Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 23 - Evidence - Meeting of February 3, 2015
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 3, 2015
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, to which was
referred Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts relating to agriculture and
agri-food, met this day at 5 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Kevin Pittman, Clerk of the Committee: Honourable senators, as clerk
of your committee, it is my duty to inform you of the unavoidable absence of the
chair and deputy chair and to preside over the election of an acting chair.
I'm ready to receive nominations.
Senator Tardif: I would like to propose Senator Maltais.
Mr. Pittman: Are there other nominations?
It is moved by the Honourable Senator Tardif that the Honourable Senator
Maltais do take the chair of this committee.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Mr. Pittman: I invite the Honourable Senator Maltais to take the
Senator Ghislain Maltais (Acting Chair) in the chair.
The Acting Chair: I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
I am Senator Maltais from Quebec, acting chair of the committee. I would like
to invite the members of the committee to introduce themselves, starting to my
Senator Tardif: Good afternoon. I'm Claudette Tardif from the province
Senator Enverga: Hello. I'm Senator Tobias Enverga from Ontario.
Senator Plett: Good evening. My name is Senator Don Plett from
Senator Oh: Senator Oh from Ontario.
Senator Unger: Betty Unger from Alberta.
Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much. Since we are hearing from many
witnesses today, it would be appreciated if the senators could try to ask
concise questions and the witnesses could answer them as clearly and briefly as
For our first panel of witnesses, we have Jim Wickett, Chair of the Western
Canadian Wheat Growers' Association, Deb Hart from the Seed Potato Subcommittee
of the Canadian Horticultural Council, and Erin Armstrong, Director of Industry
and Regulatory Affairs at Canterra Seeds.
Mr. Wickett, the floor is now yours.
Jim Wickett, Chair, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association: Thank
you for the invitation to appear before your committee. My name is Jim Wickett.
I'm the chair of the wheat growers and I farm at Rosetown, Saskatchewan.
The wheat growers strongly support Bill C-18. In our view, the key benefit of
the proposed "Agricultural Growth Act" is that it will lead to investment that
will give us more crop varieties to choose from. Breeders in Canada, both
private and public, will be able to draw from genetics from around the world.
This will give us access to new varieties that will help to increase our yields
and grow our profitability.
The legislation will give us the ability to choose new varieties without
taking choices away. Let me explain.
Currently, 80 varieties of wheat are eligible for acceptance into the top
milling class of wheat in Western Canada. I can choose any one of those 80
varieties to grow on my farm.
Of those 80 varieties, 43 are protected by plant breeders' rights. If I
choose to grow one of those varieties, then I am required to pay the developer a
royalty. This royalty payment promotes innovation. It gives the seed developer
the opportunity to recapture their investment and to profit from their
invention. For private breeders, there is no incentive to invest if they do not
have the ability to profit from the new varieties they develop.
I pay the royalty any time I purchase seed of a variety that is protected by
plant breeders' rights. However, as a rule, I can reuse the grain produced from
that variety as a seed for another crop as many times as I like. It is no
different than downloading a song from iTunes. Once I pay my 99 cents, I can
listen to that song as often as I want. I can't give or sell that downloaded
song to anyone else, but I am free to play it as much as I like.
New seed varieties that are protected by PBR are treated the same way. I pay
a royalty the first time I purchase it, but I can generally replant it on my
farm as many times as I like, without paying that royalty again.
It is important to note that I am not required to grow a variety that is
protected by plant breeders' rights. Currently there are 37 varieties in the top
milling class of wheat that are not protected by plant breeders' rights. Those
varieties are in the public domain, meaning that I am free to grow them without
paying a royalty of any kind. These 37 varieties are now in the public domain
either because the developer did not apply for the plant breeders' rights in the
first place, the PBR has expired within the existing 18-year time limit, or the
developer has surrendered the PBR prior to the 18-year time limit.
To recap, if I want to produce wheat from the top milling class in Western
Canada, I can choose to grow any of the 43 varieties that are protected by plant
breeders' rights and pay a royalty, or I can choose to grow any of the 37
varieties in the public domain and not pay a royalty at all. The choice is mine
It should be noted that the vast majority of wheat varieties grown in Canada
were developed at public institutions. This new legislation doesn't take away
any of those varieties. However, what it does do is open the door for new
players. New players have already started to make investments in anticipation of
this bill and the modernization of our PBR legislation. This will give us more
and better varieties to choose for our farms.
We think it is important to note that this legislation does not mean that an
end-point royalty system will be adopted, as some farmers have claimed. This
legislation allows for an end-point royalty system, but as of yet there is no
agreement in the industry to go down this path. The wheat growers are open to
exploring the concept of an end-point royalty, but at this stage we have neither
endorsed nor rejected the idea.
If an end-point royalty system is introduced, it would only apply to new
varieties. The end-point royalty would not apply to all existing varieties,
whether they are currently in the public domain or PBR-protected. There seems to
be quite a bit of confusion on this point, so we felt it was important to clear
To sum up, Bill C-18 creates the business environment that will allow seed
developers large and small, Canadian and foreign, to invest more heavily in
wheat breeding in Canada. For me, that means a greater opportunity to access
varieties that will increase the profitability of my farm.
This legislation gives us the best of both worlds. It will continue to give
us the ability to use existing tried-and-true varieties. It will also give us
greater ability to access new varieties. Every farmer will be free to choose
those varieties that work best for their farm operation.
For this reason, the wheat growers urge you to give this legislation your
Thank you for the invitation to appear. I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you, sir.
Deb Hart, Seed Potato Subcommittee, Canadian Horticultural Council:
Good evening. Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. My name is Deb
Hart and I'm pleased to be here on behalf of the Canadian Horticultural Council
and the Canadian Potato Council to speak to you regarding the amendments to the
plant breeders' rights legislation as proposed in Bill C-18, the "Agricultural
The Canadian Horticultural Council is a voluntary, not-for-profit national
association that represents the dynamic and diverse sector of Canadian
agriculture known as horticulture. The CHC's members grow, produce and pack more
than 120 fruit and vegetable horticultural crops, and the CHC has been committed
to promoting the interests of its members since 1922.
The Canadian Potato Council represents Canada's nearly 1,300 potato producers
who collectively generate farm gate value of approximately $1.1 billion
annually. Potato production in Canada is truly a national industry, with 37 per
cent of the harvested seed acreage in the Western provinces, 13 per cent in
Ontario and Quebec, and 49 per cent in Atlantic Canada. Currently, over 50 per
cent of the total potato production in Canada, including fresh and processed, is
west of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
This past growing season, 18,000 hectares, or 48,000 acres, of seed from the
top 50 varieties was produced in Canada. A little over half of these varieties —
30 — are current currently listed on the PBR website, either fully protected or
in the process of becoming protected varieties.
