Editor (Commentary): (This is a response from Farmers in Innovation to Randall Affleck’s commentary published in the Guardian April 7 regarding Bill C-18.)
It is very important that Canadian farmers and Canadians in general are presented with clear facts about the pending Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, and the amendments to Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights. This is why we feel it necessary to address several inaccuracies and factually incorrect statements in the opinion piece by Mr. Affleck which was recently published in your publication.
Partners in Innovation, a coalition of farm organizations, value chain and industry associations, have come together in support of updating Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) legislation. Within the Agricultural Growth Act there are amendments which will enable a more certain environment for both public and private sector plant breeders. It will give plant breeders the confidence and ability to invest in developing improved seed varieties here, and it will also give international breeders the confidence to provide their advanced varieties to Canadian farmers.
Bill C-18 will actually bring Canada’s outdated legislation into compliance with an agreement which was signed in 1992. Two public sector Plant Breeders: Dr. Keith Downey, AAFC and Dr. Bryan Harvey, University of Saskatchewan, recently published a joint article explaining how the legislation will help public sector breeding going forward and how up till now, Canada has actually been falling out of step on research. The scientists explain, “Canada is a late adopter and has been long out of step with our major trading partners and competitors (U.S., EU, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Russia) as well as many smaller and developing nations.”
Access to new seed varieties will in fact give Atlantic producers new options in dealing with unique agronomic challenges such as Fusarium, a fungal disease that can seriously affect yield and quality. P.E.I. farmers will be all too familiar with this disease. Going forward, this will help Canadian farmers stay competitive; giving them increased access to these varieties which offer higher yields and better agronomics.
Some quick facts on Plant Breeders’ Rights and the Bill C-18 amendments include:
1. Plant Breeders’ Rights are not patents - Unlike patents, Plant Breeders’ Rights that comply with the UPOV Convention of 1991 make it mandatory for breeders to allow the use of their protected varieties for experimental (research) purposes and for the development of new varieties. Also unlike patents, Plant Breeders’ Rights in Canada allow farm saved seed.
2. Plant Breeders’ Rights are Voluntary – Breeders, both private and public, are not required to protect their inventions with Plant Breeders’ Rights. It is an intellectual property tool that can be used completely at the discretion of the breeder. In addition, farmers can choose not to use PBR protected varieties.
3. Not Only the Private Sector Uses Plant Breeders’ Rights – 45 per cent of all of the agricultural varieties protected under PBR were developed at public institutions and receive royalties on seed sales. Universities, provincial research facilities, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) have received royalties from private organizations to help fund their plant breeding programs.
4. Plant Breeders Rights allows farmers to save seed — Canada’s Plant Breeders Rights legislation has always allowed, and will continue to allow, farmers to save the product of protected varieties for their own use. Under the proposed amendments, they can produce it, reproduce it, store it and condition it for use as seed on their own farms.
5. The sale of farm saved seed has always been illegal - Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation has never allowed for the sale of farm saved seed. Selling seed of a protected variety contravenes every convention of UPOV, and is a clear contravention of both the current Plant Breeders Rights Act and the amended legislation that will result from Bill C-18.
The Commissioner of Plant Breeders’ Rights Anthony Parker was recently quoted in the media: “debunking myths around Canada’s UPOV 91 legislation.” In his comments he explained, “There’s this notion out there that this is a zero sum proposition – if breeders gain more rights than farmers must lose rights. That is not the case. It is truly a win-win situation.
Stronger breeders’ rights result in more farmer benefits.”
For more information regarding the proposed amendments to Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation, visit: www.partnersininnovation.ca
- Farmers in Innovation is a broad coalition of 13 farm organizations, representing the majority of farmers in Canada, including its most recent member, the Atlantic Grains Council. These groups formed the partnership to support amendments to Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) legislation.