|Mother Nature Doesn't Obey Patent Law
Last summer I bought a fancy daylily, 'When my Sweetheart Returns'. The tag said the plant's patented, and warned that unlicensed propagation is prohibited, but I didn't think till now what that means.
Daylilies need dividing every few years, to keep them vigorous. I'm supposed to throw away the part I dig up? Ridiculous. A gardener respects life, respects its innate drive to grow, propagate, evolve. Passing along beloved plants is one way we show that respect, and an essential part of gardening.
Percy Schmeiser, of Bruno, Saskatchewan, feels similarly about replanting his own canola seed. Forty years he saved seed from his own harvest, selecting for traits he wanted, creating a plant that grows and produces well in his conditions.
In 1998 Monsanto had his harvest seized, claiming patent infringement: his plants contained DNA from their Roundup Ready canola. Percy Schmeiser never bought seed from Monsanto, or brought their seed in from any source. He doesn't even like their plant. (Tests show it yields poorly in comparison to other varieties, despite Monsanto's claims.) He refused to pay the fee they demand for growing their plants, and they took him to court.
Both the pollen and the seed of canola travel well on the wind.
In Canadian Federal Court on March 29, 2001, Justice Andrew McKay agreed with Monsanto that it doesn't matter how the genetic material got into Schmeiser's plants, Monsanto owns it -- and ordered Schmeiser to pay $19,000 in damages plus $153,000 to cover Monsanto's court costs. An appeals court decided against him too. On January 20, 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case.
The Schmeiser family has already spent approximately $200,000 on their own costs of pursuing the case. They have used up their retirement savings, and if they lose the decision, expect the farm to go bankrupt. Gone too is a lifetime's work of breeding their own plants, since they were confiscated. But Percy Schmeiser's fighting for the principle behind that work. "A farmer should always have the right to be able to use their own seed, " says Schmeiser.
On January 24, Percy Schmeiser is scheduled to speak in Barre, Massachusetts, at the Winter Conference of the state chapter of NOFA (the Northeast Organic Farming Association). For more information on the conference and its 45 other events, see www.nofamass.org/conferences or contact Kate Harris at (413) 586-5516.
© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark