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Saskatchewan Farmer Tells Trial He Didn't Use Roundup Ready Canola
Updated 5:20 PM ET June 1, 2000

SASKATOON (CP) - Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser says he did not use Roundup Ready canola because it would have forced him to change his farming practices. "I believe that if I used herbicide-tolerant canola I would not be able to seed back to back," Schmeiser told Federal Court on Tuesday.

"When you spray Roundup on canola it leaves a residue. It kills a lot of certain bacteria in the soil."

The 69-year-old farmer is being sued by biotechnology giant Monsanto for allegedly infringing on a patent the company holds for a herbicide-resistant canola.

The St.-Louis-based company claims Schmeiser deliberately grew about 365 hectares of the genetically modified canola, which allows farmers to plant earlier and control weeds better because it can withstand the powerful herbicide Roundup.

Monsanto launched the suit in August 1998 after receiving complaints from people in the area.

Schmeiser has alleged the company failed to properly instruct farmers on how to plant the genetically engineered canola and keep it from spreading to neighbouring fields. He has said his crop was contaminated by nearby farms.

Schmeiser testified Tuesday that he used Roundup to control weeds around power poles in his fields and nearby ditches, but not on his canola crop.

"When you spray in crop it's bad farming practice," Schmeiser told the packed courtroom.

He explained that he has developed his own strain of disease-resistant Argentine canola that he feels is superior because, in combination with his methods, he can grow canola on the same field in consecutive years.

Ordinarily a farmer needs to allow a field to lay fallow after one or two years of growing canola.

The court heard that Schmeiser test-sprayed Roundup on one hectare of his land near Bruno, Sask., after discovering some of his canola plants near the power poles did not die following application of the herbicide in 1997.

The farmer told the court that he used seed from that field in combination with some from another field to plant his 1998 canola crop.

The company claims Schmeiser knew the surviving plants would produce Roundup Ready canola seeds and used them deliberately to plant his 1998 crop.

Schmeiser testified Tuesday that he used the seed from that field because it was convenient.

"It was the canola I could get the quickest at," he said. "It's just because it was there."

Seeds from the bright yellow canola flower are crushed to produce cooking oil. The flowers are designed to spread their pollen over great distances by both wind and insects. Most of the pollen falls to the ground within a few metres of its source, but a small percentage may become airborne.

Researchers in Scotland have estimated canola pollen can drift as far as four kilometres under ideal conditions.

Roundup Ready canola, one of three major herbicide-resistant brands of canola, was first used in Canada in 1996.

Monsanto says there are more than 20,000 farmers using the genetically engineered canola on just over two million hectares across Canada this year.

Almost three-quarters of canola acreage in Western Canada last year was herbicide-resistant.