Legislation updating plant breeders’ rights will be amended to make it absolutely clear that farmers can save and replant seeds from crops they have grown, says Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
It was one of several amendments the government plans for the Agriculture Growth Act, which was forced through second reading in the Commons in June. It had been introduced last December but languished on the order paper until March. The government finally made it a priority item just before the summer recess. Hearings on it by the Commons agriculture committee began Oct. 7. The government wants it passed before the next crop year.
While the existing legislation allows so-called farmer privilege, the government decided to write it “in more farmer-friendly language” to remove any doubt, he said. The only thing producers won’t be able to do is resell the seeds to other farmers for planting.
Farm group support
A coalition representing most farm groups including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Grain Growers of Canada supports the bill. However, the National Farmers Union and environment groups have complained it would prevent farmers from saving seeds from a crop for planting and would subject them to costly challenges from multinational seed companies.
The amendment will also bring Canada up to the terms of the International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties, which sets rules for plant breeders’ rights, patent-like protection for the developers of new varieties or strains of crops, Ritz said. About 90 countries are signatories to UPOV 91. By joining them, Canada is expected to gain access to promising varieties developed in other countries.
The government will also change provisions of its Administrative Monetary Penalties Act to make it easier to crack down on imports that violate food safety rules, he said. As well, companies will be able to appeal the penalties to the Canadian Agriculture Review Tribunal.
Legislation is also being amended to designate one organization to handle all advance payment applications for producers, rather than having different commodity groups handle them. “Farmers will be treated more like customers and there will be more flexibility in dealing with requests.”
The program allows producers to get a loan based on the value of crop they have in storage on their farm so they have more marketing flexibility. The loan is repaid when the grain is sold.
Ritz said the government doesn’t intend to increase the advance payment maximum because that’s sufficient for most farmers. “Only six per cent of farmers need more than $400,000 and they have other sources of financing.” He added that the government still refuses to support Ontario’s revenue protection program because it would be countervailable.
CFA and GGC along with 16 other farm groups are members of the Partners in Innovation. It says the bill would bring Canada “in line with the rest of the world; opening opportunities for plant breeders in Canada and outside of our borders to deliver superior varieties to Canadian farmers.”
The protection of intellectual property is important to generate funds for investment in further plant breeding and research, the coalition adds. The greatest impact on farmers from amended PBR legislation will be access to new genetics and improved crop varieties that will increase productivity, deliver higher yields, and open more market opportunities for farm production.