Music

Root Down

Seed money

Bob Cook and the Unherd-of • Percy Schmeiser vs. Monsanto Benefit
Concert • With the George Bushes and Dale Ladouceur and the Broke
Ensemble • Sidetrack Café • Wed, Apr 21
Bob Cook is an
amazing fellow and we can be thankful the Vancouver native chose Edmonton as
his new home nearly three years ago. Not only does he produce a constant
supply of quirky, spirited music which he calls “bomp ’n’
roll,” but he also keeps his eyes on the world around him rather than
just his own personal little sphere.

Cook credits the songs of Bob Dylan with spurring him to become a writer
and helping him find his voice. “I’ve written a number of songs
that are a bit more pointed, I’ve also written a lot of fun and sillier
things as well as a lot of deeper, more spiritual kind of things,” Cook
says over the phone from his home, where he’s keeping an eye on his new
baby. “To put ideas out through song is the most powerful means as far
as I’ve ever known and I think all through history it’s been that
way.”

While he isn’t traveling around the country with his songs, Cook has
been spending his home time recording his seventh CD with the
Unherd-of’s current lineup of Dave Farhall, Chris Durand and Pascal
Lecours. He’ll be playing the upcoming show at the Sidetrack with the
guys, but he’s also running around on his own this week, raising funds
and awareness for a greater cause.

Although he says he’s never been a traditional sort of activist,
Cook picked up a copy of Common Ground magazine back in January and became
inspired by the case of Percy Schmeiser, the 73-year-old Saskatchewan farmer
who was taken to court in 1998 by the multinational bio-technology firm
Monsanto after they found their patented GM (genetically modified) canola
seed growing in his roadside ditch. Schmeiser and his wife are
third-generation canola farmers who’ve spent the last 50 years
developing and saving canola seed suitable to prairie conditions and
resistant to common diseases. But even though Monsanto withdrew all
allegations that the Schmeisers obtained and used their seed without license,
and even though the federal court judge acknowledged natural causes such as
cross pollination and direct seed movement (wind, birds, bees) could have
accounted for Monsanto’s seed ending up on Schmeiser’s property,
Schmeiser was still found guilty of patent violation. Not only did Schmeiser
lose his crop that year, but he was also ordered to surrender all his organic
research seeds and plants to Monsanto—which meant he could never grow
his own canola again.

The case raises many complicated legal and philosophical issues, but the
biggest question is whether DNA can be patented and owned. The government of
Canada has supported Monsanto’s research and development and is now
leaving the controversy up to the courts. Meanwhile, after spending another
year in the Federal Court of Appeals where three more judges upheld the
original ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the case, which
began in January 2004. A ruling is still pending.

“I had the voice in my head for a while and it just didn’t
really want to let go,” says Cook, who quickly hatched the idea of
holding a benefit concert to help defray Schmeiser’s enormous legal
fees (which now exceed $300,000). “So I approached the Sidetrack and
they gave me a date to go ahead…. The precedent set right now will have
huge implications even in the next five to 10 years because all these biotech
companies are going after DNA. I mean, it’s a huge hunt to find the
DNAs of certain things, isolate them and patent them as quickly as possible.
There’s a race right now—it’s like a gold rush. It’s
unbelievable and it’s happening without us knowing about it.”

Unfortunately, Schmeiser’s case seems to be better known around the
world than it is in Canada. Although he’ll try to make an appearance at
the Sidetrack, Schmeiser’s flying in from Italy the night before where
he’s speaking about the case. He’s travelled the world over the
last few years as attention on his case has grown. Cook has tried to do his
part as well to get the word out about Schmeiser’s struggle, and has
posted links on his website (www.bobcook.ca) to a variety of references and
resources including the Common Ground article that inspired him in the first
place. V

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