REGINA – A group of organic farmers in Saskatchewan is suing two multinational companies that make genetically modified products: Monsanto and Aventis.
The farmers say their fields are being invaded by genetically engineered seeds planted by the companies. As a result, they can’t guarantee their own products are free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“We have no problem with their technology as long as they can segregate it and keep it out of our fields and out of our system,” says Arnold Taylor, president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate.
SOD filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all the certified organic farmers in the province.
“We are seeking damages for the loss of our canola and of our market,” says Taylor.
The farmers say they can’t sell their organic product anywhere, especially to the European Union where strict rules prohibit any GMOs from being present in any part of the process. Monsanto introduced a genetically modified canola in 1996, one year after Aventis introduced a similar product. Both canola plants have been modified to be immune to the most widely used herbicide on the prairies.
“Since (the companies) started five, six years ago, it has been virtually impossible to find any seed stock that’s uncontaminated,” says Taylor. Taylor says drifting seeds have caused cross-pollination with organic seeds and it has cost farmers millions of dollars.
This isn’t the first time organic farmers and biotechnology companies have gone to court. Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser lost his case against Monsanto in April 2001. The company sued Schmeiser, saying he used its canola seed illegally. Schmeiser countersued claiming Monsanto’s modified seed blew onto his property.
Taylor says SOD’s lawsuit is different.
“We are saying ‘It’s your seed, you are responsible for it. It’s on our land and we want compensation for damages.'”
Beyond compensation, SOD is seeking an injunction to prevent Monsanto and Aventis from planting modified wheat. Monsanto is testing a genetically modified wheat and wants to release it within two years. Taylor says that would be a disaster for all organic farmers in the province.
“We obviously cannot afford to lose wheat which is our largest crop and biggest market.”
The companies have not yet filed statements of defense and won’t comment on the claim.