End-point royalties don’t dampen support for greater plant breeders’ rights

Most agricultural groups continue to support the federal government’s push for greater plant breeders’ rights, despite the spectre of end-point royalties.

The bill, which will see the adoption of the UPOV 91 international standard, will give seed developers and plant breeders greater control over seed.

The move has stirred a debate over farmers’ privilege and farm-saved seed, which has dogged Bill C-18 since it was introduced.

The proposed legislative changes have drawn criticism and a lot of confusion. They won’t deny producers the right to save seed but do make end-point royalties possible.

“The way we view it is if we go to an end-point royalty, I’m looking at 10 years down the road,” Gary Stanford of the Grain Growers of Canada told the Senate’s agriculture committee Feb. 5.

The legislation doesn’t create end-point royalties, in which payments are made to seed developers upon sale. Instead, it allows the government to introduce them in the future without further public debate.

“I realize that the (agriculture) minister could come in and say I want to change that, but according to the way the bill is (written), it says regulations after consultations with producers,” said Stanford.

“The way I read this and the way I see this, is that there will be consultations before any of this is done.”

The legislation has received support from many industry and producer groups, which say the bill will spur greater investment in variety development from private sector developers.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association is supporting the bill but doesn’t yet have a position on end-point royalties.

“We think it is important to note that this legislation does not mean that an end-point royalty system will be adopted as some farmers have claimed,” Jim Wickett of the association told the committee Feb. 3.

“This legislation allows for an end-point royalty system, but as of yet, there is no agreement in this industry to go down this path.”

Matthew Homes of the Canadian Organic Trade Association said the organic sector can operate under the new bill, as long as farmers’ privilege remains entrenched.

“The language that I’ve specified in section 5.3 (of the bill) was absolutely essential. It needs to be maintained in that bill, otherwise our position will become somewhat more pointed,” he told the committee Feb. 5.

“With UPOV 91, we have not found particular benefit for the organic sector, but we haven’t found anything specifically detrimental either.”

The National Farmers Union and Food Secure Canada have spoken more strongly against the bill.

“We’re getting one percent (yield gain) for wheat per year, which is not very much. Farmers on their own in Africa will get yield increases of close to one percent per year, just from saving their seed and planting it again, adapting and selecting the best seed every year. That is not an impressive figure,” Pat Mooney of ETC Group told the committee Feb. 3.

“What you’re getting is in fact a lot of platitudes about who will innovate and the basic assumption that is the sum of plant breeders rights or intellectual property protection will be beneficial, but you’re not getting data given to you.”

dan.yates@producer.com

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