Non-protected varieties grown for the processing industry in North America
make up a large amount of the acreage in Canada, and the majority of the
protected varieties grown are from outside of Canada. Although international
industries realize the benefits of growing seed in Canada because of our large
land base for multiple-year rotations, our unlimited water source, and long,
cold winters preventing overwintering pests, further seed production of these
protected varieties in Canada is discouraged due to the current PBR legislation.
Administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canada implemented the
Plant Breeders' Rights Act in 1990. This legislation complied with the 1978
International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. However,
the convention was revised in 1991. Despite the fact Canada signed the
convention with full intent to ratify by amending the PBR legislation, the
amendments have yet to be made and Canada is one of the only developed countries
not a member of UPOV 91. In a previous session, it was pointed out that Norway
and New Zealand are the other two developed countries that are not currently
From seed production through to processing of fresh potatoes for consumers,
without access to UPOV 91, the potato industry is missing opportunities
generated by the introduction of new and improved varieties and investment from
The fact that Canada cannot protect new or private varieties in a similar
fashion as other countries that have ratified UPOV 91 has had a negative impact
on domestic and international interest and investment to develop and protect new
varieties in Canada. Countries that have ratified UPOV 91 are more likely to
invest and align with countries that have also ratified.
By ratifying, the potato industry will have increased access to new and
innovative varieties that will contribute to the success and competitiveness of
Currently our one public potato breeder, Dr. Bizimungu, located in
Fredericton, is limited to budget restraints and cutbacks. Within the past 10
years, the two-phase Accelerated Release Program was introduced to fast-track
new public varieties. Phase one allows interested parties to obtain breeder seed
for non-exclusive field trial evaluation for two years. Phase two involves
Agriculture Canada inviting companies to submit cash bids to procure an
additional three-year period of exclusive testing. At the conclusion of the
testing period, a renewable licence can be obtained for the varieties developed
by Agriculture Canada. This process can reduce the registration process by half
and will ensure that more public varieties are available to the Canadian
industry. Many of the newly developed agricultural Canada varieties are PBR
protected and already resulting in funds being returned to the breeding program
in a timelier manner as seed production increases.
The private potato breeders in Canada have formed their own organization, the
Canadian Private Potato Breeders Network, and with the announcement of Bill
C-18, private breeding programs will be further encouraged. Private breeders in
Canada have made available many improved and innovative varieties suited to
Canadian production areas and requirements. The Canadian private breeders would
like to have similar plant breeders' rights their colleagues in other countries
are currently able to obtain.
If UPOV 91 is ratified, it will allow our industry to compete with other
international potato producing areas. It will encourage international breeders
to introduce new varieties to Canada and allow our Canadian breeders, both
public and private, the opportunity to use new genetic properties in their own
I recently attended a meeting in the U.S. where international potato
companies voiced their frustration at the current Canadian protection program.
They recognize the benefits and opportunities to growing in Canada but indicated
they will invest in countries that are under UPOV 91, with the U.S., our
neighbour to the south, being one of them.
In closing, although I work for the Alberta potato industry, I am here
speaking for the national potato industry. Potatoes are one of the few
commodities grown in every province and we are a very close industry working
together. The topic of plant breeders' rights has been discussed at the national
table for many years, and if our industry is to remain viable and competitive,
we require the tools to encourage increased production and investment from
outside of Canada. I hope the committee will agree that amendments to the plant
breeders' rights legislation will benefit Canadian agriculture and allow us to
be leaders and competitive on an international level.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee this evening. I look
forward to any questions you may have.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Hart.
Erin Armstrong, Director of Industry and Regulatory Affairs, Canterra
Seeds: On behalf of Canterra Seeds, I would like to thank you for the
opportunity to comment on Bill C-18, specifically the sections dealing with UPOV
91 and the importance of this legislation for creating an environment that will
attract new investment in initiatives, which will lead to greater innovation and
increased opportunities for Canadian farmers.
My name is Erin Armstrong, Director of Industry and Regulatory Affairs for
Canterra Seeds. We are a seed company based in Winnipeg, focused on providing
pedigreed seed for field crops in Western Canada.
Canterra Seeds was established by nine seed growers 19 years ago. Today,
Canterra Seeds is owned by more than 200 shareholders, the majority of which are
pedigreed seed growers and independent ag retailers across Western Canada. Our
shareholders produce and sell pedigreed seed of varieties that Canterra Seeds
acquires on their behalf. We work with most of the crop types produced in
Western Canada, including cereals, wheat, oats and barley, canola, and pulse and
Canterra Seeds believes there are roles for both public and private breeders.
Our seed genetics continue to be sourced primarily from public breeding programs
in Canada. We also run a variety screening program across the Prairies to
evaluate new cereal and pulse varieties derived from our many private breeding
partners, with the intention to commercialize those which successfully pass
through Canada's variety registration system.
These varieties provide new opportunities and choices for Western Canadian
farmers in the form of improved performance, which they would not otherwise have
access to if they were solely dependent on Western Canadian public breeding
programs. Having said that, our access is limited due to concerns that Canada's
Plant Breeders' Rights Act is not compliant with UPOV 91.
UPOV 91 is recognized internationally as an important means of providing
intellectual property protection for plant breeders. This protection works to
the benefit of both public and private breeders. Canterra Seeds has been a
strong and consistent supporter of Canada revising our Plant Breeders' Rights
Act to recognize the terms of UPOV 91. At seed industry meetings in Europe last
fall the question I was asked, even more than how harvest was going, was "What
is the status of UPOV 91 in Canada?" The world's eyes are watching to see if
Canada will update its legislation to match that of most of the rest of the
I'd like to give you two examples of the impact of Bill C-18 and UPOV 91 on
First, we were very pleased to host Minister Ritz's announcement in Winnipeg
in December 2013 when Bill C-18 was introduced. Within days of the announcement,
I received a call from a European breeding company that we have known for many
years. The conversation opened with him saying, "Now that Canada is finally
getting its act together, we want to send you material to look at." This past
season, 2014, we included material from this program for the first time. This is
an opportunity that wasn't available to us in Canada prior to Bill C-18 being
introduced. This partner is now confident that if we do commercialize varieties
from their program in Canada, they will be able to protect and be compensated
for the use of their intellectual property. Should Bill C-18 not be passed, we
will lose this partner before we have even had the chance to fully evaluate the
potential fit of their material in Western Canada.
The second example I would like to give you is that we have been working on
expanding our collaboration with another one of our cereal breeding partners
over the past couple of years. Our program has grown significantly and will grow
even more significantly should Bill C-18 be passed into law and our PBR Act be
We have been working towards this growth in a very deliberate manner, but
executing the plan is fully dependent on the passage of UPOV 91 and it being
implemented in Canada. This initiative will involve significant investment and
the development of a new stream of material for the ultimate benefit of the
farmers of Western Canada.
