Seed companies, not farmers, will gain with Bill C-18 Royal Assent, says NFU
Saskatoon - On Tuesday, February 25, Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, became law when it received royal assent. The new law, which brings Canada under the UPOV ’91 plant breeders’ rights regime, will come into force by Cabinet order. From now on, seed companies’ exclusive rights to control new varieties of seed have been expanded, they have gained new ways to collect royalty revenue from farmers and a longer, twenty-year royalty collection period (twenty-five years for tree and vine varieties).
“By announcing Bill C-18’s passing at the headquarters of a private seed company, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz clearly signalled that the Agricultural Growth Act will primarily benefit agri-business corporations,” said Jan Slomp, National Farmers Union (NFU) President. “This law is nothing for farmers to cheer about, in spite of recent congratulatory statements made by several organizations. On the contrary, the National Farmers Union has carefully analysed the implications of the Agricultural Growth Act in the context of Canada’s seed law and policy framework and the structure of Canada’s seed industry, and concluded that it turns farmers’ ancient relationship with seed inside out.”
“The Agricultural Growth Act constricts farmers’ ability to save and re-use seed by giving plant breeders exclusive rights to authorize all reproduction, conditioning, stocking, using varieties to produce hybrids, using plant material for vegetative reproduction of ornamental plants, importing and exporting of Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) protected varieties of seed for 20 years. Along with these exclusive rights, it authorizes breeders to demand payment of royalties as a condition for using varieties in any of the above ways,” said Ann Slater, NFU Vice President, Policy. “The new law enables the government to erode and even eliminate the “farmers’ privilege” to save and re-use seed on their own holdings through regulation. The Act’s “essentially derived” clause also gives seed companies the right to control future varieties created by other breeders who use a protected variety as part of the breeding process.”
“Private plant breeding in Canada is dominated by Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Limagrain, Land O Lakes, KWS, Bayer Cropscience, and Dow AgroSciences, all multinational corporations with headquarters outside of Canada,” noted Terry Boehm, Chair of the NFU Seed and Trade Committee. “These companies stand to gain the most from the Agricultural Growth Act and related changes to seed regulations and research funding. Farmers, however, will pay more for seed, and in future may have to pay end-point royalties on their whole crop, including feed and forage fed to their own livestock.”
“Canada’s efficient and effective public sector plant breeding system, which includes Agriculture Canada research scientists, has produced most of our important cereal varieties,” Boehm added. “The federal government’s decision to stop public funding to the variety development level in important cereal crops means that now seed corporations will decide which new varieties will be commercialized, and will reap the royalty payments under this Act. By giving seed companies the exclusive right to import and export propagating material, the Agricultural Growth Act allows companies to make more money by selling seed developed for larger markets in other countries with different growing conditions, instead of investing in plant breeding relevant to Canadian farmers’ needs.”
“Restrictions on farmers’ seed saving, and the massive transfer of wealth from farmers to seed companies that will follow, are not necessary for the development of useful new varieties,” said Slomp. “It is a shame that Canada’s government has decided to pass a law that will enrich some of the wealthiest and most powerful global corporations at the expense of Canadian farmers and the biodiversity of Canada’s food system.”