New ag bill throttles farmers, threatens seed sovereignty, says NFU

(December 10, 2013 - Saskatoon, SK) – Agriculture Minister Ritz is moving with undue haste with yesterday’s announcement of the Agricultural Growth Act (AGA) which received First Reading in Parliament today. The government is calling the AGA an omnibus bill for agriculture because it proposes amendments to a number of acts dealing with plant breeders’ rights, feed, seed, fertilizer, animal health, plant protection, monetary penalties, ag marketing programs and farm debt mediation. 

“This legislation will fundamentally restructure agriculture in ways that will profoundly affect farmers, their rural communities and the food system they supply. Its effects will reach far beyond agriculture,” stated Jan Slomp, NFU National President. “Amending the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act to align with the requirements of UPOV ‘91 (theInternational Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) instead of UPOV ’78 will devastate farmers’ ability to save, sell and reuse seed. At the same time, greater corporate control over every aspect related to seed will mean farmers pay much higher seed prices.”

Terry Boehm, presently a member of the NFU Seed and Trade Committee and NFU past president, stated, “Ritz claims that this so-called Ag Growth Act, and UPOV ’91 in particular, will stimulate innovation that will benefit farmers by increasing varietal crop choices and providing higher incomes. The reality is – and will be, however – much different. UPOV ‘91 isn’t about innovation. It’s about restricting what farmers can do with seed and giving seed companies powerful new tools to extract money from farmers.”

Boehm described the cascading right to collect royalties under UPOV ’91. “These seed corporations would be able to extract money from farmers on their entire crop,” he explained. “The cascading right would allow seed corporations to collect royalties at any point in the food system, but most likely when farmers sell their crop. This means that the seed companies would generate revenue on a farmer’s entire production rather than just on the seed purchased to grow the crop.”

The new legislation has other consequences according to Boehm. “The plant breeder/seed corporation would have total control of seed, including exclusive control of conditioning (cleaning and treating), stocking (bagging or storage), importing, exporting, and sales of seed,” he pointed out. “This upsets thousands of years of normal agricultural practice whereby farmers always saved seed for their next crop.”

“Ritz’s commitment to include the ‘Farmer’s Privilege’ to save and re-use seed is very deceptive and limited,” Boehm emphasized. “Farmer’s Privilege is only an option granted at the behest of a government, which can just as easily remove it.”

“UPOV '91 is another tool to ensure a steady revenue stream for giant seed companies on the backs of ordinary farmers,” Boehm concluded. “With corporations exclusively controlling everything related to seed, farmers lose their autonomy, Canada loses its seed sovereignty and everyone becomes even more dependent on seed corporations whose ultimate goal is to force farmers to buy all their seed every year.” 

NOTE:  The NFU Seed and Trade Committee is undertaking a thorough reading of the Act, and will prepare a detailed analysis of its implications for farmers in the near future.


For more information contact:

Terry Boehm, NFU past president:                 (306) 255-2880 or (306) 255-7638
Jan Slomp, NFU National President:               (403) 843-2068 or (403) 704-4364
Ann Slater, NFU 1st Vice President (Policy):    (519) 349-2448