Hearings on changes to Plant Breeders Rights Act set for fall

A controversial government bill aimed at changing Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act has passed second reading in the House of Commons.

Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, has been referred to the House of Commons’ agriculture committee.

Witnesses to speak at the committee hearings will be identified over the next two to three months.

Committee clerk Jean Michel Roy said hearings will not begin until fall.

“We won’t have any idea before the House returns in September.”

The federal government introduced the far-reaching bill last December. 

The proposed amendments would grant plant breeders and seed companies greater control over intellectual property and give them more flexibility in collecting royalties on new seed products. Plant breeders generally support the proposed amendments. However, some farm groups view the bill as an infringement on farmer interests.

They say a revamped PBR Act and ratification of an international agreement known as UPOV-91 will limit farmers’ access to royalty-free seed and could potentially restrict their ability to clean and condition farm saved seed. 

Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz had indicated that he would like to see the bill enacted before the beginning of the 2014-15 crop year, which commences Aug. 1. That deadline will not be met, but supporters of the proposed legislation say any progress on the bill is welcome.

“Amended plant breeders’ rights legislation will enhance the ability of Canadian producers to capitalize on exciting new opportunities in Canadian and international markets,” said Cereals Canada chair Greg Porozni. 

“The amendments will foster investment and innovation in Canada by giving producers access to new, more productive crop varieties.”

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett also welcomed the news.

“We are pleased that the bill is now at the point in the process where we can engage in public discussion at committee,” Bonnett said in a news release.

“It boils down to making sure Canadian farmers are competitive and that we aren’t falling behind other countries. The legislation strikes a good balance between giving plant breeders the ability to receive a return on their investment and research efforts while preserving the ability of farmers to save, store and condition seed for their own use.”