Passing Bill C-18 and updating our Plant Breeders' Rights Act to reflect the
terms of UPOV 91 will create an environment which will attract investment,
resulting in new tools, technologies, resources and germplasm. This, in turn,
will directly benefit farmers and enable them to grow internationally
Amending our PBR Act will also entrench the right of farmers to save their
own production to use as seed on their own farms, which the current act is
silent on, and will ensure that breeders are able to freely use protected
varieties for research and breeding purposes, to ensure the continued
development of improved varieties.
Having said all this, the use of plant breeders' rights is not a requirement.
Breeders and their representatives choose whether to use PBR or not. Farmers,
too, can choose to grow varieties which are protected by PBR or not. If they
choose not to grow PBR-protected varieties, they simply forgo accessing the
improved performance of those specific varieties which are protected by PBR.
PBR is a key tool used by many breeding programs. The passage of Bill C-18
and updating our Plant Breeders' Rights Act to conform with UPOV 91, and to be
consistent with most of the rest of the world, will ensure that Canada is a
place in which investments are made for the benefit of breeders and farmers. New
investment in plant breeding is critical for Canada to ensure our agriculture
industry can compete internationally.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to answering any questions you
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much. We will now begin the
Senator Tardif: Thank you for your most informative presentations.
It's obvious that all three of you strongly support Bill C-18, but there are
concerns out there. I have just received a letter from a concerned Canadian
citizen. Let me read a portion of it to you:
. . . I am dismayed by the implications of Bill C-18 for those farmers and
for the future of our food.
Bill C-18 is the latest assault on smaller farmers by large seed producing
companies, because of the ambiguity over "storing" seed. The large plant
breeder companies want the exclusive right to stock seed under the same
legislation. That means the breeders will drive away competition and
inevitably take control over our food.
Could you comment on this?
Mr. Wickett: From my understanding, the only difference between a
large farmer and a small farmer is the number of bags of seed he puts in the
back of his truck. Everything about it is the same; whether you have a thousand
acres or a hundred thousand, it is exactly the same. It has no bearing, the size
of your farm.
Senator Tardif: Does anybody else want to comment on the concerns that
some farmers are having with this?
You are representing the seed companies, Ms. Armstrong.
Ms. Armstrong: I would say that listening to those comments and
concerns, they seem to be based on some misunderstandings that I think we have
addressed in our comments in terms of what the implications are.
Senator Tardif: How long can a farmer save the seeds for?
Ms. Armstrong: Their own seed?
Senator Tardif: No. Let's say they bought a plant-protected variety
seed. How long would you allow the farmer to save the seed for?
Ms. Armstrong: For their own use, as long as they want.
Senator Tardif: In Australia they're given one year. Is it the
intention of the plant breeder companies to limit it to one year?
Ms. Armstrong: Not as far as I'm aware. With respect, we're not in
Australia, and they have a very different system.
Senator Tardif: I agree, but their system moves to an end-point
royalty, which is possible under the existing legislation of Bill C-18, so it
could be moving in that direction.
What distinction do you make between the stocking and saving of seed?
Ms. Armstrong: This is beyond my expertise, but stocking implies it
would be for sale; saving is for own use.
Senator Tardif: If a farmer is storing, binning, bagging his seed for
any length of time, you have no problem with that?
Ms. Armstrong: Not for their own use.
Senator Tardif: UPOV advises governments on how to interpret their
obligations upon adopting UPOV 91. Once we sign on to UPOV 91, it advises
governments on how to apply farmers' privilege. They advise to save seed only to
wheat, barley and oats, for example, and deny it to farmers who grow vegetables,
fruits, soybean, canola and lentils. Is that a concern to you, for example, in
the horticulture industry?
Ms. Hart: Not for potatoes, no, because we can only store. It is not
like the other commodities, where they may be able to store the seed for two or
three years. Potatoes are only a one-season crop, so I don't think that would be
an issue for our industry.
Senator Tardif: What about for you, Mr. Wickett?
Mr. Wickett: Just to correct you: If I buy a plant breeder right for
lentil — and most of them come out of the University of Saskatchewan — I can
reuse that seed until I don't feel like using it anymore.
Senator Tardif: But you understand that once we sign on to UPOV 91,
governments are advised on how to interpret obligations, and some seeds could be
not exempted from the farmers' privilege, canola for example. Is that a concern?
Mr. Wickett: That's the case right now with canola and soybeans, and I
grow both of those on my farm. I have the option to grow an "open-pollinated"
that doesn't have the traits that the plant breeders' right has put in, whether
it is a Roundup Ready variety or something other than that. I choose to grow
those varieties. Economically, they're so superior that the cost of buying the
seed each year far outweighs anything else. My net return is double from that.
Ms. Armstrong: I think we need to be careful not to confuse varieties
that are protected under plant breeders' rights and varieties that contain
patented traits, which is a whole different form of protection. In referring to
canola, for example, it is a matter of a lot of the products out there
containing a patented trait which would have implications for how they're used
and sold. That's a different situation from plant breeders' rights.
Senator Tardif: The act would exempt farmers from the Plant Breeders'
Rights Act, and it talks about the farmers' holdings. How do you interpret the
term "farmer's holding"? Would it include rented or leased land, or only land to
which the farmer has title, or land on which there's a mortgage? What would you
consider when you are applying plant breeders' rights?
Mr. Wickett: I'm not too sure of your question as far as holdings are
concerned. What I can seed it on?
Senator Tardif: That's right and what you might be paying royalties
Mr. Wickett: You would pay royalties on the seed.
Senator Tardif: That's right. But having your farmer's privilege on
leased land, for example, do you use your farmer's privilege on leased land or
Mr. Wickett: Absolutely. That's two thirds of my acres.
Senator Tardif: That's your understanding? That term is not defined.
Mr. Wickett: As far as I know, I have never seen that have any bearing
on a lease agreement or rental agreement.
Senator Tardif: I'll leave it at that for now.
Senator Plett: I would like to follow up on Senator Tardif's first
question with regard to the stocking, storing, binning and bagging. Are you
aware that that particular issue was raised in the House of Commons and in fact
was amended to accommodate the concern Senator Tardif raised?
Mr. Wickett: No, I was not.
Senator Plett: Fair enough. I wanted to put it on the record, so thank
My question to the two of you here is this: Generally, are the farmers across
the country — horticultural farmers, wheat growers — supportive of this
legislation? I know the two of you clearly are. Are your farmers equally
supportive of this?
Mr. Wickett: It was brought up at our convention amongst our members
and there was a lot of support for that. In fact, I don't know of anybody that
was against it.
Ms. Hart: The horticultural industry is definitely in favour of this.
As I mentioned, we've been discussing this for many years. Our public breeding
program only has one breeder and we are limited to what we can develop. A lot of
international companies are just waiting for the opportunity to come to Canada
and start working with our breeding program and introduce new varieties, so we
are 100 per cent in favour of this.
Senator Plett: There has been some criticism that the farmers'
privilege does not extend to enough farmers. I read today that there was
criticism that it did not extend to horticultural farmers. Is that true?
