UPOV' 91 has many provisions for royalty collection after a crop has been harvested, when seed is cleaned in seed cleaning plants or when a crop is moved off the farm for sale at elevators and other points of transaction, in the year the crop was harvested or any year after that.
Canada should reject UPOV '91 and defeat Bill C-18. Instead, we should reinforce our public plant breeding programs. With the continued allocation of farmer check-off dollars, there will be ample funding for essential variety development. There is absolutely no need to grant transnational plant breeders more tools to extract excessive funds from farmers. Adopting UPOV '91 may result in some genetic improvements of crops, but at significantly higher costs than a public breeding system -- which benefits the whole Canadian economy. UPOV '91 would result in significantly higher costs for farmers and growth in profits for Bayer, Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta and other seed and chemical companies headquartered outside of our country.
Jan Slomp is President of the National Farmers Union. He holistically manages a 65-cow dairy farm near Rimbey, Alberta.
New Vision Proposed for Canadian Seed Ownership
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" 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, 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.
Fundamental Principles of a Farmers Seed Act
The National Farmers Union calls for a new Seed Act for Farmers in which Canada recognizes the inherent rights of farmers-derived from thousands of years of custom and tradition-to save, reuse, select, exchange, and sell seeds. Current and proposed restrictions on farmers' traditional practices, whether from commercial contracts, identity preservation (IP) systems, or legislation-criminalize these ancient practices and harm farmers, citizens, and society in general.
Canadians therefore call upon Parliament to refrain from making any changes to the Seeds Act or to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act that would further restrict farmers' rights or add to farmers' costs.
Further, we call upon Parliament to enshrine in legislation the inalienable rights of farmers and other Canadians to save, reuse, select, exchange, and sell seeds.
In 2002 Canada ratified the United Nations International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. As a signatory to this treaty, Canada:
- recognizes the enormous contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world, particularly those in the centres of origin and crop diversity, have made and will continue to make for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources which constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world.
- agrees not to limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate.
In accordance with this Treaty, and with the support of Canadians who desire a strong, healthy democratically controlled food system, we propose that Canada develop and implement a Seed Act for Farmers that would allow farmers to retain customary use of seed. The fundamental principles of such a law include:
- The right of farmers to exchange and sell seed, including through farmer-owned organizations such as cooperatives, non- profit organizations and associations.
- The unrestricted right of farmers to grow, save and use seed for planting which cannot be negated by any contract. This right would be supported by
- unrestricted right to clean
- Seed cleaning operations are an integral part of the
seed system and thus
- shall not be prosecuted for the cleaning of protected
varieties for a third party
- Plant breeders rights legislation that would confer the right to claim royalties only at the time of seed sale. (i.e. no endpoint royalties or cascading rights).
- Following expiration of plant breeders rights, varieties would be in the public domain allowing for unrestricted use and/or made available under a general public license.
- The opportunity for farmers and other non-accredited plant breeders to register new varieties.
- A variety registration system that would protect farmers and our food system by ensuring seed that meets farmers' needs for quality, reliability and agronomic performance under local conditions across Canada is available. This system would make distinctions in requirements for varieties to be used in conventional or organic production when necessary. Such a system would:
- ensure that varieties
remain in the public domain
following the expiration of plant breeders' rights;
- A dispute settlement process that uses due process that would ensure
- inspection and sampling
would be done only with the
farmer's explicit permission and in the presence of, and verified by, a
qualified neutral third party.
- Prohibition of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs), sometimes referred to as Terminator Technology.
- No gene patents or other patent mechanisms on seed.
1. "Seed" means seed and/or propagating material throughout this document.
2. A general public license is a binding legal agreement that makes germplasm available to plant breeders on the condition that it must likewise be made available to other breeders under a general public license, and without further restriction.
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