schmeiser appealed, mortgaging his home to pay legal bills. In September he lost that appeal but is now preparing to take the case to Canada?s Supreme Court.

?Unfortunately, Schmeiser?s ordeal is not an isolated case,? reports Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero in CorpWatch (October 21, 2002), a San Francisco?based online publication covering issues in corporate accountability. Agribusiness corporations now use new satellite imaging technologies to find crops containing patented GM seed, and then sue the farmers who didn?t purchase it. Monsanto is currently suing other farmers in Canada and the United States. For his resistance to Monsanto?s legal attacks, Schmeiser was one of nine environmental pioneers honored with a Bioneers Award at the organization?s annual conference in October. Other winners include:

  • Sebasti?o Salgado, Brazilian economist-turned-photographer, for his socially engaged documentary photography depicting the effects of rampant corporate globalization and injustice around the world.
  • Bogaletch Gebre, founder of Parents International Ethiopia and the Kembatta Women?s Self-Help Center, who has worked to restore damaged ecosystems and combat the subjugation of African women.
  • Anna Lapp?, who was given the first Bioneer?s Youth Award, for researching and drawing attention to people?s democracy movements worldwide.
  • David Orr, chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College, for his work bringing environmental literacy to higher education.
  • Sylvia Earle, marine biologist and undersea explorer, for her tireless efforts to protect the vitality and health of the world?s oceans and marine life.
  • Aqeela Sherrills, co-founder of Ameri-I-Can organization, for his efforts to combat violence in the inner city by working to end gang violence, promote ecological improvements, and encourage self-sufficiency in employment, education, and housing.

This year, the Bioneers also awarded the Jenifer Altman Foundation ?In the Service of Life Awards? to Peter Warshall, long-time editor of Whole Earth magazine, for devoting much of his life to environmental sustainability, and to Texas shrimper Diane Wilson, for putting herself on the line for the environmental health of her community and for her courageous opposition to the war in Iraq.

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