Ms. Hart: I can only speak for potatoes, and it does not affect us
because we are a one-year commodity. I would assume that that might be similar
in the other horticultural commodities as well. I would assume that that comment
would reflect a small majority.
Senator Plett: This does not affect your industry?
Ms. Hart: Not to the extent that it may affect others.
Senator Plett: I think you said that Canterra Seeds is based in
Winnipeg? Is that the head office?
Ms. Armstrong: Yes.
Senator Plett: You are not a multinational conglomerate based
somewhere in the evil United States, as some people would want us to believe?
Ms. Armstrong: No.
Senator Plett: What would you say to the comment that the plant
breeders' rights primarily are set up to help — I'll use a just a few —
Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Bayer CropScience? Do they help Canterra in the same
Ms. Armstrong: They do. That's what I was trying to get at with my
comments. We are a company with a total of 27 on staff. We are not even close to
being a national company, never mind multinational. It would benefit us, as I
indicated by the material we have access to, through working with breeders
around the world. It would extend that ability to bring material to Western
Canada and commercialize varieties that would work well and benefit the farmers
in Western Canadian agriculture.
I want to stress that this also benefits not just small, private companies
but also public breeding programs because increased royalties will flow back to
the public programs at least as much as they will to private breeding programs.
All breeding programs, regardless of the size, whether public or private, will
Senator Plett: So many Canadian companies will benefit from this?
Ms. Armstrong: Yes.
Senator Plett: Thank you.
You deal with farmers. Can you talk about your impression of the Advance
Mr. Wickett: The Advance Payment Program is a great tool. I would like
to see it advanced and expanded a little bit. With the size of farms these days
and the price of commodities, the cost of expenses and everything else, the
limits for some of the farmers are a little bit small, although we recognize the
position of the federal government and respect we that. But it's a great program
and certainly we don't want to see any changes to it, or for it to get worse.
Senator Plett: Ms. Hart, would your farmers be able to take advantage
of this program?
Ms. Hart: Absolutely. The potato industry does currently take
advantage of that. I know in our province that it certainly benefits the growers
that do take advantage of it. With the price of operations continually
increasing, it's that bridge to help them get through to the next season. This
will definitely help them. Any changes to the program that I've heard of will
definitely be received very positively.
Senator Plett: I'll ask my last question, and I think Ms. Hart touched
on this. It's important for Canada to keep up with other countries. As you said,
we're one of three developed countries who are not part of UPOV 91. There has
been criticism that we are being eaten up by other countries and we shouldn't
just follow. For us to properly operate in this day and age and to operate with
the trade agreements that we have across the country, we need to obviously
advance, I would assume. So without UPOV 91, we are definitely not keeping up
with other countries.
You're all nodding.
Ms. Armstrong: I agree. It disadvantages us not just at home. It's an
international market these days, so if we can't grow competitive crops, we are
not going to be commercially and internationally successful.
Senator Plett: My last question was asked last week of three witnesses
who were sitting where you are sitting and their presentations were equally
positive: Is there anything you don't like about Bill C-18? This is not
necessarily verbatim, but they kind of all replied that their biggest concern
about Bill C-18 is that it has not yet been passed. Would you agree with that
The Acting Chair: Senator Unger do you have a supplementary question?
Senator Unger: Yes, my question is for Dr. Armstrong.
You touched on royalties. Would you explain how royalties are collected and
paid, and what amount of money are we talking about?
Ms. Armstrong: The royalties are paid — or they are collected on the
sale of pedigreed seed, so the various pedigrees. The pedigree that is used
commercially is certified seed. There are higher pedigrees involved in
production. When that pedigreed seed is sold, the royalty is applied. It is
collected by the person or company selling that seed and then remitted to the
breeding organization. It depends on the channel, whether it goes directly to
them. For the varieties we have rights to, those royalties flow to us and we
pass them on to the breeders. The amount will depend on the popularity of a
variety, but it can be millions and millions of dollars.
Senator Unger: Do you collect anything for handling this flow-through
Ms. Armstrong: We are compensated for our services in terms of the
services we provide to the seed growers and the seed breeders.
Senator Unger: Thank you.
Senator Dagenais: I would like to thank our three guests. Mr. Wickett,
you made it clear that you are in favour of Bill C-18. As you know, in terms of
the legislative framework for plant breeders in Canada's main partner countries,
several already comply with what is known as UPOV 91. A number of Bill C-18
supporters have said that this will allow Canadian farmers to access various
seed varieties that sometimes come from other countries, which will promote
research and innovation.
Could you give us some examples of seed varieties from other countries that
might be useful for Canadian farmers? Also, how will those varieties be
innovative for our agriculture?
Mr. Wickett: Thank you for the question. An example right now, this
year, is the entire Western wheat and durum crop. Only 5 per cent the durum
grown in Western Canada this year was in the top number one grade. The reason
for that was fusarium head blight. It's not a fungus that we want. There are
varieties out there. The U.S. is miles ahead of us and Europe is ahead of us in
having varieties that are resistant to this. The only option we have is to spray
chemicals. We have a three- to five-day window. If we run into rain during that
period and can't get on the land, we're in a real predicament. So we need plant
breeding. We need this and we need it now. We needed it last year.
This disease does not go away. I believe the life cycle in which it can
survive in the soil is seven years, and it does not go away. We need some plant
breeding to avoid that.
I believe we had 4.5 million acres of durum wheat, which is the pasta wheat,
and the difference between a number one and a number four or five was $5 a
bushel on a 50-bushel average crop. You do the math. At 4.5 million acres at
$250 an acre, it's big-time money.
Senator Ogilvie: I want to thank all of you, especially you Mr.
Wickett, for clearly explaining the incredibly important aspect of plant
breeders' rights with regard to giving Canadian producers the opportunity to
compete in the world market and the ability to have access to the latest
developments in these areas.
I was involved in getting the first plant breeders' rights program when I was
a member of the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee. Canada had no
protection whatsoever, and we fought hard to get that. It took a long time to
get examples in place. Now, it surprises me to be on a committee where we find
we're out of date again and trying to catch up to give our producers access to a
My question is to you, Ms. Hart, and it relates to understanding something at
the bottom of the first page and the top of the second page of your presentation
where you refer to the harvested seed area. I assume that means the acres
planted. You indicate that 50 per cent of it is in Atlantic Canada and another
13 per cent of it is in Ontario and Quebec. Yet, of the total potato production
in Canada, you say that 50 per cent is west of Thunder Bay. I assume that means
that the productivity is much higher west of Thunder Bay, because if the amount
of acres planted is lower but the yield is higher, there must be some factor.
Have I misunderstood what this means?
Ms. Hart: Sorry, that was probably the way I worded it. The
percentages I gave were for seed acres across Canada, but for total potato
production, including production for fresh for consumers and for processing for
French fries and potato chips, over 50 per cent of that, including seed,
processing and fresh, is west of Thunder Bay. I apologize for that.
