Canada

Sask. farmer loses to biotech company

A multinational biotech company has successfully sued a Saskatchewan farmer for growing its special canola without a licence. The case raised a debate over new food technology.

Monsanto took Percy Schmeiser of Bruno, Sask. to court for illegally using the company's genetically modified and pesticide-resistant canola seeds.

A federal court ruled Thursday that Schmeiser violated the company's patent on the seeds. Monsanto has spent billions of dollars developing and patenting the special canola.

The court gave the two sides three weeks to agree on a sum for monetary damages. If they can't, Schmeiser will pay Monsanto $15,450.

Schmeiser is also prohibited from planting seed kept from his 1997 and 1998 crops.

Alan McHughen, an author and plant geneticist, said the ruling clarifies that farmers can't grow genetically modified seed they haven't paid for, and if they find it growing on their land, they must destroy it.

"Farming, like all businesses, has become more complex and farmers need to know clearly what the rules are, and one of the benefits of this ruling is that it makes the rules a little bit more clear," he says.

Case takes toll on Schmeiser, family

Schmeiser admits the canola was growing on his 1,400-acre farm, but argued the seeds blew over from a neighbour's farm or from passing seed trucks. He argued that he had the right to replant his seeds without paying anyone for them again and again.

Schmeiser, 70, has become a champion among those opposed to genetically modified foods.

On Thursday, Schmeiser said he was "disappointed and upset" over the ruling. He also broke down when he told reporters how the case has exhausted his and his wife's retirement funds.

"I've lost 50 years of work because of a company's genetically altered seed getting into my canola, destroying what I've worked for, destroying my property and getting sued on top it," he said.

Monsanto defends patent

Monsanto argued that it owned the plants since it owns the patent on their altered genes. It says farmers must pay each time they use seeds containing the genes or destroy their crop.

The company had argued it was a simple case of patent law, and it deserved to be paid for what it owns.

In a written statement, Monsanto said, "This decision means companies like ours can continue to invest in important research in Canada, knowing our rights will be respected."

Schmeiser has counter-sued the company, saying its seeds have now contaminated his crop.