Words and Music By Sam Creigh

Sam Says:

Percy Schmeiser is a true living folk hero. Like John Henry taking on the machine in a fierce duel for survival, Percy took on the corporate machine to keep farming and farmers' rights under the control of family farmers. In the time-honored tradition of farming, he, a life-long Canadian canola farmer, saved a portion of his seeds after each harvest to replant the following year. Over several decades, he had developed a superior strain of canola that resisted the inherent problems of farming on the prairie.

In 1997, the Monsanto corporation's gene police found its GE (genetically-engineered) canola plants growing on Percy's farm. They sought protection in court for a gene that they had invented, patented and introduced into canola. Released in 1996 and known as Roundup Ready, it makes canola plants resistant to Monsanto's common weed-control herbicide, marketed under the name of Roundup. Percy contended that as a seed-saver, he had no need to buy or plant Monsanto's seed, and that the GE plants discovered on his land either grew from seeds that blew off a neighbor's truck, or grew from his own plants which had been cross-pollinated from a neighbor's field of GE canola--without his knowledge or consent. He also contended that higher life forms like plants cannot be patented. (NOTE: The Canadian Supreme Court had ruled 5-4 against the patenting of the "Harvard mouse", developed for laboratory use and guaranteed to get cancer. This decision didn't refer to seeds, but Percy's legal team had hoped to extend it to seeds. In contrast, the United States Supreme Court found 5-4 in favor of the "Harvard mouse".)

In March, 2001, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that Percy "knew or ought to have known" that his seed was resistant to Roundup. The court awarded Monsanto the equivalent of his profits for the canola crop, which amounted to $19,832, as well as legal costs which amounted to $153,000. Percy appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal, where he lost in 2002, and then to the Canadian Supreme Court. As his case moved through the appeals process, Percy took out a second mortgage on his farm, and with that money and contributions from supporters, began his world travels to spread his views of and experience with agribusiness corporations and corporate farming. His basic message was that the rights of farmers to develop and save their own seed must be preserved.His determined efforts have received prestigious awards from agricultural organizations on every continent.

In subsequent growing seasons, Percy sprayed his fields with a powerful herbicide that was supposed to rid his land of all GE canola. He had earlier given up all of his own canola seed, the end result of over 40 years of seed development, at the advice of his attorney, to ensure that he would not suffer the same legal difficulties that he had previously encountered. The suffocating legal reality is that, once the technology is on a farmer's land--no matter how it gets there--his property rights and his rights to farm are superceded by the corporate patent owner's rights. Despite these eradication efforts, in 1999 volunteer canola that was resistant to herbicides appeared in his fields. These plants, known as "superweeds", continue to be a plague on the North American continent--a disastrous by-product of this technology. This situation forces a farmer like Percy to either fall in line with the corporate stranglehold or cease growing the crop altogether. Corporate farming consists of signing a contract with the company to obtain a license to grow their plants, paying them a per acre technology fee, and buying only that company's supporting agricultural products--fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc.

In May, 2004, the Canadian Supreme Court handed down its decision--a 5-4 ruling that found in favor of Monsanto. In an unexpected twist, however, the Court reduced the damages to zero. They ruled that, since Percy didn't use Roundup on his fields, and thus his profits were "precisely what they would have been had he planted and harvested ordinary canola, he had earned no profit from the invention". Monsanto was entitled to nothing on its claim of account. This ruling, however, is considered to have global importance to the biotechnology industry, farmers, health care and any other field where genetic engineering has made inroads. Canada is believed to be the first country where a top court has ruled on patent issues involving plants and seed genes.

After the decision, Percy said, "that's where I always wanted it to be, at the Canadian Supreme Court, where the whole issue of patenting life forms would be addressed, or the patenting of organisms. It may not be the victory that we were looking for, but...I and my wife Louise have done everything to bring it this far." Future legal implications for farmers and agribusiness corporations remain to be seen. What the Supreme Court essentially ruled in Percy's case was that Monsanto's patents on the Roundup Ready genes were valid, and therefore they would enforce the patent with respect to Percy's seeds and plants. The actual question of whether or not seeds are patentable was very politically evaded. The agribusiness corporations are now desperately engaged in "penetrating" their technologies throughout the world's farmland via easy seed acquisition and cross-pollination, for once the technology is everywhere, outlawing it will be impossible. There are no known methods of recalling these technologies once they have been released into the environment.

This song was not easy to write. It is a very complex subject and difficult to condense into a 3-minute movie. I decided to scrap the first version that I wrote. It was Country and up-tempo. Trying to answer the question, "what is the up-side to the corporate domination of agriculture?" led me in a different direction. I asked myself how Canadian folksingers like Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tamblyn would write this song. I re-wrote it as a lament.


In a field of canola--out in Saskatchewan

Stands Percy Schmeiser--a prairie farmin' man

And as the winds of his heavy heart sweep across the plains

They cry family farmin' will never be the same

For more than forty years--Percy worked his family's soil

Savin' seeds he'd taken from his harvest toil

And in the Spring he'd lay them in that fertile ground

And another generation of seeds would come around

Another generation of seeds would come around

Seeds of the earth--so very precious

Carry inside--the soul divine

A farmer's right to save and plant them

Since the earliest of time

In a ditch by Percy's road--there's somethin' growin'

And tho it looks like canola by the signs that it's showin'

This plant contains a patented gene

And it's owned root to seed by the corporate machine

A judge tells Percy Schmeiser this case is so air-tight

To grow these plants upon your land with no license you've no right

And now each Spring you'll buy and plant their seeds that can't be saved

For patents must be honored and laws must not be waived

Patents must be honored and laws must not be waived

Seeds of the earth--so very precious

Carry inside--the soul divine

Owned and altered by corporations

Life has now been redefined

So to the farmers of the world--Percy Schmeiser took his plight

Talked 'bout ownership of life and whether that is right

Talked 'bout savin' seeds--'bout the corporate farmin' way

Talked 'bout that which we sow we too must reap one day

For are we all not seeds of Mother Earth

And stewarding the planet our sworn legacy from birth

And laws of nature we must hold above the laws of man

For greed and money have no place in Mother Nature's plan

Greed and money have no place in Mother Nature's plan

Seeds of the earth--so very precious

Carry inside--the soul divine

We cast ourselves each generation

Seeds of the Earth for all mankind

Seeds of the Earth for Nature and mankind