Senator Ogilvie: I see. So the first part just deals with the
production of seed for sale in that sense, not the total.
Ms. Hart: Yes.
Senator Ogilvie: I thought it might be a possibility, but I wanted to
be absolutely clear. Thank you very much.
Ms. Hart: Sorry about that.
Senator Moore: Thank you, witnesses, for being here.
Mr. Wickett, you mentioned the matter of the end-point royalties. They are
not in this bill; we've been told that by other witnesses. If they came into
being in the future, farmers would be the ones who would pay that royalty. Do
you think that farmers should obtain or acquire an intellectual property
interest in the seed that was created from such research?
Mr. Wickett: From public research are you thinking?
Senator Moore: From the monies that come from the farmers by way of an
end-point royalty and that are put into research. Do you think they should
acquire an interest in the result of that research?
Mr. Wickett: No, I don't. Like I said in my presentation, if I listen
to a song, I don't get a cut of the album sales.
Senator Moore: You didn't help to produce that song.
Mr. Wickett: No.
Senator Moore: It's a big difference.
Mr. Wickett: I could see an end-point royalty if we adjusted maybe
where the commissions are. We have a tariff on us right now that comes off and
goes to the wheat commissions of the various provinces. They, in turn, take that
money and invest it back into research. From a wheat growers' standpoint, we
have not taken a position on end-point royalties. It would depend how it was
collected and where it was directed.
Senator Moore: We had some evidence last week from one of the
witnesses — I don't know if it was in New Zealand or Australia, somewhere — that
an entity was put in place by the farmers that would acquire a certain
percentage interest in the intellectual property, in what was created, and
proceeds would then be distributed to the farmers who contributed to it. I
thought that was pretty good actually because it gave them a reason to continue
to work to keep their level of productivity up, but they were going to see
something coming back. In the future, if this comes up, you might want to look
at that model.
Ms. Armstrong, in answering the question from Senator Tardif, you said that
the retailer collects upon selling. It collects the proceeds of the sale of a
pedigree seed and then passes it on to the breeders, and the retailer gets
compensated for services. Is the compensation a percentage of the sale price, or
is it a negotiated lump sum per year, per crop? How does that work?
Ms. Armstrong: I was trying to be more general than specific to
retailers because pedigreed seed is sold through different channels. What I was
trying to say is that, whatever that channel is, the royalties do flow back to
the breeding company, organization or individual, depending on where it comes
from. Not all goes through retail is what I'm saying.
Senator Moore: Didn't you say that the entity that handles the money
gets paid? I think you said that. You said they get compensated for services.
How is that based?
Ms. Armstrong: I think the question was with respect to us as a seed
company. We are a company and we provide services and products. So we are
compensated for our services and for our products, and that's independent of the
royalty that flows to the breeder.
Senator Moore: When you collect this royalty and send it on to the
breeder, you don't get any part of that royalty?
Ms. Armstrong: Not the royalty.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentations. I've learned a few
Now that we are adopting UPOV 91, you mentioned that we are far apart from
there. We are miles away because we are so far behind other countries with
regard to the breeding of plants. Mr. Wickett, is that the way you mentioned it?
Are our breeds way behind the breeds that other countries are planting around
the world? Is there a way we can catch up?
Mr. Wickett: With respect to certain diseases, fusarium being one of
them, we are behind, and, yes, we can catch up. We just need access to that
germplasm that's available in other jurisdictions.
Senator Enverga: You say we will just buy the seeds from them, and so
we will be allowed to plant their seeds and regrow it from our farms; is that
Mr. Wickett: I'm not sure exactly how. I'm on the production end of
it, not the breeding, but I understand that the universities around the world,
especially, trade germplasm all the time.
Ms. Armstrong: I would add that I think there are two ways that we
would benefit. One is that some varieties from other parts of the world may work
well here. So if those breeders aren't currently willing to send those varieties
to Canada, then that opens up the possibility of those varieties as such. But
the other way is their being used by breeders to create even better varieties,
so being used for breeding purposes. Again, some breeders from around the world
will not send their material, even for crossing purposes, in Canada.
Senator Enverga: You mean that there are certain breeds that we don't
have here in Canada, and we want to get hold of that for sure?
Ms. Armstrong: Yes.
Senator Enverga: How do we bring them here? With UPOV 91, do we have
the capacity to bring them here?
Ms. Armstrong: That's one of those examples that I used where there is
a breeding company in Europe, and they are now willing — even just with the
potential of UPOV 91 being implemented in Canada, they are now sending their
material here for testing. In the past, they wouldn't have sent it for testing.
They wouldn't have sent it for anybody to use for crossing purposes. So there
are different means. It could be through a company like us, through a public
program or through different channels. But they have to decide if they want it
to be in Canada or not, number one, and then which channel they want to use.
Senator Enverga: Now that we have all this potential for UPOV 91, how
much of an increase in production will we gain from UPOV 91? I heard there will
be more investment. Will this be a gain in production of our agricultural
Mr. Wickett: With respect to disease resistance, et cetera, that
probably, in my particular area, cut the yield potential by 20 per cent this
year. It also cut the grade. We went from the top one or two grades down to
number 5 in sample. Once we get into the sample grade, it's not even usable for
a lot of feed purposes. The amount of money this country lost just on this last
crop is phenomenal.
Ms. Armstrong: I will add to those comments. There are three areas of
performance, if you will, where gains can be made: disease resistance, depending
on the crop type; agronomic performance; and then also end-use quality, again
depending on the crop type. In one sense, those are the areas where gains can be
In terms of actual investment, in the presentations you had last week it was
pointed out that there is a company that has broken ground on setting up a whole
new breeding station, for example, and there are other possibilities out there
like that if this legislation goes through.
Ms. Hart: I agree 100 per cent with what both Jim and Erin have
stated, but it would also encourage partnerships — and I'm thinking of our
industry specifically — with the U.S. and their breeding programs. So it would
definitely increase production end-use.
Senator Moore: Mr. Wickett, you mentioned that a disease cost Canada
dearly in the last crop. Does there exist a pesticide or some kind of
anti-disease product that we could have used, but we could not obtain it because
we are not part of UPOV? Is there a cure for this disease, and does one of these
other countries have it? How is it that we ended up not being able to help our
Mr. Wickett: There are fungicides available. What I said was that
there is a three- to five-day window. There is a fairly new disease that's been
moving its way west every year. There is probably a lack of knowledge amongst
the farmers as to the timing of it, and that is one of the big things. In the
last few years, varieties have come out of some of the programs that have
moderate resistance to the disease. That means that if the variety gets the
right conditions, it will get the disease.
Senator Moore: But that really did not have anything to do with UPOV
last year. It was a matter of having it and putting it on the plants in a timely
way — sounds like it.
