NFU testifies against Bill C-18 before Senate

“We’re making a call for the public to be aware of what is going on.” Ian Robson, NFU Region 5 coordinator

The National Farmers Union’s (NFU) Seed and Trade Committee recently testified on Bill C-18, known as the Agricultural Growth Act, before the Senate’s Agriculture and Trade Committee which is reviewing the bill’s purported benefits.

NFU Board Chair Terry Boehm appeared as witness at the Senate committee’s hearing on Feb. 3. The NFU has long believed the changes Bill C-18 will have on Canada’s plant breeders’ rights’ will cause a breakdown of democracy and adversely affect farmers.

“Our presentation argued that Bill C-18’s changes to the plant breeders’ rights legislation, making it conform with UPOV ’91, are completely unbalanced,” said Boehm in a press release out of Saskatoon.

During the same hearing, positions stated by international plant breeders’ rights experts Pat Mooney of ECT Group and Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN, both reiterated Boehm’s opinion.

“Bill C-18 is not about fostering innovation. It is about giving the plant breeders powerful tools to extract wealth from farmers through the control of seeds,” Boehm continued in the release.

NFU Region 5 (Manitoba) Co-ordinator Ian Robson, who is also quoted in the NFU press release, believes, with Bill C-18, the government is rescinding its promise to continue public plant breeding.

In an interview with Ponoka News, Robson said the public would turn crop research over for patented royalty.

“We’re making a call for the public to be aware of what is going on,” said Robson. “The public has to assess if that’s a good thing.”

In the past, huge innovations have been accomplished by public plant breeding, says Robson. With Bill C-18 the government is discrediting that work.

“It almost looks like the public is going to turn that work over to private companies,” said Robson. He deems the chance of international private companies spending a great focus to develop seeds that can withstand Canada’s environment to be slim.

“It’s completely possible for Canada to reject UPOV ’91 and go our own way,” said Robson.

He feels Canada’s government is misguided in its view of the changes effects and is rushing with the bill.

“I guess Canadians can put a bunch of pressure on the Senate to send it back to the House of Commons,” said Robson. Another option is for the Senate to turn down the bill.

“Democracy is supposed to be in the hands of the people,” said Robson. “Democracy depends on a confident news system to inform the public and it (democracy) depends on the public.”