Plant breeders’ rights changes move to Senate

Bill C-18 | The NFU says the bill gives multinationals massive rights to ‘extract vast amounts of money from farmers’

A federal bill that proposes numerous changes to Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act has passed third reading in the House of Commons.

Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, was read for a third and final time in the House of Commons Nov. 24.

The bill now requires Senate approval and royal assent before it becomes law.

Bill C-18 is an omnibus bill that proposes amendments to nine existing pieces of federal legislation: the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Plant Protection Act, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the Farm Debt Mediation Act.

Among the bill’s most notable elements are provisions to update Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act to ensure that it conforms to an international treaty known as UPOV 91.

It would give seed companies and publicly funded plant breeding institutions greater proprietary control over new seed varieties they develop and commercialize.

As well, it would increase PBR protection over new seed varieties to 20 years from 18 and give PBR holders more opportunities to collect revenue on their new seed products and generate profits from their plant breeding investments.

PBR protections are voluntary in Canada. Plant breeders that qualify must apply for them.

The proposed PBR rule changes would apply only to seed varieties that have not yet been registered for commercial production.

Existing PBR rules would be grandfathered and continue to apply to varieties that have already been granted PBR protection.

Supporters of Bill C-18, including federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, say an updated PBR Act will encourage investment in plant breeding and give Canadian farmers access to improved new plant varieties that produce higher yields and bigger farm gate profits.

“The Agricultural Growth Act will attract unprecedented investment into research and innovation and will give Canadian farmers the competitive advantage they need to succeed in the global market,” Ritz said.

“I encourage the Senate to stand with farmers by passing this important legislation as quickly as possible.”

Opponents say the proposed changes will give Ottawa the ability to restrict farmers’ ability to save and re-plant seed on their own farms, a concept known as farmer’s privilege.

The proposed changes will also give seed companies that acquire PBR rights additional opportunities to collect revenue from farmers, opponents argue.

In a Nov. 25 news release, the National Farmers Union called Bill C-18 another example of federal legislation that supports big business at the expense of Canadian farmers.

The NFU release called UPOV 91 “one of the most farmer unfriendly mechanisms” the organization has ever seen.

“Bill C-18 gives seed breeders — increasingly large multinational companies — massive new rights over seed along with the power to extract vast amounts of money from farmers,” said NFU vice-president Ann Slater.

Bill C-18 reaffirms a farmer’s right to save and replant farm saved seed, but it also contains provisions that would allow Ottawa to amend or remove farmer’s privilege through regulatory changes that require ministerial approval rather than parliamentary consent.

Ottawa has indicated it will not restrict the farmer’s privilege unless a thorough industry-wide consultation has been conducted and the interests of all stakeholders have been carefully considered.

Ritz challenged suggestions that farmer’s privilege would be eroded while testifying before the standing agriculture committee.

Under Bill C-18, “the farmer’s right to save seed for future planting is protected and includes storage and/or cleaning of the seed,” Ritz told MPs Oct. 9.

Bill C-18 could also open the door to the possible introduction of new revenue collection methods, including end point royalties, also know as EPRs.

They would allow seed companies, including PBR holders, to collect revenue on harvested grain, as long those fees have not collected previously in the production cycle.

EPRs are already used in some UPOV member countries, including Australia and France. In those countries, EPR rates are normally $2 to $4 per tonne and are applied to commercial grain at the point of delivery.

Under an amended PBR Act, Canada could approve the use of end-point royalties through ministerial approval by following established regulatory processes.

Ottawa has said that the use of EPRs would be approved in Canada only after “extensive consultation with all affected stakeholders, on a crop-by-crop basis.”

About the author



Stories from our other publications