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2002-09-04

As Colin Powell Is Heckled at the Earth Summit, We’ll Hear Voices From Around the World Speaking Back: A Canadian Farmer Tells How He Was Sued By Biotech Giant Monsanto

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Secretary of State General Colin Powell was booed, heckled and jeered as he spoke at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg on its final day today.

Delegates from non-governmental groups in the audience repeatedly interrupted his speech, chanting: "Shame on Bush". Several people held up banners reading: "Betrayed by governments" and "Bush: people and planet, not big business". Powell was visibly annoyed by the repeated outbursts. At one point he answered back: "I have now heard you."

The heckling started when Powell criticized Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has begun transferring land from the hands of white ranchers and multinationals to poor blacks. Powell claimed the government has exacerbated the food crisis there and is pushing "millions of people to the brink of starvation." Powell also criticized Zambia for rejecting US-made genetically modified corn.

Powell pushed on and finally delivered his message that "the US is taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change".

Environmental and human rights advocates were completely sealed off from the official talks and backroom deals, while big business lobbied official delegations throughout the conference.

Well today on Democracy Now!, we will hear the voices of the world speaking back. We’ll spend the hour in Johannesburg, with Oscar Olivera from Bolivia, Mohau Pheko from South Africa and others.

But first we start with a farmer from a small rural community in Saskatchewan Province in Canada. His name is Percy Schmeiser. For forty years, Percy Schmeiser has been growing Canola, the yellow-blossomed oilseed that used to be known as rapeseed. He experiments, develops his own varieties, and uses his own seed.

But there is another source of new varieties of Canola, not grown by a small rural farmer, but grown by one of the biggest multinational corporations in the world, a biotech firm whose earnings for the second-quarter of 2002 topped one and a half billion dollars.

Monsanto makes the popular herbicide Roundup. Farmers all over the Prairies ——Schmeiser among them -—- spray it on their fields, whereupon it kills every-thing growing there. Then they plant. But Monsanto has also developed a canola seed completely immune to Roundup. That means a farmer can spray the herbicide over a planted field, kill all the weeds growing there, but not hurt the crop — as long as it comes from Monsanto’s seed.

The company sells the seed but keeps the rights to the DNA itself. That means that farmers using this kind of seed can’t save seeds from last year’s crop for the next year, as they have done for generations. They have to buy new seed from Monsanto each year.

In August of 1998, the David and Goliath Canola growers clashed. Monsanto accused Schmeiser of illegally planting Monsanto’s genetically modified Canola, and took the farmer to court.

Here is Percy Schmeiser’s story, in his own words.

Tape:

  • Secretary of State General Colin Powell, heckled by protesters at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg

Guest:

  • Percy Schmeiser, Canadian farmer. He has served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly and was the Mayor of the Town of Bruno from 1966-1983.

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