National | Opinion

Seeds Canada amalgamation plan sidelines independent seed growers

In 2018, five seed industry groups collaborating under the name Seed Synergy published a White Paper, setting out their vision to increase seed companies’ revenues and cut their own costs at the expense of farmers, public plant breeders, and consumers. They aim to change Canada’s seed regulatory system to prevent farmers from freely using their own seed, ensure agribusiness corporations control seed breeding, and replace public-interest quality control measures with “buyer beware” mechanisms. The proposed Seeds Canada mega-group is a means to this end.

Leaders of the Seed Synergy groups — the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA); Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA); Canadian Seed Institute (CSI); Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada (CSAAC); and the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA) – propose to create Seeds Canada by combining the five organizations’ regulatory, service and lobbying functions under a new governance structure. From July 15 until August 27, 2020 they are asking their respective members to vote yes or no to dissolving the individual organizations and rolling over their functions into this new entity. The change requires support of a two-thirds majority in each of the five organizations.

Farmers who are pedigreed seed growers and members of one of the provincial seed growers associations can vote for or against this amalgamation. The outcome will have an enormous impact on the future of independent seed growers and our seed system. Seed growers need to take a close look at the proposal’s details and consider how the changes would affect their future, and future of the farmers who are their customers.

The amalgamation proposal will transfer regulatory powers to Seeds Canada. For decades, the CSGA has been responsible for enforcing government regulations for pedigreed seed production under the Seeds Act, Canada’s original consumer protection legislation, which was designed to protect farmers from unscrupulous seed sellers. The proposed Seeds Canada structure would give the seed corporations on its Board legal authority over delivery and enforcement of these and other seed-related regulations. The choice of name, Seeds Canada, appears intended to enhance its legitimacy by encouraging the assumption that it is a government agency like Health Canada.Seeds Canada’s proposed bylaws outline the new organization’s membership types, voting rights and board composition. Its structure would sideline seed growers nationally and provincially while promoting seed industry corporations. Seed growers and grain farmers would suffer the most if this comes to pass.

The 15 appointees to Seeds Canada’s first Board of Directors would include at least one member from each of the seven Regional Seed Associations and at least four from the “value chain” representing seed developers, growers, seed trade and seed testing – companies that make money from seed at any point in the system, such as Bayer, Cargill, BASF, Limagrain, Syngenta, Pioneer and Corteva. Future elections will reduce the board size to 11 and allow these “value chain” representatives to take any unfilled regional seed association spots.

To maintain voting rights in Seeds Canada, provincial seed growers’ associations would have to restructure their membership criteria within three years to include “value chain representatives” and to remove any requirements that make membership mandatory for pedigreed seed growers. These conditions would mean provincial associations would no longer represent all their province’s seed growers, and that other, non-farming seed businesses would become voting members.

In the proposed Seeds Canada structure, only members that are businesses deriving revenue from the seed sector would be entitled to vote, and there would be one vote per membership. Provincial seed growers’ associations would get one vote per association. Membership in Seeds Canada would be voluntary, and membership fees will rise within a few years. Higher fees would be another barrier to independent seed growers’ participation, further minimizing their voices.

If the amalgamation goes ahead, Seeds Canada will demand immediate change to seed-related laws and regulations through its permanent Public Affairs and Advocacy Committee when the planned Seeds Act Regulations review takes place. CropLife Canada, the lobby group for the biotech and pesticide industry, would be on this advocacy committee through a formal agreement with Seeds Canada.

Canada’s agriculture is seed-based, and farmers are greatly concerned about the proposed changes.

No one can deny the importance of seed – not only to farmers and agriculture, but also to food security and society at large. The Seed Synergy groups are positioning themselves to not only influence, but replace the public regulator. The implications of our seed system being controlled by agri-business corporations are serious. If Seed Synergy’s amalgamation plans succeed, the independent seed grower will soon be a thing of the past, and democratically accountable public regulation process will be turned inside out, with self-interested corporations regulating farmers instead.

By Cathy Holtslander, NFU Director of Research and Policy