Senator Enverga: One quick question: With the plant breeders' act, now
that you are picking up the gauntlet here, what will happen is that almost every
farmer will become a breeder. Will that create more problems for the seed
growers? Say I'm a farmer and I have found a new variety and I develop it. Will
it create competition for the present seed grower? Suddenly your crop is not as
Ms. Armstrong: That is an interesting question. I don't know that all
the farmers turn into breeders automatically. Maybe they could. I guess I'm not
100 per cent following what you're asking.
Senator Enverga: Right now, when you have a better strain of seed,
suddenly you can register it and you will become a seed supplier. Is that how
this will work?
Ms. Armstrong: I don't think this relates directly to that. Our
variety registration system is a whole separate discussion. What this will do is
allow breeders — whether it is an individual farmer or a company or a public
program — to protect their intellectual property when they do develop a new
variety, and it will allow them to be compensated for the use of that by
farmers, wherever they are, big or small.
Senator Oh: Thank you, gentlemen.
Bill C-18 will harmonize the Plant Breeders' Rights Act with the
international standards laid out in UPOV 91. It amends, among other things, the
list of the plant breeders' exclusive rights. Can you explain the difference
between the current plant breeders' rights and the rights that will be granted
under Bill C-18? How quickly will farmers benefit from Bill C-18 and turn around
profit and increase production?
Ms. Armstrong: I can make some comments. A number of changes will take
place if this goes through. It's everything from the length of time that
varieties will be protected. In field crops, for example, it will go from 18 to
20 years. It enshrines that ability of farmers to save their own production and
use it as seed on their own farm. It ensures that breeders can use protected
varieties for breeding purposes. It provides breeders the ability to be
compensated if they don't have the ability to collect a royalty when seed is
sold. It allows them the opportunity to be compensated through other means on
the use of their genetics.
In terms of how quickly I think farmers would see a benefit, in the case of
the breeding partner I gave an example of, we're already screening that
material. If this doesn't go through, they pull that material. It comes out of
our trials. It will not happen in Canada. If it does go through, then that
material and other potential new material that we would not see otherwise could
be on the market within a few years. Then again, other breeding programs will
have access to material they don't have right away. I believe it will be fairly
Mr. Wickett: As far as how quickly it will get into the farmers'
hands, I believe it will be fairly quick. The technology to now identify certain
traits and genes is huge. The stuff is multiplied over in New Zealand with the U
of S program. So as soon as it is harvested here in the fall, it heads to New
Zealand and is replanted.
Lots of times it is 10 years out to get a new variety; I think we can cut
that in half.
Senator Tardif: We have seen cutbacks in recent years in public plant
breeding support for research and infrastructure, and Bill C-18 puts increased
emphasis on private plant breeding.
Mr. Wickett, do you see a concern that Canadian seed developers may be
encouraged not to make genetic seed improvements that are adapted to the
Mr. Wickett: You think they won't?
Senator Tardif: That's right, because they will rely on private
investment. We heard from Professor Gray from the University of Saskatchewan
last week that there's a concern the private sector investment would not pay off
right away in the short and medium term, that the public sector programs are
being diminished and that this could reduce the payback to private investors as
well the development of new varieties that may not be adapted to the Canadian
context. If I understand correctly, for example, canola was supported by public
plant breeding programs, and very successfully. If we're diminishing public
plant breeding programs and the private investment is not going to pay off in
the short and medium term, there's a gap that needs to be filled.
Mr. Wickett: I can certainly see some of the smaller companies
partnering with the universities. The universities have the know-how, technology
and facilities that some of the smaller companies do not have. They have the
ability to get that multiplied, such as in New Zealand, so from my standpoint, I
do not see that.
Part of the new commissions that have just come up in Saskatchewan — just
starting their second year — is supposed to go into plant breeding and mostly
into the public. For whatever reason, the Saskatchewan commission has decided to
hold on to their money. But that's where that money should come from.
Senator Tardif: The fact that Canadian seed companies can now bring in
seeds from other countries to sell, and you don't necessarily have the
information about how that seed will perform under Canadian climatic conditions,
is that a concern to you?
Mr. Wickett: Not at all. No one is going to go out and seed their
whole farm to some unknown. They might seed a little bit. You are going to see
how it is. Word of mouth is going to travel pretty fast. If that variety doesn't
perform, it doesn't sell.
Senator Plett: I will be brief. I will incorporate two questions
quickly into one.
Ms. Armstrong told us about Canterra's membership. In the case of the
Canadian Wheat Growers Association and the Canadian Horticultural Council, do
you have memberships? Who gives you direction as to what you are to say here,
and your support? Who gives you that direction? And if you have memberships, can
you give us the numbers of your memberships?
Mr. Wickett: The Canadian Wheat Growers Association is a group that
you buy a membership to join. We have just under 1,000 members right now,
farmers across Western Canada. We have a board of directors. We have an annual
general meeting once a year. We also hold other meetings throughout the year,
and we get directions from our members. We get emails and texts from a lot of
them all of the time, and we incorporate that. As a board, we decide our
Senator Plett: All sizes of farmers, I'm assuming?
Mr. Wickett: Yes, there are 30,000- and 40,000-acre farms to 1,000.
Ms. Hart: The Canadian Potato Council has representation from every
province except Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It is voluntary. Most provinces
have a provincial organization, and they send representatives to the national
level. These are the people — our board — that represent the entire industry
across the country. They are the ones supporting Bill C-18. They're the ones
that are approving what is mentioned here.
We also have representation and associate members from companies that are
representing international companies, and they are also supporting this as well.
Senator Plett: Thank you very much.
The Acting Chair: Thank you Ms. Armstrong, Mr. Wickett and Ms. Hart
for the good information for members of the committee.
Honourable senators, we will now reconvene. First, we will hear from Delaney
Ross Burtnack. The floor is yours.
Delaney Ross Burtnack, President and CEO, Canadian Association of
Agri-Retailers: Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable senators. I appreciate
the opportunity to join you today to share CAAR's position regarding Bill C-18
on behalf of the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers.
My name is Delaney Ross Burtnack, President and CEO of CAAR, the Canadian
Association of Agri-Retailers. We represent the trusted support network for
Canadian farmers, and that includes agri-retailers, large and small, as well as
the crop input manufacturers, agronomy experts, transportation companies and
other service providers who support agri-retailers across Canada.
We join the supporters of the amendments proposed in Bill C-18, including the
Canadian Seed Trade Association, CropLife Canada, the Canadian Fertilizer
Institute and many grower and industry group partners that form Partners in
Innovation, to commend the Government of Canada in taking this step forward to
advance innovation in Canada, moving us toward our collective goal of enhancing
the Canadian agriculture industry.
The proposed amendments to nine acts put forward in Bill C-18, particularly
those proposed for the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, are a critical step forward
in generating investment in agricultural innovation and securing Canada's future
as a leader in agriculture.
