Conservative statements on C-18 Farmers’ Privilege provisions are misleading, says NFU

(Saskatoon, February 28, 2014)- The Conservative talking points on the “farmers’ privilege” provisions under Bill C-18, theAgricultural Growth Act omnibus bill, claim the law would “enshrine” the privilege to save seed for replanting. However, National Farmers Union President, Jan Slomp, states, “the essence of a privilege is that is it granted by some authority, and may just as easily be taken away -- you cannot enshrine a privilege.”

The NFU analysis of the “farmers' privilege” as put forward in Bill C-18 is detailed in its fact sheet, Bill C-18 and Farmers' Privilege -- What is the whole story?

“To bring Canada under the UPOV ’91 Plant Breeders Rights regime, Bill C-18 would  create and enshrine exclusive rights for plant breeders (including the largest global seed companies) to control the sale, reproduction, conditioning (cleaning and treating), stocking (storing), importing and exporting of PBR-protected seed, “Slomp explained. “Only after giving these extensive and exclusive rights to plant breeders does C-18 then grant farmers the “privilege” to use seed we harvest to replant on our own holdings. What is currently our customary practice under existing law, would, under C-18 become a mere privilege.”

Slomp added, “Stocking of seed is not included within this “farmers’ privilege”, so if a farmer saves more than one year’s seed as a precaution against crop failure, frost or disease, he or she could be sued for infringing on the plant breeder’s exclusive right.”

And the NFU says that this hollow “privilege” will shrink over time, as Bill C-18 also gives the government the authority to create regulations that further limit and restrict the farmers’ use of the seed they grow.

“The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away,” said Randall Affleck, NFU Board member from Prince Edward Island. “The point of UPOV ’91 is to ensure the plant breeder gets paid first. It directs governments to trim the rights of farmers in favour of the plant breeder.”

“We reviewed the UPOV ’91 Guidance Documents that advise governments on how to interpret and implement the new, restrictive plant breeders rights regime to understand what the future regulations are likely to do,” said Ann Slater, NFU Vice-President (Policy) and Ontario farmer. “UPOV clearly recommends that governments only allow farmers’ privilege for crops where seed-saving is the usual practice, such as for small grains. Under Bill C-18, regulations can be put in place to exclude, restrict or put conditions on the classes of farmers and plant varieties included within the “farmers' privilege”.  This direction has serious implications, not only for farmer autonomy, but also for biodiversity, as seed-saving would become ever more restricted,” Slater added.

“Bill C-18 does not enshrine farmers’ right to save seed, and it is not required to promote plant breeding research,” Affleck concluded. “There is no logical connection between controlling farmers’ seed-saving activities and the ability of plant breeders to do research. C-18 is simply a tool for these companies to pry yet more money from the farmer’s pocket.”

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For more information:

Jan Slomp, NFU President: (403) 843-2068 or (403) 704-4364 (cell)
Ann Slater, NFU Vice-President (Policy):  (519) 349-2448 or aslater@quadro.net
Randall Affleck, NFU Region 1 (PEI): (902) 887-2597 or (902) 432-0930 (cell)