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US Wheat Farmers Denounce Monsanto's Bullying

Aberdeen American News (Aberdeen, South Dakota)

GMOs under attack at Aberdeen meeting

By RUSS KEEN

Farmer Percy Schmeiser of Canada has a horror story that he says could
happen to any producer.

Though he and his wife have mortgaged their Canadian farm and home to pay
lawyers' fees, Schmeiser said in Aberdeen last week he's not about to stop
fighting a multinational corporation that sued him for growing its
genetically modified canola without paying for it.

Natural pollination brought Monsanto Corp.'s unwelcome genetically modified
organisms to his Saskatchewan farm, not anything he did, Schmeiser told a
crowd of about 350 regional producers recently in Aberdeen. "Canola pollen
can be airborne for up to three hours. With a 35 mph wind, how far can it
go?" Schmeiser asked his listeners at the winter conference of the Northern
Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society. Nonetheless, a judge ruled in 1998
that Monsanto was entitled to compensation from Schmeiser because it has
what's called intellectual patented property rights on the GMOs it has
developed, Schmeiser said. A judge ordered him to pay Monsanto the value of
the canola crop where the corporation's product was discovered. That was
about $20,000.

"Nothing has been paid," Schmeiser told the crowd at the Ramkota
Hotel/Aberdeen Convention Center. He continues to fight through appeals
processes, with about $250,000 invested in attorneys' fees.

"The judge's ruling set off an alarm around the world," Schmeiser said.
"It's the property rights of farmers versus the intellectual property rights
of multinational corporations," said the 72-year-old farmer who has been
raising canola since 1947.

"GMOs will spread to destroy conventional and organic farming," Schmeiser
said. "Choice will be gone. There is no such thing as containment of GMOs.
You cannot control a new life form once it has been created. There's no
calling it back. We are on a slippery slope, and there's no justice for the
average person."

Jones received a standing ovation from those attending the two-day
conference.

A group of Canadian producers is also suing Monsanto for, in essence,
letting its GMO seeds trespass on their property. "We're telling them, 'Your
bull is out of your pasture and we want compensation for damages,' " Arnold
Taylor of Saskatchewan said at the conference.

Monsanto has patents on various GMOs that are the seeds of choice of many
farmers because the genetically altered products make it easier and
economical to control weeds. In northeastern South Dakota, Monsanto's
Roundup Ready soybeans are popular because weeds can be controlled with an
application of Roundup, a herbicide that kills traditional, unmodified
soybean plants.

Seed sameness

Many around the world have raised concerns about GMOs because no one knows
for sure how foods produced from these seeds affect human health. Others are
concerned that multinational corporations, coupled with a
jump-on-the-GMO-bandwagon mentality on the part of farmers, will decimate
seed diversity around the world and lead to a risky sameness in the gene
pool for crops. Jones shares the concern.

"If we get down to raising one or two varieties of each crop around the
world and a major crop disease or disaster hits, we will have nothing to
fall back on."

Deon Stutman, professor of oats genetics and breeding at the University of
Minnesota, expressed the same worry at the conference. "The corporate
philosophy is 'Keep it simple, stupid,' which is in direct conflict with
biodiversity. GMO crops are absolutely lethal to the diversity of gene
plasm," Stutman said.

He applauded conference-goers for not jumping on the GMO bandwagon.
Sustainable ag societies, including Northern Plains, promote production
methods that do not harm ecosystems.

Public universities and corporations

The two-day conference focused on preserving gene diversity in the plant
world. Traditionally, public land grant universities have taken the role of
maintaining pure foundation seed stocks for hosts of crop varieties. But big
corporations with questionable GMO plans are working their way into these
public universities and exercising influence in inappropriate ways, said
Stephen Jones, a winter wheat breeder at Washington State University,
Pullman, Wash.

"I am a public servant and I take that seriously," Jones said at the
conference. "Public universities should not accept corporate money or
influence, and should not sign confidentiality agreements with corporations.
There shouldn't be such a thing in public universities."

All such agreements should be part of open records, he said.

Jones also argued that corporations have no right to own a gene, as Monsanto
does with its GMOs. The late journalist Edward R. Murrow, a graduate of WSU,
once asked Jonas Salk who owned the polio vaccine Salk developed, Jones
said.

Salk answered that he had no interest in patenting the vaccine, according to
Jones. "He replied, 'The people own it,' " Jones said. "And he asked Murrow,
'Can you patent the sun?' "

The same should apply to genes, Jones said. Monsanto's modified wheat seed,
for example, has one GMO gene out of 30,000, he said. "If you own only one,
how can you own the whole plant?" Jones asked.

Canada has inappropriate relationships with corporations as well, Schmeiser
said. " The government is right in bed with them. Fifty percent of
(corporate) research is paid for by taxpayers."

Proponents argue that GMOs will end world starvation. The argument is full
of holes, according to both Jones and Schmeiser. Yields and quality from
GMOs are both lower than unaltered crop varieties, Schmeiser said. And if
the gene pool shrinks under corporate control and disease attacks that
handful of dominant varieties remaining, world hunger and starvation will be
worse than anything the planet has seen to date, Schmeiser said

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