CAAR and its member companies recognize the crucial role that innovation
plays in the success of the Canadian farmer, ensuring that they have the most
effective and safe crop production tools available to them. As the global
pressure increases to produce even more using fewer resources, with greater
transparency and traceability, innovation will become even more critical, and
innovation in seed varieties will play a vital role in the ability of Canadian
agriculture to meet future demand. We applaud the Government of Canada for
bringing Canada's Plant Breeders' Rights Act into compliance with the 1991
International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, or UPOV,
a commitment signed in Canada in 1992 and only now being brought into effect.
This step will bring Canada into line with its trade partners around the world
and stimulate much-needed investment in future crop varieties that will be the
foundation of increased food productivity and production efficiency.
We were pleased to note that the Senate report of June 2014, entitled
Innovation in Agriculture: The Key to Feeding a Growing Population,
recognized the important role the federal government plays in creating an
environment that encourages research and innovation in Canada, as well as the
need to strengthen and improve the regulatory framework in order for the
agriculture and agri-food sector to fully benefit from that research and
innovation. It is encouraging to see that the value of the enhancements outlined
in Bill C-18 in attracting and retaining investors and innovation in Canada were
recognized by the Senate in recommendation 8 in that report, which stated that
an update to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act of 1990 is recommended to meet the
standards set out in the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the
Protection of New Varieties of Plants.
As the trusted advisers to Canadian farmers, CAAR members are committed to
protecting their customers, including the inherent right of every farmer to have
the choice to invest in the newest and best seed technology available on the
market, or to utilize their own grain as seed for the next growing season. CAAR
supports the enhancement to the current legislation proposed in Bill C-18 that
will now explicitly protect our customers' option to use saved seed on their
farm, while protecting the companies that bring forward significant investment
in seed technology.
In addition, CAAR is pleased to see proposed amendments that will strengthen
the competitiveness of agricultural inputs in Canada. It is CAAR's mission to
enhance the business of Canadian agri-retail, and we agree with the Canadian
Food Inspection Agency's assessment that the proposed amendments in Bill C-18
related to feed, seed, fertilizers, livestock and plants will strengthen the
safety of agricultural inputs, reduce the administrative burden for our
industry, promote economic growth in the agricultural sector and increase trade
in agricultural products.
CAAR did note, however, that the amendments indicate registrations and
licences may be required in future for persons or establishments, authorizing
them to conduct a prescribed activity in respect to fertilizers, feeds and other
products. While this may only be intended as enabling legislation, and perhaps
this system change will not be implemented, such a change could have a
detrimental impact on retailers, particularly if multiple licences are required
for a single establishment. If the government intends to pursue a registration
and/or licensing system, we would appreciate the opportunity to join all vested
parties, including fellow industry groups like the Canadian Fertilizer
Institute, as well as retailers of fertilizer, feed and other products impacted
by such a system, in working closely with the government to assess the full
impact of such changes well before any licensing or registration system is
developed and implemented.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, and I would be pleased
to answer any questions.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Burtnack.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Van Akum are next.
David Jones, Member, Partners in Innovation Coalition: Thank you, Mr.
Chair and members of the committee. I am pleased to be here on behalf of
Partners in Innovation to speak to you today about amendments to plant breeders'
rights legislation as proposed in Bill C-18, the proposed "Agricultural Growth
My name is David Jones from the Canadian Potato Council and the Canadian
Horticultural Council. Plant breeders' rights have been tremendously important
to our sectors, and both our organizations are part of the Partners in
Partners in Innovation is an informal coalition of 20 provincial, regional
and national organizations from across Canada. The organizations that are part
of the coalition represent the vast majority of farmers in Canada and almost all
the crop production across the country. We have come together as Partners in
Innovation for two purposes: first, to clearly demonstrate to policy and
decision makers that the majority of farmers and the value chain groups support
the need for updated plant breeders' rights legislation in Canada; and, second,
to ensure that farmers, policy and decision makers and the public have access to
clear and correct information on the proposed amendments.
While each of the participants in the Partners in Innovation Coalition have
individual views on some of the other provisions of Bill C-18, we are all united
in our support for the proposed amendments to Canada's plant breeders' rights
legislation to bring it to compliance with the most recent international
convention, UPOV 1991.
All the participants in the coalition couldn't be here for this presentation,
but from coast to coast and from crop to crop, they have provided clear reasons
for supporting PBR amendments. I will provide just a few examples.
The first is from the President of the BC Grain Producers Association:
Modernization of Plant Breeders' Rights will help stimulate research in the
grain sector as well as foster investment and competiveness with new
From the President of the Canadian Canola Growers Association:
Enhancing our research environment to better attract investment in new
plant varieties is essential to keep our farms sustainable agronomically,
environmentally and economically today and into the future.
From the Chair of Mustard 21 Canada:
Plant Breeders' Rights legislation that conforms with UPOV 91 will provide
the Canadian mustard industry increased ability to. . . . support innovative
plant breeding. This will . . . continue to keep Canada on the map as the
world's Number 1 supplier of high quality mustard.
From the Chair of the Atlantic Grains Council:
With up-to-date Plant Breeders' Rights legislation in Canada, we are
hopeful that suitable international seed varieties will become available to
our region, helping Atlantic farmers with our unique agronomic challenges.
And, finally, from the President of the Canadian Horticultural Council:
As farms work to match production with the growing global population, it
becomes increasingly important that they have the tools needed to continue
to increase production. New varieties are an important part of this growth.
Ensuring that our Plant Breeders' Rights legislation is aligned with our
global trading partners is imperative.
I hope this has made it clear that the crop sector strongly supports and
needs improvements to plant breeders' rights to ensure that our farmers have
access to new and improved varieties developed in Canada and internationally. We
just have to look at new, exciting developments since the government announced
the proposed changes to understand the importance of these amendments.
Recently, sod was turned on a new cereal research and breeding centre in
Saskatoon, and new partnerships between Canadian seed companies and
international plant breeders have been formed to bring improved varieties to
Canadian farmers. More partnerships are in the works now. In every case, it has
been made clear that these decisions would not have been made without the
promise of legislation that complies with UPOV 91.
I want to spend a little time addressing four of the most common
misconceptions of the proposed amendments.
First, plant breeders' rights are not patents. Unlike patents, plant
breeders' rights make it mandatory for breeders to make their protected
varieties available for use by other breeders for research and to develop new
varieties. Also unlike patents, Canada's proposed plant breeders' rights
legislation will ensure that farmers can save the grain they produce to use as
seed on their own farms.
Second, the proposed amendments will not implement end-point royalties or
allow for royalties to be collected anywhere but on the seed. The legislation is
very clear that the only time the breeder can be compensated on harvested
material is if the breeder can prove that the seed was acquired illegally.
Third, no matter what we call it, the amendments contained in Bill C-18
entrench the ability of farmers to save the grain they produce on their farms,
to clean it, to condition it and to store it for use as seed on their own farms.
While it is called farmers' privilege in the margins, the exceptions to plant
breeders' rights for farmers is clearly spelled out in the legislation and
cannot be taken away without a legislative change.
