Seed-saving legislation in under consideration at federal, state levels

International plant genetics treaty takes effect tomorrow

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, July 1, 2004 -- CropChoice news: A groundbreaking new international treaty that validates farmers’ rights to save seeds went into effect June 29. The "International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture" establishes a multilateral system providing public access to seeds and germplasm for much of the world's food supply, as well as fair and equitable sharing of the benefits. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is calling on the Bush Administration to bring the treaty before Congress for ratification.

"Protection of the world’s food supply depends on the broadest possible distribution of seeds,” said Kristin Dawkins, Vice President of International Programs at IATP. “Genetic diversity is the key to healthy crops, and this global program to include farmers in the effort to ensure widespread cross-fertilization through the exchange of seed is vital. It is time for the U.S. to join the rest of the world in protecting farmers rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed.”

Of the 10,000 species that have been used for human food and agriculture, just 12 provide over 70 percent of food, while four -- rice, maize, wheat and potatoes -- make up over 50 percent of the food supply. Farmers around the world, particularly in developing countries, routinely save seeds and view the practice as critical to their survival.

If the U.S. ratified the treaty, it would not give U.S. farmers the right to save seeds. It allows that national laws can supersede the Treaty, and current U.S. law does not protect farmers in this regard. But the treaty does empower other countries to set domestic laws that protect farmers' right to save seeds.

The full treaty can be read at:

CHICAGO, Illinois, June 30, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- OsterDowJones, 06/29/04: A bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, that would allow farmers to save and replant patented seeds is now before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

The Seed and Availability and Competition Act of 2004, which was introduced to the Agriculture subcommittee of Appropriations on Thursday, will decriminalize the act of saving patented seed as the farmer reports the quantity of seed retained and pays an appropriate technology fee to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will then compensate the companies that hold patents on the respective seeds, the Missouri Farmers Union said in a press release.

National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson said traditionally farmers have kept a portion of their seed to replant the next year, according to the release. However, now with the ability to patent life forms, farmers have lost control of their seed stock and are forced to buy seed year after year, he said.

Kaptur's Chief of Staff Roger Szemraj said, "This is just a matter of keeping options available."

Szemraj said Kaptur's office did not have contact with any of the companies. "(This bill) was more of a matter of dealing with the farmers," he said.

Lisa Dry, communications director for Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents the patent companies, said they would not support this bill.

"These farmers choose to buy biocrop seeds ... clearly farmers want access to these seeds," she said citing that 80% of soy, 70% of cotton and 30- 40% of corn is planted with patented seeds.

Dry said the statistics show farmers presently prefer to pay for the patented seed over the non-patented. Tom DeGregori, an economics professor at the University of Houston, said he could see why the businesses would be against this bill.

"They charge a considerable premium (for patented seeds)," he said. "They can because farmers can pay the premium and still more (earnings)."

Missouri state Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, who began introducing seed-saving legislation with the support of Missouri Farmers Union, began introducing a similar bill three years ago, the release said. This year, the bill was killed when Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, refused to send it to committee, the release said.

Kaptur's bill includes legislation that would assess tariffs on imported products from countries that do not levy a comparable technology fee, the release said.

Szemraj said whether the process of seed saving and paying the fee is cheaper than purchasing new patented seeds every year is unknown. It depends on the market, Szemraj said. However, with this bill, farmers would have a choice between the two.

Shoemyer said Kaptur's legislation would also help businesses keep money in their community by cleaning the seed locally.

Similar companion bills were introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives by Rep. George Distel, D-Columbus, and the Ohio Senate by State Sen. Marc Dann, D-Columbus, on Friday, according to the Mount Vernon News.

Recent news and research

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