The push of omnibus agricultural Bill C-18 into reality will dissolve Canada’s current state of the industry as it stands into one where farmers, the backbone and producers of the industry, have less rights and control over the aspects of their own livelihood, according to National Farmers Union President Jan Slomp, who recently met with a group of farmers from Ponoka County to explain to them how the bill would affect their operations.
First, from the bill will stem a fast track approval for foreign organizations to import fertilizers, chemicals or seeds without Canadian entities issuing the present level of resources to ensure its safety, the NFU president says.
Secondly, the bill will also allow advance payment given to farmers for crops in bin. Slomp fears this payment system will lead to land grabbing on Canadian soil by foreign entities seeking the same advance payments.
Thirdly, Bill C-18 will restrict famer’s abilities to save seeds and deliver the rights to the seeds to the private sector and the Plant Breeders Rights (PBR), which is an act, a form of intellectual property rights, designed to provide legal protection to plant breeders and their varieties.
The amendments the bill is proposing to PBR would mean farmers would no longer be allowed to produce, reproduce or condition the seeds to be used on their own holdings.
Historically, farmers have always had the right to reseed but Bill C-18 would downgrade that right to a privilege, which could be revoked by Parliament at any time.
“Now we have to rely on the holder of the Plant Breeders Rights to give us that privilege,” said Slomp.
“It’s completely useless,” he added.
Slomp says for the last 14,000 years it’s been farmers who have been developing seed varieties and under the Principle of Farmers Seed Act, they were given unrestricted right to save, clean, condition, store and sell their seed.
He also fears Bill C-18 will hamper the sustainability of the seed industry’s future because it limits the scope of variety as well as hardiness and health of the seed exposed to Canada’s climates, weather and growing season. More importance will be placed on seeds developed and owned by the private sector, as well as those imported, which are feared to have a lower yield rate as there’s more of a chance they won’t be acclimatized.
This new system would also introduce point end royalty collection in Canada for the first time, meaning when farmers are ready to sell, they would have to make a payment to the PBR owners.
These royalties would have to be continually paid on an annual basis, which is what concerns Slomp. In the case farmers couldn’t afford the royalties, it’s ruled that the PBR owners can claim machinery and immovable assets.
Bill C-18 could cause seed costs to further rise and will extend royalties up to 20 years on a variety. “As soon as farmers pay end point royalties, farmers will no longer save seed. When that is a reality we’ll see costs go up,” said Slomp.
“We are really getting nothing for giving up a lot,” said Slomp.
The rights being taken away from the public sector and given to the private sector will remain to be funded by the public and allow what Slomp is calling “double dipping” into the pockets of farmers.
Along with the end point royalties, farmers already pay a levy to the public sector, which wouldn’t be dropped because the public sector will still be wanted to carry variety seed development for the first 6 years of the seed before being scooped by the private sector to claim as their own, says Slomp.
“No politician has grasped all of these different aspects in one vote. It’s insane. It should be considered undemocratic,” said Slomp.
“This is not a democracy. It’s very sad that we have so little room for intelligence and we have our whole future hanging up on these false ideologies,” added former NDP candidate Doug Hart.
When asked about potential benefits of the bill, Slomp said the minister will claim it will open up Canada’s access to foreign varieties. However, he feels if public breeding was properly funded foreign varieties wouldn’t be needed.