Funeral services are to be held and livestreamed Saturday for Prairie farmer, businessman and activist Percy Schmeiser, best known for his ultimately unsuccessful court battles with the company behind Roundup Ready canola.
Schmeiser, who farmed at Bruno, Sask., about 90 km east of Saskatoon, died Tuesday at age 89. According to Saskatchewan media, he had Parkinson’s disease, but the specific cause of his death was not released.
Without specifically mentioning his court fights, his obituary in Saskatchewan newspapers notes he “became an advocate for farmers’ rights” in the 1990s.
That entry into activism and worldwide notoriety came after the discovery of Roundup Ready genetics across 1,000 acres he seeded to canola in 1998, despite Schmeiser never having obtained the license required by Monsanto for use of the company’s glyphosate-tolerant genetics.
Tests of Schmeiser’s canola found between 95 and 98 per cent of it to be Roundup Ready. Thus Monsanto — which has since been taken over by Bayer — took Schmeiser to court for patent infringement.
That case ended in a 2001 ruling against Schmeiser, in which the suggestion that the 1998 crop was the product of seed blown or inadvertently carried onto the fields was rejected. The trial court found he “knew or ought to have known” he was seeding a crop with patented genetics and that the resulting crop he sold contained those same genetics.
The Federal Court of Appeal in 2003 and the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004 upheld that ruling in Monsanto’s favour. The top court, in its ruling, upheld Monsanto’s patent on the genetics and found Schmeiser had “deprived (Monsanto) of the full enjoyment of the monopoly” its patent provided.
But the top court also found that Monsanto, in seeking an account of Schmeiser’s profits, was “only entitled to that portion of the infringer’s profit which is causally attributable to the invention.”
His profits, the court ruled, were only “precisely what they would have been had (Schmeiser) planted and harvested ordinary canola.” In short, Monsanto was “entitled to nothing” on its claim of account.
Left on the hook for his own costs from that court fight, Schmeiser’s lone legal win against Monsanto came in a separate case he brought against the company in 2005 in small claims court in Saskatoon.
In that later case, he sought payment for the costs of clearing volunteer Roundup Ready canola that grew on a chem-fallow field that year. Monsanto settled in 2008, paying $660.
Schmeiser and his court fights nevertheless became a cause celebre among various activist organizations worldwide. Among other accolades, he was presented in 2007 with a Right Livelihood Award, an award often dubbed the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”
Ole von Uexkull, executive director of the Sweden-based Right Livelihood Foundation, said in a statement Thursday that Schmeiser “will be remembered by farmers around the world for standing up against a bully and shining a spotlight on the dangers of genetically engineered crops.”
The foundation on Thursday described his case as “one of the first and most prominent cases involving a company claiming to own patents on life. It revealed how traditional seed economics and treatment are currently giving way to a dependency on only a few big multinational enterprises.”
The court fights became the basis for a 2016 stage production, Seeds, in which Schmeiser was played by Canadian actor Eric Peterson, and for a separate major film, Percy, filmed mainly in Manitoba and released last month with U.S. actor Christopher Walken as Schmeiser.
Born and raised at Bruno, Schmeiser studied in Toronto before returning to the family’s farm and ag implement dealership. He also served for years as a mayor and town councillor in Bruno, and as the provincial MLA for Watrous from 1967 to 1971 in Ross Thatcher’s Liberal government.
Schmeiser is survived by wife Louise, five children, 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. A funeral mass is to be held privately Saturday in Bruno, but a livestream is scheduled for 2 p.m. MT.
Donations in Schmeiser’s memory can be made to the Humboldt District Hospital Foundation, designated for palliative care, or to the Bruno Senior Citizens Friendship Centre. — Glacier FarmMedia Network