Afew very large seed corporations led by Monsanto have too much power over farmers, according to retiring National Farmers Union (NFU) president Stewart Wells.
“With the rapid changes the seed companies are making to the system – seed registration, patent protection, seed contracts and inter-company seed agreements – Monsanto and the seed trade will quickly be able to decide who farms in the conventional system and who doesn’t farm in Canada,” Wells told the NFU’s 40th annual meeting here Nov. 26.
Monsanto recently announced under its “violator exclusion” policy farmers convicted of stealing its patented technology won’t be allowed to buy Monsanto products “now and in the future.”
Wells said Monsanto’s policy has serious ramifications since the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled farmers can be held liable for infringing on patented traits no matter how they got on their farms.
“They (seed companies) could all agree… to honour each other’s blacklist, so you can see that Monsanto and the other seed companies are millimetres away from deciding who will farm in Canada and who won’t in a conventional system,” he said.
Monsanto spokesperson Trish Jordon says most farmers don’t have to worry because they aren’t stealing Monsanto’s technology. The company says it will help farmers remove itinerant crops containing its traits.
Jordan also says Monsanto’s violator exclusion policy is not a lifetime ban. It is subject to review on a case-by-case basis and could be lifted for individuals who demonstrate their willingness to work with the company.
Wells condemned the federal government for seed industry concentration and for changing regulations to give the companies more market power. Farmers have fewer cropping choices because companies are deregistering varieties farmers grow to save seed for future crops, while introducing others where farmers must buy new seed each year because of patents or contracts.
Concentration is a problem with other firms that sell inputs to farmers, Wells said later in an interview. “At every turn that (market) power is used to extract more money from farmers,” he said.
The Canadian government is pushing competition and competitiveness, rather than cooperation, solidarity, compassion and respect, Wells said. He noted farm debt has ballooned to $60 billion, which is equal to Canada’s budget deficit. Based on annual net farm income of $125 million a year for Canada’s 200,000 farmers, excluding government subsidies and off-farm income, it will take 480 years just to pay the principal, Wells said. Meanwhile, banks continue to lend farmers money. The situation is similar, he said, to the housing bubble, which burst last year in the United States, triggering a global recession.
When the Conservative government placed a gag order on the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) preventing it from defending its single-desk marketing powers even though the policy is endorsed by the CWB’s board of directors, it was a signal that no Canadian is safe from this government’s domination, Wells said.
Wells, who stepped down as NFU president after eight years, said he’ll continue to work for cooperation, solidarity, compassion and respect. “This is why I can say that my head, my heart and my wallet are always going to remain with the farmers’ union – the National Farmers Union.”
Wells, who farms near Swift Current, Sask. and has a degree in engineering, said in an interview he has concrete plans for future public involvement. [email protected]