CFA joins coalition supporting plant breeders’ rights changes

The bill to update Canada’s plant breeders’ rights provisions is before Parliament

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has joined a coalition of farm and seed industry groups supporting controversial changes to plant breeders’ rights.

The CFA wasn’t included in the Partners in Innovation when the coalition was formed last year to support C-18 the Agriculture Growth Act. While it supported the breeders’ provisions, the country’s main farm group was seeking clarifications to other provisions in the legislation before endorsing it. The bill also amends eight other agriculture acts including rules on fertilizers, animal health, plant protection and farm debt mediation. CFA came out in support of the bill before Christmas.

“The legislation strikes a good balance between giving developers the ability to see a return on their investment and research efforts while also preserving the right for farmers to save and condition seed for their own use,” said Ron Bonnett, president of Canadian Federation of Agriculture. “It’s a win-win situation and key to continued growth for the agriculture sector.”

The bill would bring Canada in line with an international convention on plant breeders’ rights and that “will address obstacles that impede the competitiveness of Canadian farmers,” he added. “Accessibility to research is incredibly important to keep our farmers on the forefront — moving forward in the marketplace and maintaining productive harvests.”

When C-18 was introduced last Dec. 9, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said he wanted the bill passed in time for its various provisions to come into effect this Aug. 1.

The bill underwent a few hours of debate on March 3 and nothing has been said about it since. A Ritz spokesman said the government hasn’t decided when debate will resume.

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The Partners coalition, which now has 17 member organizations, is locked in a noisy public debate with the National Farmers Union, several environmental groups and the United Church of Canada, which say the bill will give seed companies unwarranted control over Canadian farmers.

The NFU says the legislation will make “it much more difficult (for farmers) to save and reuse seed forcing them to pay more for seed.” As well, it will jack up seed costs for farmers and “consolidate the power and control of the world’s largest agribusiness corporations over seed, and thus over the Canadian farming and food system.”

The coalition, seed companies and Anthony Parker, the commissioner of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Office at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, insist the legislation won’t burden farmers with higher costs or restrict their rights to save seed from one crop to plant the following year.

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