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NGO's seek standing in Monsanto v. Schmeiser

(Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- From a news release:

OTTAWA, ON, Sept. 30 /CNW/ - Today, a coalition of NGOs, led by the Council of Canadians, applied to intervene in the patent infringement case involving Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and biotechnology giant Monsanto that will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Federal Court of Appeal found that Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto's patent rights to genetically engineered canola. The Supreme Court has granted Schmeiser the right to appeal that ruling. Intervener status would allow the Council of Canadians and its coalition partners to make submissions to the Supreme Court countering Monsanto's arguments.

"This will be the first time that an appellate court anywhere in the world will consider what infringement means on a patent to a genetically modified life form" says Steven Shrybman, the lawyer representing the coalition. "The Court's decision is likely to have a considerable impact on both the domestic and international debate about patents to life."

The coalition also involves Canadian organisations such as the Sierra Club of Canada and the National Farmers Union.

"This case is far greater than just Percy Schmeiser," says Terry Boehm of the National Farmers Union. "Given the level at which Monsanto's GE canola has contaminated Western Canada, the implied liability for all Canadian farmers is enormous. We simply cannot allow the current verdict against Schmeiser to stand."

The precedence associated with this ground-breaking case has also attracted key international groups to the coalition. These include the Action group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, the Washington-based International Center for Technology Assessment, and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, led by renowned Indian environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva.

"If other jurisdictions were to follow the approach adopted by the Federal Court of Appeal in this case, the result would undermine the seed- saving practices of hundreds of million of farmers whose livelihoods depend on this practice. Moreover, because seed saving fosters biodiversity and increases productivity, any new constraint on the practice of saving seeds is likely to harm both goals," says Dr. Shiva.

"Unfortunately, a policy and regulatory vacuum continues to exist in Canada when it comes to biotechnology and genetically engineered foods," adds Nadège Adam of the Council of Canadians. "This is yet another example of how our government has dropped the ball on these issues."

The case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court on January 20, 2004.

For further information: Laura Sewell, Media Officer, Council of Canadians : (613) 233-4487 ext. 234 or (613) 795-8685