The Classic David vs Goliath Struggle.....
Schmeiser Receives Mahatma Gandhi Award
By Zita Mayer
BRUNO, Sask. -- Percy Schmeiser's ongoing fight for farmers to keep their right to use their own seed has brought him something he didn't expect, India's Mahatma Gandhi Award.
While in India for a series of speaking engagements September 20 to October 5, Schmeiser was presented with the award in Delhi on October 2, the 131st anniversary of Gandhi's birth.
Schmeiser was honoured to receive this award, he said. The award is given by Gandhi's family for the betterment of humankind in a non-violent way.
The presentation was made by the head of India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, an organization which together with the International Forum on Food and Agriculture and the People's Global Seed 2000 Conference had invited Schmeiser to speak on farmers' property rights. Besides speaking at these conferences at Bangladore and Delhi, he also spoke at various universities throughout India.
Schmeiser was teamed with Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a Hungarian born genetic scientist who was a former senior researcher at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. Pusztai's work included research on what effects potatoes that had been genetically altered to resist the potato beetle would have on rats. From his findings he concluded that that the genetically modified potato was not substantially equivalent to the potato in it's natural form; in the young rats he found in the intestine cells that eventually developed into tumours. He subsequently lost his position and was given a gag order regarding his findings.
Organizers for the conference wanted a second speaker who was not from the government nor from a multinational company but rather a farmer who had direct experience with the issue of seed control. (Schmeiser's battle with Monsanto regarding Roundup Ready Canola has gained world wide attention.)
For most events the major portion of speaking time was given to the scientist, but for a gathering of farmers, Schmeiser was the main speaker. Organizers expected some 300,000 farmers to attend. "There were more people than what I had ever seen in my life," he said.
"Seed is very dear to the Indian farmer -- it's a cultural thing," Schmeiser said. They are concerned that much diversity is being lost by cross pollination and y using herbicides such as Roundup, which is non selective in the plant life it kills.
"I told the people in India that they need to fight hard to keep control of their seed. They need to avoid getting into the contract traps the farmers are in here," he said. What has happened in Canada in the last five or six years can happen elsewhere. However, India has outlawed the patenting of life forms.
The Third World is "light years ahead of us" regarding their concerns about genetically modified seed, he said. Their concerns centre on three areas: a gene once introduced cannot be recalled, what the health and safety issues are, and how far one can control life forms.
"If you control the seed supply, you control the food supply," Schmeiser said. He has always maintained that farmers have the right to control their seed. He believes farmers here do not understand the implications of what is happening.
"Life giving form is such a sacred thing," he said. "They're messing around with something God created; this is morally wrong," he said. In the long run nature is the winner and can take care of things, but in the meantime human beings will suffer.
Schmeiser was not only honoured by receiving the Mahatma Gandhi Award but the day was also an emotional one, he said, because it was his 48th wedding anniversary and it was the first time in their marriage he and his wife Louise were not together for their wedding anniversary.
There are more trips around the world lined up for Schmeiser. On Nov. 17 he is headed to Bangladesh to speak on farmers' rights, and in early December he is scheduled to participate in a royal inquiry that was set up to address the concerns of organic farmers who are afraid of losing their organic status because of cross pollination with genetically altered seed.
Meanwhile he continues to wait for the verdict to come down on his court case with Monsanto regarding allegations that he used their canola seed without their permission.
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