March 26th, 2008
If you follow the politics of genetics in agriculture, you probably have heard about Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser.
If you don’t know about this, please check it out. It will help explain why some of us seed-saving gardeners are so concerned about multinational corporations becoming the primary breeders of plants (and animals, for that matter).
Anyway, big victory for the little guys here. Monsanto settled out of court with Percy Schmeiser yesterday. It’s not the money involved – this round was just $660 in small claims court. However, it is a big deal, because in settling, Monsanto is admitting liability for the genetic contamination of Schmeiser’s canola in 2005, which is what should have been happening 10 years ago. Instead, this all started when Monsanto went after Schmeiser because samples they took from Schmeiser’s canola showed that it had been contaminated with Monsanto’s patented canola genes. The Schmeisers had been breeding their own canola for 40 years, and never planted anything from Monsanto. It seems obvious to me that they were the injured parties here, however somehow the courts didn’t see it that way.
So, what rights and liabilities do holders of plant patents have, or should they have? I am uneasy with the patenting of living things, but at the same time I can understand that people or corporations who invest their time, money and energy in breeding need to be compensated for their investment. However, I really feel that the planet’s genetic resources, especially our legacy of at least 10,000 years of humans breeding domestic plants and animals, should be a commons, and really a sacred trust.