AN OPEN LETTER TO SARM - Lobbying the Provincial Government about UPOV ‘91

June 19, 2014
 
David Marit, President
Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM)
200 - 2221 Cornwall Street
Regina, SK   S4P 2L1                                                                                                                                                                                                                        E-mail: dmarit@sasktel.net
 
Dear Mr. Marit,
 
RE: AN OPEN LETTER TO SARM - Lobbying the Provincial Government about UPOV ‘91
 
It has come to our attention that on April 23, SARM sent out a letter to all reeves, councillors and administrators that contained a statement from Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture promoting UPOV ’91 and Bill C-18. Yet at the February 2014 SARM Annual Convention delegates voted strongly in favour of adopting the following resolution opposed to Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act:
 
Resolution No. 12 – 14A
RM of Emerald No. 277
UPOV’91
 
WHEREAS the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada plans to pass Bill C-18 allowing Canada to sign on to UPOV ’91  by August 2014 which will increase plant seed developers’ rights (making them similar to having patents on seed); and
WHEREAS passage of this Bill will prohibit farmers from growing, saving and cleaning their own seed for replanting without the express permission from the Plant Breeder; and
WHEREAS companies will have a “cascading right” which will allow them to demand payment of “end-point royalties” on the whole crop, including each cut of hay, instead of just on newly purchased seed; and
WHEREAS adoption of UPOV’91 will reduce the freedom and rights of Canadian farmers, increase production costs, lower income margins and hurt farmer independence;
BE IT RESOLVED that SARM lobby the Provincial Government to use their influence with the Federal Government to remove this section from the Agriculture Growth Act.
 
It appears that instead of lobbying the Provincial Government as directed by your members, SARM has instead allowed itself to be lobbied.
 
The government’s statement on C-18 that you circulated not only took the opposite position on the issue, but it contained erroneous and misleading statements about the Bill. Like SARM members, the National Farmers Union opposes UPOV ‘91. Our organization has carefully read the whole Bill and analysed its implications in the context of the UPOV system, proposed trade agreements and Canada’s existing laws and regulations regarding seed.
 
In contrast to what the provincial government states, if Bill C-18 passes there will be negative consequences for farmers regardless of how they obtain their seed. C-18 would result in increased seed costs due to higher royalties on more varieties. In addition, it provides an incentive for seed companies to deregister varieties currently in the public domain (i.e. royalty-free), reducing farmers’ choice of seed and pushing them to use more expensive seed protected by Plant Breeders’ Rights instead.
 
Bill C-18 does not include storing (stocking) seed in the Farmers’ Privilege clause, so farmers who keep part of their crop as seed for future use could end up being sued if a seed company decides it is a violation of its exclusive rights. Anthony Parker, Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Commissioner, has stated that Farmers’ Privilege is limited by 'reasonable use' – undefined so far -- and that “saving seed is not an absolute right." In fact, Bill C-18 would create a mechanism to take away farmers’ ability to use farm-saved seed by allowing the federal government to restrict or eliminate the Farmers’ Privilege just by passing regulations.
 
Bill C-18 would enable End Point Royalty provisions, a “cascading right” that permits collection of royalties on the whole crop instead of just the seed. This would include the right to collect royalties on every cut of hay if PBR-protected forage seed was planted. If C-18 passes, it is highly likely that such a lucrative revenue source would soon be developed for the benefit of seed companies.
 
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture information that SARM circulated holds out the promise of improved varieties, but that is no more than a promise – UPOV ’91 says nothing about innovation. The reality of Bill C-18 is that seed companies will gain effective tools to make a lot more money off farmers while farmers will end up with higher costs and fewer rights, be faced with risks due to potential lawsuits and fewer seed choices as royalty-free seed is increasingly deregistered.
 
We urge SARM to be true to the democratic will of its membership and stand up for farmers. The NFU has many resources to help Saskatchewan’s rural residents better understand Bill C-18 and related issues regarding seed rights. The NFU has also proposed an alternative model that outlines what farmers need in seed legislation. These resources are available at www.nfu.caor by faxing a request for information to (306) 664-6226.
 
 
Sincerely,
 
[original signed by:]
 
Ed Sagan
NFU Region 6 (Saskatchewan) Regional Coordinator