The struggle against the notorious bio-agriculture company Monsanto has not received much attention from the media, mostly because of the controversial nature of the GMO issue, with very strong opinions on both sides of the debate. However, despite the constant controversy surrounding GMOs, Monsanto’s seed patents are uniformly hated, with most people rightly seeing it as a gross example of corporate overreach, but this aspect of Monsanto’s business is not something that the average person is familiar with.
This could change with the release of a new film featuring Hollywood stars Christopher Walken and Christina Ricci. The film is called “Percy” and it tells the true story of Percy Schmeiser, an independent canola farmer from Canada who fought Monsanto in court for many years, over the company’s seed patents.
In 1996, Monsanto unleashed its “Roundup Ready” seeds onto the market. These seeds were genetically engineered to withstand the company’s chemical herbicide “Roundup,” which killed weeds as well as heirloom seeds. In the past few years, scientists have learned that Glyphosate, the main ingredient in “Roundup” causes cancer, but this was not known until quite recently, long after the events in the film took place.
Since Monsanto’s seeds are patented, they can control how the seeds are used, so after launching the product in 1996, they required farmers to agree to certain terms of service, which included a rule that prevented them from saving seeds and using them in following years. This rule ensured that farmers would need to buy more seeds from the company.
Schmeiser did not know about any of these rules and never bought any of Monsanto’s seeds, but he did find some of them on his property, and when he did, he collected them and saved them for future use as many farmers all over the world have been doing for many years. The following season, Monsanto tested farms across North America to ensure compliance, and found that their genetic material was growing on Schmeiser’s farm
Monsanto first sued Schmeiser for patent infringement in 1998 and won, but Schmeiser fought back with multiple appeals. Each time he lost the appeal as well, and eventually took his battle to the Supreme Court, who also ruled in favor of Monsanto, but still allowed the farmer to get away without paying the company anything.
The court did not question the validity of Monsanto’s patents, and only allowed Schmeiser to avoid paying because he never agreed to the company’s terms of service. If Schmeiser was a paying customer, the court would have upheld the case, and many other farmers have been sued under these circumstances.
In 2010, Percy told Democracy Now! that Monsanto attempted to ruin his life for fighting the case.
“They tried to seize all our farmland, our farm equipment, so they could stop us, because we were using mortgages on our farmland to pay for our legal bills,” he said.
In a statement announcing the trailer for the film, Mongrel Media, said that this film is intended to raise awareness about GMO seed patents and their impact on the farming industry.
“Ultimately, through his David and Goliath battle, Percy helped stall the spread of GMOs, and the takeover of our food system by greed-driven corporate interests,” the statement read.