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Patently Absurd: Bill C-18 and Why it Matters by organic farmer Randall Affleck (PEI)

Patently Absurd: An Overview of Bill C-18 by Randall Affleck, NFU

 As you may know, “The Agricultural Growth Act”, otherwise known as Bill C-18, is currently before Parliament. This is an omnibus bill amending nine separate pieces of agricultural legislation. Perhaps most notably, the changes that it proposes suggest a major impact for producers with regards to seed, namely, a vast increase in corporate control and higher seed costs in the future.

To provide some context, let’s familiarize you with a couple other key pieces of the picture: The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (PBRA), adopted in 1990, confers to a breeder of a new plant variety a form of intellectual property rights similar to a patent, but it is up to the rights holder to pursue infringements through the court system.

 The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an international Convention of which Canada is a member state and signatory. The purpose of UPOV Convention is to standardize criteria, definitions, legislation and regulations as they apply to plant breeders’ rights among member states. Canada’s current PBRA is based on the 1978 UPOV version, which implicitly recognizes that a farmer may use part of their harvest for seed. The 1991 UPOV version gives extensive and exclusive rights to plant breeders so that their authorization is required for farmers to use harvested material as seed. In order to ratify the UPOV’91 Convention, Canada has to amend the 1990 PBRA – which is exactly what Bill C-18 is intended to do.

 At present, a PBR holder holds the exclusive right to produce and sell seed. The proposed amendments grant PBR holders the exclusive right to produce and reproduce, condition, sell, export or import, and to stock propagating material for 20 years (to “condition” means to clean and/or treat seed and to “stock” means to bag or store seed). This is a significant expansion of intellectual property protection and expands the legal avenues for seed companies to pursue royalties. Further, the ability to collect end-point royalties on the whole crop following harvest, if not previously collected on the seed, would be permitted with these changes. These powers would only apply to varieties introduced after the new Act comes into force. Existing varieties would continue to be subject to the UPOV’78 rules and conditions.

 To save, reuse, select, exchange and sell seeds is a traditional practice and an absolute right of farmers. Government is proposing a “farmers’ privilege” section in this legislation, which they claim provides an exception to PBR-holders’ exclusive rights to reproduce and condition seed. This government-given privilege allows farmers to save and condition seed, but something notably absent is the ability to stock the seed. What’s more, Bill-C18 introduces regulations that control and limit the farmers’ privilege provisions in the future. What is being proposed is truly a hollow “privilege” for farmers. Essentially, the big print giveth and the small print taketh away.

 Canada’s variety registration process is an important part of this story. Older varieties can be used by farmers without payment of royalties and effectively ensure market discipline on PBR varieties as a lower priced option for farmers. In May 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) proposed a regulatory change that would allow variety registrants, who are often also PBR holders, to withdraw varieties on demand, without criteria or reasons and no mechanism for another entity to take over responsibility for an abandoned variety so that farmers can continue using it.

 Additionally, the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which the Government of Canada recently agreed to in principle, would expand the enforcement powers of PBR holders. While the text has yet to be released to the public, the National Farmers Union has studied the leaked draft text of this agreement and has found that CETA would permit the precautionary seizure of a farmer’s assets upon alleged intellectual property rights infringement. Further, the same asset seizure powers could also apply to a third party, such as a seed cleaner, if alleged to be assisting patent infringement. If C-18 passes, these enforcement tools would become available to seed companies seeking to prosecute farmers for violating PBRA rules and regulations.

 Considering all the small print, it seems the primary purpose of the C-18 measures is to increase revenues for seed companies. Farmers will eventually be bound to yet another agri-business profit centre, this time via the seed. Litigation and the gradual de-registration of publicly available varieties will help persuade farmers to replace farm-saved seed with seed purchased from the company every year.

 Farmers are being promised more variety research and development, and more innovative new varieties through this privatized system. However, farmers will simply end up paying more royalties with no say in how these funds would be used. Probably a reduced level of research on regionally appropriate varieties and less assurance that a registered variety can be expected to perform as claimed. Farmers can probably look forward to more correspondence from Sue, Grabbitt, and Runne LLP Barristers & Solicitors, along with additional forms to fill out on varieties planted, yield history and annual sales.

