UPOV ’91 en route through feds’ ‘Agricultural Growth Act’

Canada has started the process of implementing UPOV ’91 — a stronger form of plant breeders’ rights that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says will encourage more private sector plant breeding and is also expected to see farmers pay breeders more in royalties.

The changes are part of Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, introduced Monday in the House of Commons.

Bill C-18 not only proposes to amend the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, but also the Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act, Seeds Act, Health of Animals Act, Plant Protection Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. All fall under the the purview of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The bill also amends the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act (AMPA) and Farm Debt Mediation Act (FDMA) under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“The Agricultural Growth Act is good news for Canadian producers because it will increase farmers’ access to new crop varieties, enhance their trade opportunities and reduce the red tape burden,” Ritz said Monday when announcing the legislation at Canterra Seeds in Winnipeg.

Ritz said he hopes the bill will be law by the start of the new crop year Aug. 1, 2014, but added it depends on the will of Parliament.

Last month Ritz signalled his intention to implement UPOV ’91, while speaking to the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA). Since then, Grain Growers of Canada and several commodity organizations have written Ritz encouraging him to adopt UPOV ’91.

UPOV (the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) was established in 1961. It was founded to protect plant breeders’ rights and by doing so “encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society,” according to its website.

The Grain Growers of Canada want UPOV ’91 adopted “as soon as possible,” president Gary Stanford said in a letter to Ritz Dec. 6.

“We think UPOV ’91 will help pave the way for much greater investment in the development of new seed varieties for Canadian farmers, which will be needed to meet the greatly increasing global demand for food.”

The Alberta Wheat Commission supports UPOV ’91, but with some provisos. The AWC says farmers must be able to save seed. It also wants Ottawa to continue funding pre-breeding genetic research.

Farmers’ and the public’s stake in the development of cereal germplasm the past 100 years also needs to be recognized, AWC said in a Nov. 18 letter to Ritz.

The CSTA, which represents most of the private seed companies in Canada, welcomed Ritz’s announcement, said president Peter Entz, who is also assistant vice-president for seed and traits for Richardson International.

Canada is one of few remaining UPOV member countries in which legislation doesn’t comply with the most recent convention, he said — thus international developers have been unwilling to provide new genetics to Canada.

“That, combined with the reluctance of the private sector to invest in variety development of some crops in Canada, has had a negative effect on the competitiveness of our farmers,” Entz said.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) opposes UPOV ’91.

“We absolutely don’t need it,” said past NFU president Terry Boehm. “Our plant breeders’ rights legislation conforms with all of our international trade obligations. This is simply a mechanism to extract more dollars out of the farmers’ pockets. Full stop.”

Ritz told reporters farmers will be able to save and plant their own seeds under UPOV ’91.

Cash advances

The bill also proposes changes to the cash advance program. Farmers will be able to fill out application forms once every five years instead of annually, cutting red tape, he said. And more farm products will be eligible for interest-free loans of up to $100,000, including breeding stock.

Changes to the Farm Debt Mediation Act would allow the agriculture minister to participate in a mediation under the Act as a guarantor of the APP advance.

“With the right people at the table to negotiate repayment arrangements, producers will have quicker resolution of their situation,” the government said Monday.

The Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act, Health of Animals Act and Seeds Act will be expanded to include international scientific research when approving new agricultural products, reducing red tape, CFIA said in a release.

CFIA will get stronger tools to protect Canada’s plants and animals. For example, CFIA will be allowed to order non-compliant agricultural products immediately out of Canada. Penalties for non-compliance are being increased.

Amending the Feeds Act and Fertilizers Act will allow for licensing and registration of fertilizer and animal feed operators and facilities that import or sell products across provincial or international borders.

This is expected to align legislation with key international trading partners, help Canadian feed and fertilizer industries maintain their export markets and provide a more effective and timely approach to assuring products meet Canada’s safety and other standards.

– Allan Dawson is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator, based at Miami, Man. A version of this article will appear in the Dec. 12, 2013 issue.

Related story:
Ritz plans changes to Plant Breeders Rights Act, Nov. 13, 2013