Saskatchewan, Canada, December 17, 2004:
The cat is out of the bag as far as Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is concerned. The department's plans
to cut research into crop varieties and agronomy and turn
that type of research over to the private sector has created
a furor in farm circles, and across the prairies. Denials
are quick to come, with AAFC ordering its spokespersons to
say that no decisions have been made.
Unfortunately for the spin-doctors at AAFC, the slide show
they went around presenting to their own department is now
floating around in public. It clearly says the federal government
is planning to discontinue crop varietal development. This
is what it said: "Over the next decade, AAFC will shift
funding from lower to higher priority by discontinuing research
programs through normal attrition. For example: Plant breeding
- discontinue crop variety development research." Sounds
an awful lot like a decision to me.
AAFC also made it clear that it sees the future as consisting
of partnerships with industry. Even scientists paid by AAFC
might find themselves working in (and for the benefit of)
a private company. AAFC blames this situation partly on the
deteriorating state of its research facilities. It ranks two
of these on the prairies, at Swift Current and Winnipeg, as
being in poor condition - "Building is beyond its critical
The AAFC slide show also makes it clear there will be fewer
research scientists on the government payroll - 500 compared
to the present 600, with only 350 of these working directly
in AAFC facilities.
While it is contemplating this, AAFC confirmed that it supplied
47 percent of all agriculture research and development money
in 2000, with all Canadian governments accounting for 83 percent
of agriculture research and development.
Let's be clear. AAFC does intend to do this. Now it is just
reacting to a furor it no doubt expected to eventually come.
It is very important that farmers don't miss the connection
between this news leaking from AAFC and the changes being
proposed to Plant Breeders Rights. One of those would eliminate
the sale of "common" seed. Another would allow seed
companies to claim both Plant Breeders Rights and patent protection
for a variety, thus strengthening the hammerlock the company
has over the variety.
Along with these measures will come AAFC's plan to limit
itself to "genetic enhancement" and then turn this
basic research over to the Monsantos and Cargills of the world
so they can finish off the variety and claim sole and complete
ownership of it. They will then tie up the use of new varieties
in contracts that prohibit seed saving and demand a royalty
on every seed planted.
Many farmers are distraught over this attempt to wrench yet
more dollars out of their pockets. In the criticism leveled
at the Seed Sector Review, the industry task force that pushed
for greater powers for seed companies, farmers clearly have
said they want the right to save seed.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) says it wants
that too. "We have always advocated for a balance of
farmers' and breeders' rights under the legislation,"
said Bill Leask, executive vp for CSTA. This is in contrast
to Mr. Leask's earlier quoted statement where he said farmers
never had such a right.
Farmers need to read between the lines. A guarantee of a
farmers' "privilege" will mean nothing in the future
AAFC envisions. When all varieties are produced by private
companies and protected by PBRs, those companies will make
farmers sign contracts saying they will not save their own
seed, and will pay a royalty on every seed they sow. It will
be just like it is with the new Hard White Spring Wheats or
Navigator durum. The CSTA would like you to believe the changes
to the act will actually benefit farmers.
What this is really all about is taking public money now
put into producing new varieties, and turning it over to the
private sector by giving them the basic research. Then private
companies will dip into your pocket for every seed you plant.
Quite simply, it is about the privatization of a resource
that has been public for 15,000 years.
Just how much more of this does the government think we can
© Paul Beingessner, email@example.com
. The author is a columnist, transportation consultant and
third-generation farmer in Truax, Saskatchewan.