 For more information about UPOV ’91 and to take action on Bill C-18 please visit http://www.nfu.ca/issues/save-our-seed

 National Board Member National Farmers Union

Randall Affleck,

Lower Bedeque, PEI

902-887-2597

 

 


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Volunteer Post on Bill C-18: The Agricultural Growth Act

ACORN could not run without the many volunteers that help us with various projects throughout the year. We were very lucky to have one volunteer recently offer to write a blog post on a pretty dense and very pertinent topic: Bill C-18. Keegan Smith, a Mt. Allison graduate recently did his homework and submitted this blogpost for us! Thanks Keegan!

Bill C-18: The Agricultural Growth Act by Keegan Smith

C-18, the ‘Agricultural Growth Act’, is a new omnibus bill before parliament that has provoked reactions from farmers, farm associations, and politicians around the country. Introduced by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, the document is very large, listing alterations to nine current federal legislations. This broad scope makes full understanding of the document difficult to achieve. Some think it will improve opportunities, encourage exploration and investment, and reduce red tape. Others think it will impoverish farmers while benefiting Big Agri-food and biotech companies.

Undoubtedly the biggest battle has been over the proposed changes to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act. Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBRs) are a form of intellectual property (IP) right, very similar to a patent. In essence, they protect breeders’ by allowing them to collect royalties on the sale of seeds of their new varieties. They also prevent the unauthorized sale of seed until the term of rights ends, whereupon the new variety enters the public domain.

PBRs in Canada are administered under an international treaty, called UPOV (The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants). UPOV, which had 71 member states in 2013, has undergone several updates over the decades. Most significant for Canada are the 1978 version (which governs our current PBR policies) and the 1991 version (to which we would move under the changes introduced by bill C-18). The 1991 UPOV Act has been adopted by the majority of signatories, and as such, is touted by Minister Ritz and the proponents of Bill C-18 as a step forward.

The Canadian Seed Trade association has been one of the loudest supporters of UPOV91 ratification for years. “The CSTA supports all of the measures included in this Bill as they continue to modernize regulatory and policy measures affecting agriculture and agri-food, but we particularly welcome the changes to Plant Breeders’ Rights,” said CSTA President Peter Entz. “These amendments are very much needed.” Entz feels, however, that many of the concerns surrounding C-18 have arisen as a result of confusion over the bill’s language, and poor communication of its meaning to farmers. “We are working very hard to ensure that accurate information is available to farmers,” he said. The CSTA has made information on Plant Breeders’ Rights freely available at http://cdnseed.org/plant-breeders-rights/, to encourage support for the bill.

But others aren’t so sure. “Amending the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act to align with the requirements of UPOV ‘91 (the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) instead of UPOV ’78 will devastate farmers’ ability to save, sell and reuse seed,” said National Farmer’s Union (NFU) President Jan Slomp. “At the same time, greater corporate control over every aspect related to seed will mean farmers pay much higher seed prices.”

The main change Canadians would see from adoption of UPOV91 is an extension of PBRs. This would give breeders greater control over more of the process of preparing seeds for planting – including conditioning, stocking, and import/export. More importantly is the introduction of cascading royalty rights, which would allow the breeder to collect their royalty share at any point in the season, from seed sale to harvest.

The obvious implication of this act is that breeders will be able to “skim off” farmers’ revenues at the end of a season. While good news for breeders (this would represent a significantly more lucrative revenue stream than sale-point royalties), this could have a substantial impact on farmer income. The NFU, in particular, is concerned that farmers will feel the pinch. “With corporations exclusively controlling everything related to seed, farmers lose their autonomy, Canada loses its seed sovereignty and everyone becomes even more dependent on seed corporations,” said NFU Seed and Trade Committee Chair Terry Boehm, adding that these corporations’ “ ultimate goal is to force farmers to buy all their seed every year.”

What will farmers gain from C-18? The benefit to breeders is clear enough, but are farmers getting a raw deal here? And what about organic growers – will this change practice surrounding certification or GM crops? For the latter: UPOV treats crops equally, whether they’re heritage varieties, modern breeds, or genetically modified. The benefit to farmers rides on breeders’ capacity for innovation, which has been declared the greatest development gain from C-18/UPOV91 enactment.

“Adoption of the 1991 convention will encourage more plant breeding without sacrificing the right of farmers to save our own seed,” said Western Canadian Wheat Growers’ Association President Levi Wood. “It will help ensure wheat
remains a profitable crops option for prairie farmers.” The NFU argues that this isn’t enough to warrant royalty costs to farmers, and insists that breeding should be carried out by public institutions, rather than private ones.

