Seed Syn­ergy: the back story of plant breed­ers

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Agriculture - BY CAM GOFF NA­TIONAL FARM­ERS UNION

Over the last two months farm­ers have be­come aware of an omi­nous drive, co­or­di­nated by el­e­ments of Canada’s seed in­dus­try and fi­nan­cially aided by our fed­eral gov­ern­ment, that is at­tempt­ing to elim­i­nate our right to freely save and re­use our own seed.

This story ac­tu­ally be­gins in 1990 when the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment adopted the UPOV ‘78 model law for Plant Breed­ers Rights de­spite warn­ings that it could lead to pri­vate in­dus­try’s con­trol over the foun­da­tion of all agri­cul­ture: seed and all other prop­a­gat­ing ma­te­rial. (UPOV stands for the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Pro­tec­tion of New Va­ri­eties of Plants)

In 2015, Canada adopted UPOV 91. This up­dated con­ven­tion pre­scribes far greater pow­ers for al­low­ing cor­po­ra­tions to con­trol and profit from the seeds that form the ba­sis of our food sys­tem.

It also trans­formed the right of farm­ers to save and re­use seeds into a priv­i­lege -- one that could be re­moved or al­tered by reg­u­la­tion at the whim of gov­ern­ment.

This led to an im­me­di­ate and on­go­ing cam­paign by el­e­ments of Canada’s seed in­dus­try to push for reg­u­la­tions to al­low them to seize con­trol of our seed net­work and elim­i­nate farm­ers’ his­toric co­op­er­a­tion and sovereignty over their use of seed.

This cam­paign by cor­po­rate seed in­dus­try lobby groups has been ti­tled “Seed Syn­ergy” and is be­ing sup­ported by Agri­cul­ture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) to the tune of nearly $500,000 in Grow­ing For­ward 2 money.

In the first stage of their cam­paign, the Seed Syn­ergy group claimed they were sim­ply try­ing to stream­line the process by which va­ri­eties of grain were reg­is­tered in Canada, elim­i­nat­ing du­pli­ca­tion and mak­ing the process faster, eas­ier, and less costly for them. Oh, and by the way, pos­si­bly re­plac­ing the ba­sic pub­lic plant breed­ing sys­tem that Canada has suc­cess­fully op­er­ated un­der for the past cen­tury.

Well, time moves on, and plans change. Now, two years later, their mes­sage is no longer about stream­lin­ing the va­ri­etal reg­is­tra­tion process – they now in­sist that our pub­lic plant breed­ing sys­tem is “bro­ken” (their words) and must be re­placed. It is no sur­prise that they rec­om­mend re­plac­ing it with a sys­tem that would al­low the own­er­ship, con­trol, and dom­i­na­tion of our seed sup­ply by any com­pany at any price they are able to charge. Any re­main­ing pub­lic com­po­nent -- paid for by tax­pay­ers and farm­ers of course -would be rel­e­gated to the heavy lift­ing and back­ground sci­ence, which would then be turned over to the com­pa­nies to charge farm­ers for the fin­ished prod­uct.

And what will that cost us? It turns out that no one has done any real cost anal­y­sis, so in terms of dol­lars, no one knows. But Seed Syn­ergy and AAFC both call this whole idea “Value Cre­ation”, so some­body must be go­ing to make some money off of this.

On ex­am­i­na­tion of the self-serv­ing jus­ti­fi­ca­tions be­ing of­fered by the spon­sor­ing par­ties, it ap­pears that no value will be cre­ated for ei­ther farm­ers or tax­pay­ers, but that value cer­tainly will be cap­tured by the seed com­pa­nies. As for who that value is ex­tracted from -- it will in­evitably come from farm­ers.

For­tu­nately, this story is far from over, and its end­ing has not yet been writ­ten. Farm­ers must now take all avail­able op­por­tu­ni­ties, whether at farm shows, com­mod­ity group meet­ings or the AAFC con­sul­ta­tion process, to en­sure farm­ers’ right to save and use their own seed is up­held. Cam Goff, Na­tional Farm­ers Union 1st Vice Pres­i­dent (Pol­icy)

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