By Mustafa Eric
Jan Slomp, president of Canada’s National Farmers’ Union was in Bluffton Hall on Thursday, Feb. 13, trying to raise awareness against what he called Harper government’s second major step to wrest power away from farmers to hand to big corporations.
Slomp addressed a meeting of the area farmers to appeal to them to join the campaign against Bill-C-18 under which Harper government will switch allegiance from UPOV 1978 to UPOV 1991, restricting the rights of farmers to save, store, clean and use seeds from their own crop in favor of big agricultural corporations like Monsanto which then will be able to make the farmers pay royalties for the use their own seed.
UPOV is the French acronym for Union Internationale pour la Protection des Obtentions Vegetale (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants), and it is an international convention that establishes rules for recognizing, ensuring and defining intellectual property rights of breeders of new plant varieties.
From “right” to “privilege”
Slomp said in interview that if the government does go ahead and switch commitment form UPOV 1978 to UPOV 1991, the farmers will have their thousands of years old traditional rights to keep seed from their own crop changed into a “privilege” which can be taken away without any legislation or any other legal process, just by a decision of an authority.
According to Slomp, under UPOV 1991, a plant breeder will have not only the right to claim royalties from a farmer for a particular crop for up to 20 years, but the breeder will also be able to dictate the amount of seed a farmer can save for the next season of planting.
Slomp described this change as the second major blow to Canadian farmers after the dismantling of the single desk marketing authority of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The draft legislation which comes as part of an Omnibus Bill, the Agricultural Growth Act will also diminish the function and role of Canada’s public plant breeding system financed by the farmers in the form “check-offs and increase the role of private agricultural corporations and allow them to have a bigger say in what Canadian farmers will be able to grow.
Slomp said if the legislation is passed, farmers would have to pay a lot more for one of their main inputs in their farming operations.
During his presentation to about two dozen farmers at the Bluffton community hall, Slomp made a reference to the case of Schmeiser vs Monsanto case (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto_Canada_Inc._v._Schmeiser) whereby a Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser had to go up to the Supreme Court to defend his case that his field was contaminated with patented seed and that he had not intentionally used the Monsanto-produced canola seed in his 1997 planting season.
Statistics Canada figures show that after the Schmeiser case, commercial seed expenses in the Prairies rose from an annual $150m to $400m.