Saskatchewan, Canada, September 23, 2004:
Some time ago I discussed the Seed Sector Review
in this column. The review looked at the entire production
and regulatory system for the seeds farmers plant. It included
seed growers, plant breeders and private companies involved
in the seed business, but did not make much of an attempt
to involve farmers and farm groups in the discussions.
The Review issued its report in due course. It claimed that
the current system does not sufficiently reward plant breeders
and hence is not fostering enough innovation. It also discussed
the "need" to increase the use of certified seed.
This was seen as the vehicle for getting more money into the
hands of seed growers, seed companies and seed breeders.
While the report claimed that the increased use of certified
seed would mean "more uniform and higher yielding crops"
it presented no evidence to prove this. Rather, it left the
clear impression that the changes it recommended to the system
were largely to benefit seed growers and seed companies.
It appears the government is preparing to implement some
of the changes recommended by the Seed Sector Review. Rumours
are now surfacing from Ottawa that the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency has been given approval from the Minister of Agriculture
to prepare amendments to the Plant Breeders Rights Act. It
is suggested that these amendments will reduce the farmers
right to save seed to a farmers' "privilege" to
save seed for the production of further crops on their own
farms, with the payment of additional royalties.
Farmers are quite aware that now if they buy seed of a protected
plant variety they can save seed from it for their own use.
Prior to Plant Breeders Rights, you could also sell common
seed from a variety you purchased, as long as you did not
identity it by name. Breeders' rights make it illegal to grow
a crop variety so protected, and sell that variety as seed,
without paying any fee demanded by the holder of the right.
The amendments suggested by the rumours mentioned above would
mean farmers would have to pay the seed company in order to
be able to save their own seed. This would drain farmers'
pockets, and would lead to greater use of certified seed since
the benefit of saving your own would decrease. If Saskatchewan
spring wheat growers had to buy certified seed each year,
it would increase their costs by an average of $1,400 per
Of course, this would only be true of protected varieties.
Most new varieties of all crops grown in western Canada, with
the exception of canola, are still developed in public breeding
programs using taxpayers' and farmers' money. The problem
is, unlike in years past, the rights to these publicly developed
varieties are being turned over to private seed companies.
The proposed amendments would allow these companies to reap
a windfall from farmers.
The exception to this is pulse crops in Saskatchewan. The
Saskatchewan Pulse Growers association administers the pulse
checkoff that provides the funding that results in most of
the new pulse varieties that are developed. The Pulse Growers
decided some time ago not to allow varieties developed with
farmers' money to be subject to Plant Breeders Rights. They
did not want farmers to pay repeatedly for what they already
The attack on farmers' rights to save seed have not gone
unnoticed. The Alberta Canola Producers Commission passed
a resolution at their annual general meeting earlier this
year calling on Ottawa to enshrine, in legislation, farmers'
rights to save seed. The resolution demanded that the farmer
right to save seed be explicitly defined and included in the
Plant Breeders Rights Act. Other farm organizations had best
get involved in the debate as well. The government is suggesting
a relatively short consultation period before moving ahead.
© Paul Beingessner, firstname.lastname@example.org
. The author is a columnist, transportation consultant and
third-generation farmer in Truax, Saskatchewan.