International Day of Peasant Struggle commemorated with statement against UPOV ’91

(April 17, 2015)-  The National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Union Paysanne (UP) are marking April 17, 2015, the International Day of Peasant Struggle[*] by joining with other Canadian organizations in denouncing the recent passing of Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, and calling on the Government of Canada to reverse recent changes to the Plant Breeders Rights Act that put Canada under the UPOV ’91 regime. The groups urge the federal parties to commit to rebuilding Canada’s public plant breeding capacity and developing a seed system that works for farmers and people. 
 
“After millennia of genetic resources being freely shared and improved among farmers across the world, successive Canadian governments have cut back very successful public plant breeding programs and moved to restrict farmers from getting access to those resources by extending Plant Breeders’ Rights and giving global private investors exclusive powers over seed of new plant varieties,” said Jan Slomp, NFU President.  “Biodiversity is nature’s way of facilitating adaptation. Farmers need full access to the diversity of seeds so we can use and adapt them as climate change, unique growing conditions and local markets demand.”
 
“Seed is the foundation of our food system. Farmers’ control over seed is, therefore, fundamental to food sovereignty,” said Benoit Girouard, UP President. “Turning over our heritage of genetic resources to the commercial sector, which is dominated by a few global corporations, is a travesty which truly endangers biodiversity and food sovereignty.”
 
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For more information:
Jan Slomp, NFU President: (403) 704-4364 or (250) 898-8223
Benoit Girouard, UP President: (450) 495-1910
 
Text of Joint Statement:
 
Groups denounce Canada’s adoption of UPOV ’91 Plant Breeders’ Rights regime with passing of Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act
 
On February 25, 2015 Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, received Royal Assent and became law. The undersigned organizations deplore the fact that the federal government, with the support of the Liberal Party, has passed this omnibus bill, which brings Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act into the UPOV ’91 Plant Breeders’ Rights regime.
 
UPOV ’91 is not needed for innovation or trade. Canada can meet its international trade obligations under the WTO with a “sui generis” (unique, or “made in Canada”) seed law instead.  In other countries, UPOV ’91 has helped corporations more than farmers. The UPOV system gives priority to the interests of a small number of global corporations that dominate commercial plant breeding. The majority of the world’s 196 countries do not use UPOV, and to date, only 52 of the 72 that do are under the UPOV ’91 system. Chile recently abandoned its proposed UPOV ’91 law and there is strong effective opposition in many other countries that are considering UPOV ’91.
 
By passing theAgricultural Growth Act and adopting UPOV ’91, the federal government does the following:
 
  • enables greater control over seed by corporations;
  • increases the ability of seed corporations to collect royalties from farmers;
  • allows for end-point royalty collection on whole crop, vastly increasing the potential for companies to obtain higher revenues from farmers;
  • reduces seed corporation costs by facilitating seed imports and thus the sale of varieties already developed for foreign markets and other countries’ growing conditions instead of developing suitable varieties for the Canadian market;
  • turns farmers’ right to save seed into a privilege and enables it to be limited or taken away completely by regulation;
  • exposes farmers who save seed for use on their own farms to court cases because the law does not define the term “stocking” (storing seed for future use), for example. Seed corporations will sue farmers to seek favourable court rulings on the interpretation of the new law. Court cases are very expensive and put farmers at a disadvantage in terms of mounting a defense, therefore, they can be used as a threat to induce farmers to purchase seed annually instead of saving and planting  their own farm saved seed;
  • given the current government’s policy of de-funding public plant breeding of important cereal crops, the Agricultural Growth Act reduces farmers’ access to potential new varieties that would have been developed by Agriculture Canada researchers by supporting a system where only those new varieties that fit corporate goals (such as seed that depends on purchased inputs) will be commercialized;
  • gives seed companies a strong incentive to de-register older varieties that are in the public domain or under UPOV ’78 to increase their market for new varieties subject to UPOV ’91. Farmers who continue using older de-registered varieties for agronomic reasons may also become ineligible for farm support programs that require the use of registered seed.
  • increases the power imbalance between farmers and corporations by promoting transfer of wealth from farmers to corporations via royalties. This will increase the concentration of ownership in the agricultural supply chain (seed companies also sell crop inputs and/or purchase grain); and
  • allows corporations to control and collect royalties on future varieties developed by others if they are deemed to be “essentially derived” from a PBR-protected variety. In light of the government’s policy to sell publicly developed germplasm, this law facilitates the privatization of Canada’s heritage of plant genetic resources.
 
Many of the organizations that were speaking loudly in favour of the Agricultural Growth Act were closely associated with the corporate seed industry, dependent on federal government funding, and/or receiving financial support from seed corporations. (see What is behind the Partners in Innovation PR campaign? http://www.nfu.ca/issue/what-behind-partners-innovation-pr-campaign)
 
We, therefore, call upon the Government of Canada to not ratify the UPOV '91 Convention.
 
We further call on all federal political parties to:
  • commit to repealing the amendments to the Plant Breeders’ Right Act;
  • maintain Canada under UPOV ’78;
  • bring in a Farmers Seed Act that will ensure Canadian farmers control our seed; and
  • recommit to support for plant breeding done in the public interest.
 
Signed:   Les AmiEs de la Terre de Québec
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
Canadian Wheat Board Alliance
Comox Valley Growers and Seed Savers
CAPÉ (Coopérative pour l'agriculture de proximité écologique)
Council of Canadians
Développement et Paix
Food Secure Canada
GRAIN 
Growers of Organic Food Yukon
National Farmers Union
Slow Food Montréal
The United Church of Canada
Union Paysanne
Vigilance OGM
 

[*]History of the International Day of Peasant Struggle: On April 17 1996, in the Amazonian state of Pará, at Eldorado dos Carajás, the state military police massacred peasants organized in the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), killing 19 individuals. That day, 1500 women and men organized in the MST occupied and blocked the BR-150 highway in Eldo- ado dos Carajás, with the intention to pressure the state and federal governments for agrarian reform. At about 4 pm, 155 state military police from two brigades surrounded the MST on the highway, firing tear-gas, live ammunition and machine guns. In addition to the 19 MST killed during the massacre, three more died later from injuries, and 69 people were wounded. State authorities, the police, the army and powerful local landowners were involved in planning and executing of the massacre. Eighteen years later in 2012, two of those responsible for the massacre at Eldorado dos Carajás were imprisoned, however the economic and social conditions that led to the conflict continue.