On December 9, 2013, omnibus Bill C-18, the “Agricultural Growth Act” went to Parliament for first reading.
Passing Bill C-18 would make Canada compliant with UPOV ‘91, a much more restrictive form of Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) than we currently have.
After a groundswell of farmer-led opposition to adopting UPOV ‘91 in 2005, the Liberal government of the day let it quietly die, as it became clear that farmers would be drastically restricted in their ability to save, reuse, exchange and sell seed. The Canadian public clearly demanded that genetic resources remain a public good.
Before reintroducing UPOV ‘91 through Bill C-18, Agriculture Minister Ritz has been actively spreading the myth and managing to convince many farm organizations and commodity groups that saving seed is enshrined in this bill. It is obvious that UPOV ‘91 gives plant breeders significantly more “rights” and tools for royalty collection, while farmers’ seed-saving right is reduced merely to a “privilege.” A privilege could be arbitrarily and unpredictably retracted.
A closer look at the text of Bill C-18 reveals that indeed, it talks about a farmer’s ability to save seed. When storing that saved seed however, the farmer needs the permission of the holder of the Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) – which may or may not be given. Of course the breeder has the right to charge royalties as well. Bill C-18 in fact also empowers government to remove, restrict or limit the farmer’s seed-saving privilege by passing regulations, a process that can happen quickly and without public debate.
Canada should reject UPOV ’91 and defeat Bill C-18. Instead, we should reinforce our public plant breeding programs. 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.
The Perth/Oxford Local of the National Farmers Union will explain why we want a seed act for farmers, not corporations, during a presentation and discussion on April 2, 7:30 p.m. at the Local Community Food Centre. Everyone is welcome to attend.