The NFU has drafted a counter-proposal to C-18, which they call the Farmers’ Seed Act. The Act takes a very different approach to seed sovereignty from Bill C-18, and was written as an alternative for farmers to support. “All Canadians can stand behind its principles,” said Boehm. “By calling for our elected officials to act on these principles, we give a strong message about the kind of Canada we want – a Canada that is sovereign in regard to seed and food,” he concluded.

For more information on C-18 and the state of Canadian agriculture, here’s a list of suggested reading:

Bill C-18:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Mode=1&DocId=6378152&Language=E&File=4

Atlantic Farm Focus, Mixed Reaction to Bill C-18:
http://www.atlanticfarmfocus.ca/Canada%20/%20World/2013-12-12/article-3541194/Mixed-reaction-to-Bill-C18/1

Food Secure Canada, Bill C-18 – The Agricultural Growth Act:
http://foodsecurecanada.org/resources-news/news-media/bill-c-18-agricultural-growth-act

The Western Producer, Ottawa Commits to UPOV 91 for Plant Breeders’ Rights:
http://www.producer.com/daily/ottawa-commits-to-upov-91-for-plant-breeders-rights/

Canadian Federation of Agriculture, C-18 is Good News for Farmers:
http://www.cfa-fca.ca/media-centre/news-releases/2013/c-18-good-news-farmers

National Farmers Union, NFU Proposes New Vision for Canadian Seed Ownership:
http://www.nfu.ca/story/nfu-proposes-new-vision-canadian-seed-ownership

 

Stay tuned for more information on Bill C-18, as the Spring ACORN Quarterly Newsletter (mailed to current ACORN members – not a member join today!) will be arriving in your post-office boxes in mid-April and we will be featuring an article written by PEI organic farmer Randall Affleck.


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Michelle Smith, reporting on OSA Conference…

Breeding Crops in and fro Organic Soils

blogI went to the workshop on breeding crops for organic soils. I learned more than I could have imagined on the effect of root structure on productivity. It seems we may have inadvertently sacrificed root structure in favour of higher yields in modern plant breeding, as larger, more complex root architecture means a drop in productivity above ground. And yet, the root systems are what gives the plant resilience in less than optimal conditions like drought or flooding. In conventional agriculture where soil is just what holds up the plants, this effect is just beginning to be understood. Yet another reason that climate challenges favour organic over industrial.

Takeaway idea – it was found when growing wheat that planting multiple varieties mixed together actually produced greater yields than the same varieties planted as individuals. One reason was that the different varieties used slightly different soil profiles as well as different adaptations to soil microbes. Fascinating stuff! Afterwards I talked to Julie Dawson, who presented this paper, and she assured me that the only factor to consider was ripening times so that it could be harvested optimally. Differences in height or lodging resistance were unimportant. And the results were also seen in other small grains like barley and oats. It sounds like we should all rush out and start our own landraces!


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3 speakers, 1 message

Saturday Feb 1, 2014

Day 2 here at the OSA Conference in Corvallis, Oregon, and I’m really pleased to post a bit about the conference addresses that have taken place here yesterday and today – from 3 distinguished speakers, each of whom occupies a unique and important place in America’s seed movement. Micaela Colley, the Executive Director of Organic Seed Alliance; Matt Dillon, experienced seed advocate and co-founder of Seed Matters; and, just today, Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Three speakers, with decades of combined experience in seed production, and advocacy from one end of the country to the other. Their diversity of perspectives informed 3 addresses that were truly remarkable… not just for the knowledge shared, but for their commendable approach of appreciating the current, and looking to the future, with a deeply felt connection to the past.

“Look away look away, don’t you see? One and one don’t make 2, ah! They make three…”

MicaelaWith a reverent reading of Pete Seeger’s Sowing the Seeds Micaela really set the tone for this weekend’s conference beautifully, paying homage to “the original seed sower.” As she spoke to the attentive conference room, the meaning of the lyrics, and their connection to our purpose here, sank in. Collaboration, trust, and relationships multiply our efforts as a movement because of the energy of the transaction, of the communication that takes place. 1 + 1 = 3. You + Me = more than the sum of our parts, as we are united in our intention.

From the ashes… 

Matt

Equally powerful, Matt Dillon delivered the keynote address at last night’s dinner, and captured and kept our attention with his stories of the evolution of this organization, and this movement. The moment of truth of his address came in the telling of the story about his work with the Abundant Life Foundation, and the fire that destroyed over 3,000 varieties of seed, and – ultimately – inspired him to establish Seed Matters. In his incredibly honest talk, he shed a few tears at the memory of that fire, and the shame of not only losing an incredibly important collection of seeds (of stories, of heritage, of genetics) that were entrusted to them, but having to acknowledge that they did not have a back up. It was sobering. Of course, from the ashes of the fire came an organization that took the lesson to heart and, today, is doing incredible things for the conservation of germplasm in America.

