Canadian farmer, businessperson, and politician Percy Schmeiser died on October 13 at the age of 89. Best known for his battle against Monsanto over crop patent rights, he was an important advocate for farmers’ rights, seed saving, and environmental justice.
Schmeiser was a native of Bruno, Saskatchewan, where he and his wife Louise were both born into farming families.
In 1998, Schmeiser was thrust into the spotlight when multinational agrochemicals firm Monsanto sued him for misappropriating patented property. They claimed he was using genetically modified canola seed without a license.
Schmeiser maintained that the seed had drifted onto his property and that he had not benefited from its contamination of his field in any way. The case reached the Supreme Court of Canada, which decided Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto’s patent but did not have to pay a Technology Use Fee or damages.
Schmeiser took legal action against Monsanto for contaminating his canola fields with their Roundup-Ready version of the crop. The action was settled out of court in 2008, with Monsanto agreeing to pay clean-up costs.
In 2004, Schmeiser received the Activists of the Year Award from The Council of Canadians. And in 2007 he and his wife Louise received the Right Livelihood Award “for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers’ rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws.” He also received the Advocate of Social Justice in Sustainable Agriculture Award from Eco-Farm in 2010 and the Canadian Health Food Association Hall of Fame Award in 2014.
Schmeiser’s work and battle with Monsanto was highlighted in several films, including the 2009 documentary Percy Schmeiser – David versus Monsanto and the feature film Percy starring Christopher Walken and Christina Ricci, released shortly before Schmeiser’s passing.
In addition to farming and his advocacy work, Schmeiser owned two farm equipment dealerships, was a Member of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly from 1967 to 1971, served as the Mayor of Bruno from 1963 to 1982, and was a town councilor from 2003 to 2006.
He has five children and fifteen grandchildren, and is remembered by his family as a dedicated parent and grandparent. “I am privileged to this day to be his son,” John Schmeiser told CBC News “Growing up, it was very, very evident right from the beginning about how concerned he was about his community and his family.”