(Saskatoon, SK): Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, favours further consolidation of the seed industry into a few corporate hands, which will end up costing farmers more for seeds of all types.
“The government is selling the ag omnibus legislation as ‘the only way’ to provide the new plant varieties that farmers need to maintain their competitive advantage,” says Terry Boehm, Chair of the NFU’s Seed and Trade Committee. “We – and many other farmers and progressive thinkers in the world – know that there are other ways to ensure that farmers have access to new seed varieties in ways that do not compromise either our national sovereignty or our control over seeds and, therefore, over our food.”
The NFU has put forward “Fundamental Principles for a Farmers’ Seed Act” (attached) which recognizes the inherent rights of farmers to save, reuse, select, exchange and sell seeds, while protecting public domains related to plant seeds. The principles build on Canada’s 2002 signing of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, by which farmers would retain their “customary” use of seed.
Boehm asserts one reason only for agribusiness’s pursuit of these legislative changes, especially implementation of UPOV ’91, a much more restrictive intellectual property rights protection regime than what is now in place. “UPOV ’91 is a way to transfer enormous amounts of money from farmers’ pockets into corporate coffers,” he argued.
Boehm outlined the NFU’s Farmers’ Seed Act (see attached backgrounder), which assures the right to exchange and sell, as well as clean, treat and store seed. “Farmers – in fact Canadians – cannot allow giant corporations to take control of our seed resources,” said Boehm. “Those who control seed control food, and as a sovereign nation we must ensure that control of seed and food is protected in the public interest. The NFU Farmers Seed Act will make a major contribution to that goal.”
The Act’s principles address the full spectrum of activities involved in ensuring Canada’s sovereignty in the area of seeds – from reproduction, saving, storing and re-using to cleaning and treating; from variety registration to third-party dispute settlement mechanisms; as well as restrictions on royalty claims, among others. “Canadians have lost a lot over the last two years,” notes Boehm. “Research budgets have been gutted. Canada’s world-recognized research programs have been torn apart. Agencies with the specific role of balancing power relationships among farmers and giant international agri-businesses have been weakened or dismantled, while corporations have been given carte blanche over the seed industry and thus our food system.”
“This “Farmers’ Seed Act”, which is based on principles that serve public rather than private interests, is a rallying point for farmer and eater alike,” emphasized Boehm. “All Canadians can stand behind its principles. By calling for our elected officials to act on these principles, we give a strong message about the kind of Canada we want – a Canada that is sovereign in regard to seed and food,” he concluded.