Chet Greason email@example.com
Bill C-18, an omnibus bill currently before parliament, has area farmers concerned; and not necessarily because of what it says, but because of what it doesn’t say.
Introduced on Dec. 9, 2013, the bill seeks to bring Canada under the most recent convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, a document known as UPOV ‘91 (the convention having been passed in 1991).
The US and most of Europe are under the standard, whereas Canada has so far held off, instead upholding the previous UPOV ‘78. Italy, Brazil, Chile, and China also follow the convention from 1978.
Farmers are concerned that the new legislation will deny them the ability to save their own seeds, and put more money and power into the hands of large multinational seed and chemical companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) held an information session and discussion at the Local Community Food Centre April 2. Led by NFU VP of policy and local organic farmer, Ann Slater, the meeting was attended by around 30 farmers, advocates, and concerned citizens, including NFU Local 341 president George Stevers and NDP provincial candidate Romayne Smith Fullerton.
“The government makes a big deal about how UPOV ‘91 brings in farmer privilege; saying it’ll save farmers’ right to save seeds,” said Slater.
Currently, it is a farmer’s right to save their seeds. However, Bill C-18 would reclassify this right as a “privilege;” and, as Slater points out, “Privileges can be taken away.”
C-18 is set to increase plant breeders rights (PBR), a form of intellectual property rights that apply to developers of new plant varieties. While most GMO crops are patented, most non-GMO crops fall under PBR, while some older varieties in the public domain have never had PBR applied to them.
C-18 would change much of this. According to Slater, the bill will give plant breeders the power to authorize all reproduction, conditioning (cleaning and treating), stocking (bagging and sorting), importing, and exporting.
It will also allow PBR holders to collect royalties on crops after they have been harvested, rather than simply making their initial profit in the sale of their seeds.
Slater sees the bill as an attempt to dismantle public breeders or organizations like the Canadian Wheat Board. What really makes the bill so dangerous, she added, is the rampant ambiguity in the details. Slater said many of the most troubling points, such as how plant varieties, crops, and types of farms will be classified under the new laws, will have to be hashed out in the courts.
As an alternative, Slater said the NFU would like to see a farmers seed act; one that clearly states the unrestricted right of farmers to save, clean, condition, store, and sell seeds, “just like we’ve been doing for millennia.”
Those in attendance appeared concerned with the looming legislation, and wondered how things had progressed so far.
“Why would farmers support this?” asked one audience member, to which Slater answered that farmers had been told Bill C-18 is the only way to get new seed varieties, as agri-businesses claim they need the additional revenue afforded to them by the act to support research (despite massive amounts of revenue made by companies like Monsanto).
“Where are the consumers?” asked another, pointing out that General Mills, maker of Cheerios, recently released a non-GMO version of their product.
“And nobody’s buying it,” he added.
Slater encouraged those in attendance to contact their MP and tell them not to support the bill; to attend meetings, talk to friends, sign petitions and leave copies of them in public places; to write letters to the editors of newspapers, and to join the NFU.
“Farmers certainly live on a lot of hope,” said George Stevers. “I think a lot of them are just sitting, waiting, saying, ‘I hope this works out.’”
However, as the NFU members stressed, it will take more than hope to protect farmers’ rights.