NFU starts campaign against UPOV 91 changes

The National Farmers Union is fighting back against a federal government plan to ratify UPOV 91.

The NFU says the controversial international agreement could cost prairie grain farmers millions of dollars and jeopardize their ability to use farm-saved seed on a royalty free basis.

Terry Boehm, a former NFU president and current chair of the group’s seed and trade committee, said Ottawa’s plan to ratify UPOV 91 represents a significant shift of power away from farmers and into the hands of multinational seed and biotechnology companies.

Ratification would set the table for expanded plant breeders’ rights legislation in Canada, granting seed developers greater proprietary control over the seed products they develop.

Many farmers, including Boehm, believe UPOV 91 ratification would open the door for a new royalty collection mechanism known as end-point royalties, in which farmers who plant farm-saved seed would be required to pay seed companies a per-tonne royalty on all production derived from a PBR protected seed variety.

Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has already indicated that Ottawa intends to ratify UPOV 91 and update Canada’s PBR legislation to ensure seed companies are properly compensated for the new varieties that they develop.

Meanwhile, Ottawa is reducing its role in developing and commercializing new wheat and barley varieties and is leaving cereal breeding and varietal development activities to other groups, including multinational seed companies.

Boehm said it is imperative that farmers voice their opposition to UPOV 91.

“UPOV 91 is a way to transfer enormous amounts of money from farmers’ pockets into corporate coffers,” he said.

“Farmers — in fact Canadians — cannot allow giant corporations to take control of our seed resources.”

The NFU is mounting a campaign aimed at raising awareness about the potential impact of UPOV 91 and mobilizing opposition.

Last week, the NFU released a document outlining principles that should be contained in a farmer-friendly seed act.

It calls for Ottawa to refrain from making any changes to the current Seeds Act and Plant Breeders’ Rights Act.

It also calls for Ottawa to take steps that would protect farmers’ right to save, reuse, select, exchange and sell seeds.

The document says farmers’ rights to clean and store seed and prepare it for planting should be unrestricted.

The NFU is also advocating:

  • The retention of a variety registration system that ensures new crop varieties are as good or better than existing ones
  • Federal legislation that allows seed developers to collect royalties only at the time the seed is sold to a farmer
  • Legislation that makes it illegal for seed companies to collect end-point royalties on harvested crops
  • Measures that ensure farmers will continue to have access to existing cereal varieties that were developed by public plant breeders.

Boehm said the deregistration of existing crop varieties in the public domain also poses a significant threat to the economic well-being of farmers. He said public varieties that are registered in Canada should not be withdrawn from the marketplace unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

“Canada’s world-recognized research programs have been torn apart … while corporations have been given carte blanche over the seed industry,” he said.

“There are other ways (besides UPOV 91) to ensure that farmers have access to new seed varieties.”

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