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Profile: Seed Sector Review
Seed Sector Review was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Seed Sector Review, an industry-led initiative to restructure Canada’s seed and grain quality assurance systems (see (July 2003)), releases its phase one final report. [Inter Press Service, 10/5/2004; Natural Life, 1/2005] The report, titled Report of the Seed Sector Advisory Committee, includes several recommendations:
The report expresses the view that the farmer’s “privilege” of saving and replanting seeds discourages private sector investment and makes it difficult for companies to “recoup” their investments. The report suggests developing a new system of relations between the farmer and the seed companies that would be more “equitable.” Such a method would “involve examining the balance between farmer’s privilege and breeders’ rights.” One possible solution would be to collect royalties on seed saved by farmers. “Suggestions were made that royalties could be collected through elevators or seed processors or through CWB contract programs,” the report says. [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 33 ]
The report notes that many participants of the Seed Sector Review would prefer that farmers be required to use certified seed. It cites several reasons why this would be desirable, including “improved intellectual property protection (and royalty collection), which would in turn support (fund) more research”; “a healthier seed grower and trade industry”; “more private sector involvement in Western Canada cereal breeding”; “elimination of the controversial brown bag market for sales of common seed”; “improved agricultural practices”; “improved confidence for quality assurance in the value chain”; and “increased profitability for the higher generation seed production and variety developers.” The report suggests several strategies that could be employed to compel farmers to buy certified seeds. Among those listed are “link crop insurance premiums with use of certified seed”; “increase the perceived value of certified seed”; collect royalties; “require specific standards on common seed” that would make it more costly for farmers to sell their own seed; and limit “the number of generations produced from certified seed,” which the reports notes would also result in common seed becoming “too expensive, making certified seed more economical.”
[Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 42 ]
The report notes that participants in the review would like to see the current wheat quality system, based on kernel visual distinguishability (KVD), replaced with a new system. They complain that KVD is a “stumbling block to innovation.” Several suggestions for an alternative system are made in the report. The report acknowledges that moving to a new system would be costly and suggests that this should be paid in part with public funds. “There should be some level of public investment in its development and implementation to support the competitive position of Canadian exports.” According to Canada’s National Farmers Union (NFU), the alternative systems suggested in the document “would increase farmers’ costs for administration, testing, segregation, identity preservation, dispute settlement, and transport costs.”
[Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 41 ]
The report considers the advantages that seed producers would have if Canada were to make its Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) Act compliant with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Convention (UPOV) of 1991 (see March 19, 1991). The 1991 UPOV is much more restrictive for farmers than the 1978 UPOV, upon which Canada’s PBR Act is currently based. Adopting the 1991 UPOV for the PBR’s framework would, among other things, lengthen plant breeders’ protection and royalty periods from 15 years to 20 years; take away farmers’ automatic right—protected in UPOV ‘78—to save, re-use, and sell seed (which is referred to as the “Farmers’ Exemption” in the UPOV Convention) [National Farmers Union, 5/13/2004, pp. 3-4 ] ; create “a cascade right to extend PBR to harvested material and end products in crops where breeders did not have the opportunity to exercise his [sic] rights on propagating material” (The seed companies would need this change in order to collect royalties at elevators and seed cleaning facilities); and pave the way for seed companies to patent seed already protected under the Plant Breeders Rights Act. The report notes that participants in the review were highly supportive of the proposal to adopt the 1991 UPOV (see March 19, 1991). “[T]his change should be made as soon as possible.”
[Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 32-34 ]
Reaction - The Seed Sector Review is not well received in the farming community. The Sakatoon-based National Farmers Union launches a “seed saver” campaign to rally farmers against the seed industry’s proposed changes. The farmers see the review’s recommendations as an effort to further privatize the commons, and to increase corporate profits at the expense of growers. Most of their fury is focused on changes that would compel farmers to purchase certified seed by making it more difficult to save, trade, and replant their own seeds. “There’s lots of seed trading among farmers here. We rarely buy certified seed for cereals. It’s rarely better seed and just not necessary,” says Paul Beingessner, a third-generation grain and livestock farmer from Saskatchewan. Beingessner calculates that if the recommendations were implemented, the average Canadian farm’s expenses would increase by $1,400 CAD. “It’s a money grab, pure and simple,” Beingessner says. Pat Mooney of the ETC Group, a Canadian civil society organization, says the Seed Sector Review contradicts the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (see November 3, 2001), which came into force in June (see June 29, 2004). That treaty reaffirmed farmers’ rights to save, trade, and replant seed. Canada ratified the treaty on October 6, 2002. [Inter Press Service, 10/5/2004]
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