National | Media Release

Federal government must ensure fusarium research genetics remain in the public domain, says NFU

(December 19, 2014) – The federal government has issued a call for proposals to transfer and possibly sell off Agriculture Canada cereal crop research and plant breeding germplasm related to the devastating plant disease fusarium.

"The National Farmers Union is deeply distressed by the short-sighted actions of the federal government in cutting support to world renowned programs such as the fusarium research program in Quebec and its letting go of equally renowned scientists, including André Comeau who was leading this fusarium-resistance work,” said Jan Slomp, NFU President.

"Fusarium is a devastating plant disease that, once it infects a crop, can result in toxicity so severe the harvested crop is no longer suitable for human or animal consumption. It is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem throughout the country,” said Matt Gehl, NFU Region 6 (Saskatchewan) board member.

"The work done by public researchers in Quebec working for Agriculture Canada was extremely important to farmers and the Canadian public. Indeed, the resulting material must remain in the public domain, as it was paid for largely by the public, and the research was intended to benefit all of us,” said Terry Boehm, Chair of the NFU Seed and Trade Committee. "Any future fusarium-resistant seed varieties that result from this germplasm should be made available to farmers at minimal cost because widespread use of the seed will deliver huge benefits to the whole Canadian economy.”

"We must remember that Ag Canada seed research and materials such as the germplasm it plans to transfer are built upon thousands of years of plant selection and breeding conducted by farmers. In the last century most of the world’s additional plant-breeding research has been done by publicly financed scientists. Therefore the resulting seed varieties should be made available to benefit us all. They should not end up in the hands of a few giant seed companies to be sold to farmers at exorbitant prices, or worse, withheld so that chemical solutions can be sold instead,” emphasized Boehm.

"We hope that the germplasm of these Ag Canada cereal lines ends up at a public institution that will be able to do the long-term research to develop useful varieties, and that the results will be offered to farmers without becoming tied up in a morass of intellectual property rights issues that has become so common,” added Gehl.

“The federal government has a responsibility to the public that goes beyond simple cost cutting. It should understand that the economy benefits immensely from public research done in the public interest. If the government does not understand this, they jeopardize our long term future,” concluded Slomp.

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For more information:

Jan Slomp, NFU President: (403) 843-2068 or (403) 704-4364

Terry Boehm, Chair, NFU Seed and Trade Committee: (306) 255-2880 cell: (306) 255-7638

Matt Gehl, NFU Region 6 (Saskatchewan) Board Member: (306) 216-6064

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