What’s in that seed?

Tom

Finally, today, we heard from Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds. Directing our attention to unmarked seed packs on each table, Tom encouraged us each to empty one envelope of seeds into our palm, and look at it – really look at it! – and tell him… is it OP or hybrid? Or is it GMO? What variety is it? From what provenance? You can’t tell by looking…  right? So, how do you know? You have to talk to someone. You have to ask to learn.

The message for the broader movement? We need to communicate with people in order to move our agenda in a meaningful way.  And, he pointed out, the organic seed movement is too new, too young, and too inexperienced to say “no” to learning and collaboration with everyone. If the recent past of the seed industry is characterized by consolidation, its future will be defined by diversity!

A show of hands in the room today told us that while there were many seedy pioneers present, folks engaged in this work for over 20 years (to raucous applause), there was also a solid number of young growers and researchers at it no more than 5 years. Or 2. How valuable, then, is this opportunity to come together and share, when there is that much collective wisdom, experience, and passion in the room?

The core message of each of these presentations really came down to one thing –  relationships. At a time when the global industrial seed system is upping its patent and trade secret game, the organics sector is cultivating relationships, building and working within a framework of trust, and going to extreme measures to talk to one another. It’s a vastly different paradigm, and – if folks here have anything to say about it – a game changer.

Skeptics can be forgiven their doubts. After all, as each of these speakers pointed at out, the seed industry is a global behemoth. And it’s all too easy to get discouraged and think about the possibility of failure.  However, if I can be allowed an obvious metaphor, I’d have to say that in the same way that a chemical and monoculture-based agriculture is driven by short-term economics, unable to serve long term human interests; a seed industry that is characterized by consolidation, secrecy, and domination has numbered days. By contrast, we know as organic producers and advocates, the gains available to us by stewarding the earth, caring for community, and nurturing life-sustaining diversity are the way ahead in the long term. Cultivating that same diversity and resilience in the seed industry is only a matter of time and commitment.

If this gathering is anything, it’s proof of that commitment. Across the country, across the continent, and between sectors that can’t possibly become siloed as long as gatherings like this one exist.


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Image

 

Welcome to Day 1 of the Organic Seed Alliance Conference 2014 via ACORN’s blog! This is a warning… this will not be a live recorded event… I’m far too slow for that. I will also not be tweeting. Sorry.

BUT I will be posting notes and thoughts on each of the sessions I attend over the next two days, sharing as much as possible of what’s coming out of this really incredible event!

Micaela Colley, OSA E-D welcomed over 400 participants to the conference this morning. And to say the room was a buzz would be putting it lightly. Farmers, academics, researchers and sector representatives have gathered for this 2 day event devoted to learning and sharing about organic seed. With announcement of “watch out! OSA is hitting its teen years!” Micaela briefly celebrated OSA’s 10 years of working to strengthen organic seed… and quickly moved into the many things they plan to accomplish in the next ten – including increased advocacy for organic seed, collaborative researcher-farmer relationships, and promotion of organic plant breeding as the way forward for food security and climate change responsiveness in the future. (Folks, it’s maybe the most ambitious teenager you’ve ever met!) It was also a pleasure to hear Micaela acknowledge the presence of The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security here at the conference as a valued Canadian partner in this work!

Suffice it to say, for now, we’re all feeling energized, and incredibly lucky to be here. I’m excited to share what I see and hear and do with YOU. I’m also really pleased that Michelle Smith, our Seed Extension Specialist, is sharing this job with me. We’re divvying up the workshops, and soaking up as much as we can together. So, stay tuned to the blog and – over the weekend, and next week – we hope to share our experience and learning with you! Yeah! Also, note that OSA is live broadcasting a selection of workshops this weekend. You can register here! Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon!


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Customer demand is increasing for year-round, fresh, local and organic vegetables and farmers are responding to this market opportunity by growing and storing crops for year-round markets, wholesale food box programs and winter Community Supported Agriculture boxes.  ACORN  hopes to support this by hosting Chris Callahan, with the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension.

callahan_chrisBy offering the expertise of an agricultural engineer in the three Maritime provinces, ACORN hopes to support growers in developing and maintaining storage systems that are adaptable, efficient and tailored to individual needs and considerations.

