Genetically modified food is destroying human health, the environment and the social fabric of rural Canada, said an international spokesperson for farmers’ rights.
Saskatchewan’s foxes and deer are dying, and its people are succumbing to alarming rates of prostate and breast cancer from chemicals used in the province’s canola production.
Those chemicals are administered by agrichemical giant Monsanto, said Percy Schmeiser, who spoke Thursday night to a standing-room only audience in the Alumni Theatre at Thompson Rivers University.
“There’s a whole new culture of fear these companies have been able to exercise over farmers,” he said.
Schmeiser, who specializes in breeding and growing canola, became an international symbol for the anti-genetically engineered movement when Monsanto sued him for patent infringement after discovering their genetically modified canola growing in his fields.
The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Monsanto, determining Schmeiser had recognized his fields were contaminated and replanted his crop the next year anyway, which included some Monsanto seeds.
Schmeiser spoke about the control Monsanto wields over Saskatchewan farmers, who, he said, are coerced into signing contracts saying they can’t use their own seeds; they must buy their seeds from Monsanto and they must allow “Monsanto police” onto their land.
Monsanto’s “gene police” visit Saskatchewan farmers suspected of growing genetically modified seeds — on tips from neighbours forced by the contract to squeal — and threaten them with court action.
The farmers are left wondering which neighbour betrayed them, leading to a “breakdown of the rural social fabric,” he said.
“I think that is one of the worst things that can happen. That’s one of the things that can happen with the introduction of GMOs,” he said.
“I’m not talking about a Third World country. I’m talking about what happens on the Northern Plain and on the Prairies of Western Canada,” he said.
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) were introduced in Canada in 1996. There are two types: one that alters plant genes making it resistant to pesticides and another making it resistant to certain diseases and insects.
Schmeiser said once GMOs are introduced, they take over and become the dominant gene, leading to a situation where there is “no longer any pure canola seed in Western Canada,” he said.
“Every time you introduce a GMO, you have an increased use of chemicals,” he said, adding GMOs have spread in Canada, by wind or wildlife, to contaminate organic crops.
But the full destructive power of GMOs is on the horizon, he said, referring to two new genes now being developed by Monsanto to monopolize seed supply: the “terminator gene” and the “cheater gene.”
A cheater gene is used to grow a plant and the terminator gene then destroys a crop’s fertility — a process Schmeiser called “the greatest assault on life as we know it on the planet today.”
He said Canadians must fight to save the integrity of our air, water and land for future generations, and ensure farmers don’t become “serfs of the land, in a feudal system” controlled by trans-national corporations like Monsanto.
“As long as we have life in us,” said Schmeiser, referring to his wife, Louise, “we’re going to go down fighting for the rights of all farmers all over the world.”
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