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Seed Stewards

Graphic: Seeds are the memory bank of nature! Become a seed steward...

Seed saving is an age-old tradition amongst farmers. Seeds are collected every harvest and saved for planting the following year. Some farmers also crossbreed different varieties to produce hybrid crops that flourish in the conditions that exist on that particular farm.

The "Seed Stewards" game illustrates the experience of 73-year-old Saskatchewan farmer, Percy Schmeiser, who contends that genetically-modified seeds contaminated his fields. In 1998, Monsanto investigators found evidence that Schmeiser was illegally growing patented seeds in his fields. Schmeiser, a conventional canola farmer and seed saver, claimed that the patented "Round-Up Ready" seeds blew into his fields from the nearby road and a neighboring farm. He refused to pay the licensing fee. The company sued Schmeiser shortly thereafter to protect its patent.

A court battle went on for years. The judge ruled that it didn't matter how the seeds got into the field, all that mattered was that they were there and that Schmeiser knew — or ought to have known — that the crop was tolerant to Roundup. Schmeiser appealed twice and, in 2004, the case was heard by the Canadian Supreme Court. According to a variety of estimates, there are hundreds of cases similar to Schmeiser's around the world today. These courts are not bound by the Canadian Supreme Court's decision, but the verdict in Schmeiser's case was read carefully by the international community.

The hearing was also watched because it reckoned with profound, interconnected issues like:

  • Can farmers' right to grow conventional or organic crops be protected? Can farmers continue to save their own seeds, as they have for centuries past?
  • Can living organisms — seeds, plants, cloned animals, human organs — be owned and protected by corporate patents on intellectual property?
  • Who owns "life?"

In a close 5-4 decision handed down on May 21, 2004, the court upheld the ruling that sided with Monsanto, holding that Schmeiser had illegally replanted Monsanto's seed. Schmeiser was relieved from paying the $200,000 Monsanto demanded as repayment for court costs and the profits that Schmeiser made by using Monsanto's seed. Read more about the verdict at Wired Magazine's website.

Launch the Game mountain

Screenshot from Seed Stewards Game

Launch Game  (Requires Shockwave)

A flock of super butterflies will help you defend your plot in this arcade-style game. Catch the free leaf, block the GMO seeds, populate your garden with vegetables and flowers and you could win prizes including a pack of real heirloom seeds.

(Sorry, we can't send seeds outside North America!)
In Border Talk
Grist magazine's resident expert discusses myths and facts on the dangers of GM food and more. GO

Useful Links
Find out more about issues surrounding genetically modified organisms and Percy Schmeiser's case.

* Monsanto's Website
* Percy Schmeiser's Website
* NOVA/Frontline: Harvest of Fear
Read interviews with scientists, farmers, biotech and food industry representatives, government regulators and critics on the debate over genetically-modified food.
* AP: Biotech's David vs. Goliath
Percy Schmeiser's decision to oppose Monsanto makes him the focal point of a struggle between anti-biotech forces and agribusiness.
* CBC.ca: Blowin' in the Wind
Watch a video report about Percy Schmeiser from The National, the nightly flagship news and current affairs daily program on Canada's public television.
* NPR: All Things Considered: Monsanto Case (March 30, 2001)
Featuring Dan Charles, author of Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food.

Find out more about heirloom seeds, organic gardening and seed saving with these great links compiled by FutureFarmers and POV Interactive. Got a new URL that we should add to this list? Drop us a note.