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Canada’s top court ruled Friday against a farmer accused of patent infringement for using a genetically engineered seed that he insisted had arrived on his field by accident. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld a lower court ruling in favor of Monsanto Co., which makes a canola variety found on the Saskatchewan farm of Percy Schmeiser. The canola was engineered to resist the U.S. company’s powerful Roundup weedkiller. The seven-year legal battle has become a cause for biotechnology opponents and proponents around the globe, dating to 1997 when Monsanto found the gene-altered plant growing on the farm. Some farmers, especially those from developing nations, fear that natural or accidental contamination of their conventional crops with biotech varieties will give biotech companies like Monsanto licenses to seize their crops. Further, the case also highlighted the growing concern among organic farmers and other conventional growers over controlling the accidental spread of genetically engineered crops into their fields. Consumers pay a premium for organic food, but a number of farmers are finding trace amounts of genetically engineered crops in their fields, raising liability issues for biotech companies. Conventional farmers fear biotech-averse consumers, especially in Europe, will reject their crops if they’re found to be widely cross-pollinated with genetically engineered plants. Though the case did not directly cover such contamination, the ruling could make any such lawsuits difficult to win in the future. What’s more, anti-biotech activists had hoped the Canada Supreme Court would invalidate Monsanto’s right to patent a life form just as the court had denied in 2002 Harvard University’s patent to a genetically engineered mouse used in cancer research. The ruling affirms that at least in Canada, a company can broadly exercise control of its seeds and plants through patent law. Schmeiser said he was disappointed with the ruling, but expected legislatures in Canada and elsewhere will ultimately have to address the reach of what he considered outdated patent law. “I know it in my heart I will always fight for the right of farmers to use their seeds from year to year,” he said. Monsanto issued a statement praising the decision, calling it “good news for farmers and Canadians, all of (whom) benefit from the innovative work that is going on across the country to produce more abundant, high quality food.” Monsanto alleged that Schmeiser obtained its seeds without paying for them. Schmeiser argued the Roundup Ready canola seed arrived by accident in 1997, either from blowing off a passing truck or by cross-pollination from nearby fields. He said he saved the seeds to mix with his own and planted it across his farm in 1998 before Monsanto got an injunction. He claimed he did not know the seeds included those Monsanto had patented. The Supreme Court majority rejected that explanation, writing that Schmeiser “was not an innocent bystander. … He did not at all explain why” he ended up with about 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of the seeds that would have cost more than US$10,000. Schmeiser will have to turn over any remaining crops and seeds under Friday’s ruling. But the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling ordering him to pay the profits from the sale of his 1998 crop. The profits were just shy of C$20,000 (US$14,400). Forty percent of the overall canola crop in Canada is Monsanto-Roundup Ready variety. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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