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Election 2015: Talking about seed and trade

NFU | 21 September 2015

Election 2015: Talking about seed and trade

During the federal election campaign, voters have the opportunity to speak with local candidates about agriculture, farming and food. The National Farmers Union is compiling a series of short summaries of critical issues as resources for your conversations. Click here for a printable PDF version of this summary.

Seed and Trade

Recognizing the Inherent Rights of Farmers to Save Seed and Putting the Interest of Canada’s Food and Farmers Ahead of Corporate Interests: Election Messages and Questions for Candidates from the National Farmers Union Seed and Trade Committee

Canada should enact a Seed Act for Farmers based on the NFU’s Fundamental Principles of a Farmers Seed Act, which recognizes the inherent rights of farmers — derived from thousands of years of custom and tradition—to save, reuse, select, exchange, and sell seeds. Seeds must be recognized as a creation of nature, not intellectual property created, owned and controlled by multinational seed corporations. Current and proposed restrictions on farmers’ traditional practices criminalize these ancient practices and harm farmers, citizens, and society in general. A Farmers’ Seed Act would only allow plant breeders to claim royalties at the time of seed sale, it would ensure new varieties eventually enter the public domain, it would provide for a variety registration system that protects farmers and our food system, and it would prohibit the use of patents on seed.

Canada should restore full funding to public sector plant breeding. For over a century, Canada’s efficient and effective public sector plant breeding system has produced numerous crop varieties to the benefit of Canadians, including canola and our most important cereal varieties. Most wheat varieties currently grown in western Canada were developed by public breeding programs and most of the wheat seed planted in western Canada is farm-saved. The federal government has closed Agriculture Canada research centres and cut public breeding programs and stopped public funding to the variety level in important cereal crops. As a result, seed companies will now decide which new varieties will be commercialized and they will reap additional profits from royalty payments, enabled with the passing of Bill C-18.

Canada should not ratify the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) or participate in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations because these agreements are not about trade. Instead they are anti-democratic agreements designed to promote the economic interests of global corporations at the expense of Canadian people, Canada’s environment and small businesses.

 CETA would make it much more difficult for local governments, schools, hospitals and prisons to use local procurement policies to develop the local food system. Many communities want to support their local farmers by providing assured markets for their products, particularly for perishable foods such as fruit and vegetables. Local public purchasing contracts are an effective tool, but above certain thresholds CETA would take those options away.
 CETA adds another four percent of Canada’s cheese market to European companies, bringing their share up to nine percent. The federal government knows that millions of dollars will flow to these companies instead of to Canadian farmers and cheese producers as a result of CETA and said it would use public money to compensate the dairy sector for the lost market. In effect, the federal government plans to use taxpayer money to paper over its own destruction of an important part of Canada’s food system. In January, 2015 the federal government indicated it would back away from a similar promise to help Newfoundland and Labrador deal with the loss of fish processing jobs that will occur if CETA goes through. Canada should not make trade deals that cause such damage to important sectors of our food economy.
 CETA includes draconian measures to enforce intellectual property rights. For examples, CETA will require Canada to give the courts the power to seize property and bank accounts when infringement, such as patent or plant breeder’s rights infringement, is alleged – before proving it has actually occurred. The new Plant Breeders Rights enacted under Bill C-18, “The Agricultural Growth Act”, expands the intellectual property rights over seed that agribusiness companies can claim against farmers.
 The Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism in CETA allows corporations to sue governments if they believe a change in a law or regulation would reduce their ability to make a profit. Many laws recently passed allow corporations to avoid responsibility for their actions, to offload their costs onto the ecosystem and future generations and to take advantage of people, such as individual farmers, who have less power in the marketplace. If CETA is adopted, these unjust laws will be locked in. It is profoundly undemocratic to tie the hands of future governments in this way.
 CETA offers Canadian farmers flawed business logic. As an example, CETA is being promoted to Canadian pork producers. However, Europe exports more pork than Canada produces and the EU prohibits pork produced with ractopamine. Canada is able to export up to 7000 tonnes of pork to the EU tariff-free. In 2013, Canada only exported 100 tonnes of pork to the EU. If CETA leads to an overproduction of pork and thus a drop in prices, will the public be asked to subsidize the pork industry to maintain these export markets under trade agreements?
 CETA and other trade agreements accelerate climate change and climate variability by promoting carbon emissions as they perpetually seek new export markets which require will require fleets of carbon-emission generating transportation modes.

Questions to raise with candidates in the federal election:

Over the last five years we have seen the federal government bypass the established parliamentary process to quickly pass “The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act” which destroyed the Canadian Wheat Board, and use omnibus bills, such as Bill C-18, “The Agricultural Growth Act” which amended nine different agricultural laws while bringing Canada under the multinational seed corporation friendly UPOV ’91 regime of Plant Breeders’ Rights. We have also seen Canada sign trade deals, such as the Canada-European CETA, which include Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms which will limit Canada’s ability to put in place regulations to protect our environment and our health, if those regulations have the potential to limit the profits of agribusiness corporations.

 What are you prepared to do to honour the intent and spirit of Canada’s democratic parliamentary traditions and to facilitate transparent and public debates and discussion about new laws or major trade agreements?
 What actions will you take to ensure Canada’s farmers retain their inherent right to save, reuse, select, exchange and sell seeds?
 Do you believe the broader public sector has a role to play in supporting local farmers by negotiating local public purchasing contracts? How will you prevent such contracts from being opened up to foreign businesses through trade agreements?
 What actions will you take to protect Canada’s unique supply managed sectors from becoming trading pawns during the negotiation of trade agreements?

 source: NFU