Paul and Sandy Arnold from Pleasant Valley Farm in Argyle, NY, popular speakers at ACORN’s 2013 Annual Conference held in Moncton last November, said “Chris is great… highly knowledgeable and really knows how to talk to farmers.  We are meeting with him this year to talk more about our on-farm storage needs.”

This traveling workshop will bring the resources of ACORN to producers in their home areas and provide opportunities for local farmers to meet and discuss production plans for 2014.

Soleil Hutchinson of Soleil’s Farm in Bonshaw, PEI wrote:

“I’m really happy this workshop will be offered in Charlottetown.  I’m interested in building a root cellar/cooler to store winter crops, and would be interested in anything that would help me make wise decisions on what kind of storage space would best suit me and my  farm business.”

For full details, please visit www.acornorganic.org to register in the city closest to you.

Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) in collaboration with regional partners* from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are hosting a Crop Storage Regional Workshop Series with Chris Callahan from the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension from February 24th – 28th, 2014.

Workshop Dates and Locations:

Monday, February 24th – Fredericton, NBpotatoes
NB Department of Agriculture

Tuesday, February 25th –  Dieppe, NB
Marché Dieppe Market

Wednesday, February 26th –  Charlottetown, PEI
PEI Farm Centre

Thursday, February 27th – Truro, NS
Perennia

Friday, February 28th – Wolfville, NS
Wolfville Farmers’ Market

*ACORN wishes to thank our Regional Partners:

New Brunswick Department of Agriculture Aquaculture and Fisheries (NBDAAF)

La Récolte de Chez Nous/Really Local Harvest Co-op

PEI Farm Centre

Perennia

Wolfville Farmers’ Market


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ACORN Volunteer Melissa Dubé shares her love for CSAs!

ACORN has been lucky this fall to have a volunteer from Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax. Melissa Dubé is from an upper level Environmental Studies class and has been contributing a couple of hours each week in the semester to helping ACORN advertise for events, update our local media list, and with post-conference work. Melissa also took the time to look into CSAs, something ACORN has been doing work to support in the Maritimes over the past several years! Here’s Melissa’s blog-post on CSA’s for Students:

CSA’s for Students

Community-supported agriculture or community-shared agriculture is a pledge to support a local producer by paying for food in advance of the growing season, when costs tend to be highest for farmers. This connects farms to a community of supporters and provides shareholders with the freshest local and sustainably produced food available. A CSA share normally includes a box of fresh local and in-season produce, however other farm products are also sometimes offered such as meat, fish, eggs or dairy. CSA’s can also be customized based on size (full or half) and scheduling (weekly or biweekly) making them a great option for any household, particularly students!

The money spent on CSA’s stays in the local economy, supporting small-scale farms in your own province. For anyone with roommates, sharing a CSA is a great opportunity. Not only are you dividing the cost of food, but it leads to the potential for more shared meals in your household and trying new recipes together, further building on the concept of community in CSA.

HomeGrown

As an alternative to paying for a full season upfront, Halifax’s Home Grown Organic Foods (HGOF) assembles organic food boxes (local whenever possible!) in a variety of sizes and scheduling types to accommodate different needs and budgets. I purchased a onetime lifetime membership for $25 and signed up to receive home delivery of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. This is a great option for students because you can customize your food box based on your needs and budget. For a roommate and I, we shared a single delivery ($30) that came every week. This was a good amount of fresh produce and often we had enough to share with our other roommates. My favourite part of HGOF is that the food is always incredibly fresh, the variety is great and they deliver to your door. I also enjoyed learning how to cook with new ingredients. For those who could benefit from ideas, the HGOF website has a long list of recipes to help guide you!

CSA’s demonstrate the importance of eating what is available and in season in our local climate. In addition to this, the nutritional benefits of local, organic produce will nourish growing minds and bodies. Whether it’s locally produced or organically produced foods, there are benefits to each. Sign up for a CSA or an organic veggie box today to support small organic farming in your community and help guarantee a local market for food prior to its production!

A sincere thank-you to Melissa Dubé (Halifax, NS) for your contribution this semester to ACORN’s work! We really could not do the work we do without the generous support of volunteers. For more information about ACORN’s CSA work, read our CSA Trend Report, a synthesis of surveys conducted to solicit CSA/farmshare member feedback in 2010, 2011 and 2012.