Monsanto Wins Controversial Biotech Dispute in Canada

28 May 2004

On 21 May, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Monsanto in a case it had brought against a farmer that had replanted and sold canola containing modified genetic material patented by Monsanto. The farmer, Percy Schmeiser, claimed that the biotech canola seed had landed on his fields by accident from a neighbouring farm and in fact polluted his fields. Schmeiser further argued that plants, considered a higher life form, were exempt from patent. The court stated that the patent does apply to the gene and thus to the plant it is found in.

The ruling was the first of its kind and may, according to biotech analysts, set a strong precedent for patent rulings. Although the ruling was considered weak, with Schmeiser having to pay no damages, many civil society groups are concerned. They caution that Monsanto now could claim ownership and rewards over an entire plant based on the fact that just a patented gene has made its way into the plant. Farmers from developing nations fear that natural or accidental contamination of crops with such genes would give biotech companies like Monsanto power to seize their crops and pursue legal action. A Canadian National Farmers Union representative lamented the decision, saying that "What this issue is fundamentally about is control and ultimately greed… this court ruling is an unenlightened ruling that doesn’t reflect the farmer’s right to save seed. This is a tool of oppression now". On the other hand, Janet Lambert, President of BioteCanada, said that a ruling against Monsanto would have been a setback for Canadian biotech research. Executive Vice President Carl Casale of Monsanto also applauded the decision, "The Supreme Court has set a world standard in intellectual property protection, and this ruling maintains Canada as an attractive investment opportunity".

"Canada’s top court backs Monsanto against farmer," IPS, 21 May 2004; "Farmer loses battle in biotech dispute," AP, 21 May 2004; "Monsanto prevails in patent fight," WIRED NEWS, 21 May 2004; "Supreme Court rules for Monsanto in key battle with Sask. farmer over seed," REUTERS, 21 May 2004.

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