Fourth, large seed companies and developers will not be the only ones to
benefit from updated plant breeders' rights. In fact, 50 per cent of all
agricultural varieties protected by PBR were developed at public institutions.
I hope these points go some way in answering some of the questions you may
have regarding amendments to plant breeders' rights. In conclusion, on behalf of
the 20 organizations that makes up the Partners in Innovation Coalition, thank
you for the opportunity to meet with you today. I would be pleased to answer
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Jones.
Mr. Van Akum, you have the floor.
Henry Van Akum, Chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario: Thank you very much
for this opportunity to give witness to the proposed amendments to Bill C-18.
My name is Henry Van Akum. I'm a corn, soybean and wheat farmer from Ontario,
and I'm also the Chairman of the Grain Farmers of Ontario. We represent over
28,000 members growing grain in Ontario.
My organization is a member of the Partners in Innovation Coalition as well,
and we're very supportive of the changes that are being proposed. We feel that
they will be a tremendous and long-term benefit to farmers here in Canada.
We need access to new and improved varieties to stay competitive in the
domestic and international marketplaces. Updated plant breeders' rights
legislation does increase investment and it results in the delivery of new
varieties, both from breeders operating in and outside of Canada. It was proven
when Canada went from no PBR to a PBR platform in the early 1990s.
For example, at that time the pulse crop sector was able to access new
varieties. Eighty-nine per cent of the new varieties were developed outside of
Canada. Also, public cereal breeders in Canada saw a significant increase in the
revenue they received from new varieties, and cereal yields increased by between
11 and 22 per cent.
Oilseeds also accounted for 61 per cent of the agricultural PBR applications.
Research investment tripled in the 10 years after PBR was implemented and
production area increased by 70 per cent. But as Canada fell behind other
countries, we once again lost access to international varieties and germplasm.
A letter from the European Seed Association to the Minister of Agriculture
and Agri-Food directly said that European companies would not send varieties to
Canada because our PBR legislation was not UPOV 91 compliant. Some seed
companies were refused varieties to evaluate in Canada, and large plant breeding
companies chose to invest in countries other than Canada.
The amendments proposed will encourage all plant breeders, big or small,
private or public, international or domestic, to invest in the development of
new plant varieties for Canadian farmers. Fifty per cent of the plant breeders'
rights granted on agricultural crops come from public institutions, like
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provincial governments and universities.
It is important to clarify that plant breeders' rights are not patents.
Unlike patents, plant breeders' rights make it mandatory for breeders to make
their protected varieties available for use by other breeders for research and
to develop new varieties.
Also unlike patents, Canada's proposed plant breeders' rights legislation
will ensure that farmers can save the grain they produce to use as seed on their
own farms. Our current legislation doesn't say anything about saving grain of
protected varieties to use as seed. The new legislation clearly spells it out.
It says that farmers don't need the authority of the breeder to produce,
reproduce and condition grain of protected varieties to use as seed on their own
farms. Because it is entrenched in this legislation, it can't be taken away
without a legislative change, and that's pretty good assurance to me.
I think one of the most important parts about this bill is that it helps to
create a platform that will stimulate and accelerate innovation and genetic
advancement in crops here in Canada that have seen the yield curves and growth
potentials flatten in recent years. By creating an economic platform that can
stipulate those yield improvements as well as other agronomic and disease
traits, this is where the rubber will meet the road and Canadian farmers will
see the benefits of this proposed change.
The Grain Farmers of Ontario and I, as an active corn, soybean and wheat
farmer, support the move to be compliant with UPOV 91 and appreciate the
continued effort to move this forward. I am pleased to answer any questions you
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Van Akum.
Senator Dagenais: My question is for Mr. Van Akum. You are a seed
grower. I am not sure whether you have heard about Monsanto, in Brazil, a
company that had commercialized a variety of self-protecting soybeans that could
protect themselves against pests. However, when that variety was commercialized,
very large royalties were collected. Brazilian farmers then chose to buy their
own pesticide to protect their crops.
Have you seen similar problems in Canada with new varieties of seeds? If so,
how could the issue of high royalties have been avoided? Clearly, in that case,
it was up to Monsanto.
Mr. Van Akum: From my perspective, I guess at a distance I have seen
the story you refer to play out in Brazil. I can best speak to it from my
experiences here in Canada. Certainly having the freedom and the privilege to be
a farmer in Canada, I'm free to choose which seeds I want to grow on my farm. We
have seen, especially in crops such as corn and soybeans, where there has been
significant private investment and new technologies, biotech traits essentially
added to the seeds, that farmers have adopted the use of these traits in a very
As a farmer, I analyze each investment I make and how it will affect the
economic stability of my operation. I have made the choice on my farm to grow
these varieties that have royalties and charges added to the seed. But at the
end of the day, I receive much more in return for the performance of those
I think, for myself and for many other farmers in Canada, we have adopted
these technologies and they have proven to be very rewarding for our operations.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Jones, Ms. Ross Burtnack, do you have anything
to add about the royalties on seed varieties? No? Thank you.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for being here today.
I understand that you are all part of the Partners in Innovation Coalition.
Your support for bringing amendments to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act and to
the standards of UPOV 91 is evident by in the statements you've made.
I've asked this before, but is there any concern that the regulations could
come into play because orders-in-council could be brought in that would allow
the minister to make regulations that would change the nature of the farmers'
Mr. Van Akum: We see no reason to be concerned about that. The
farmers' privilege, as it has been stated in this bill, is more firmly
entrenched by stating it than in the past when we made no comment about it.
We are comfortable with the environment that that creates. We look forward
for farmers in Canada to grow due to the stimulation from increased genetic
Senator Tardif: Along with that, it's a question of incorporation by
reference, which allows the minister to incorporate even third party sources;
not debated in committee and not presented to Parliament for debate. Is that of
concern to you, that changes could be brought in? Third party sources,
references, documents from external or foreign sources could be introduced and
these would bring changes to the existing legislation?
Mr. Van Akum: From our perspective, our analysis of the bill does not
raise those concerns for us.
Senator Tardif: The onus would be on farmers to be aware of these
changes because you would not necessarily have any knowledge of them in the
public domain. So how do you see the government proceeding and including you in
Mr. Jones: I would think that any changes made would require the
agreement of the producer groups involved, that they would be supportive and
that the government would have the support to move ahead with any proposed
Senator Tardif: Are there any commitments being made on the
consultation side? Have you received any commitments in that regard?
Mr. Jones: Not that I'm aware of.
Senator Tardif: You have not received commitments that consultations
would be in place? No? Okay.
I have a question for Ms. Burtnack from the Canadian Association of
Agri-Retailers. You indicated a concern in the last paragraph of your
presentation with regard to amendments to registrations and licences if multiple
licences are required for single establishments. Would you care to elaborate?
Ms. Burtnack: Yes, it was noted as an overview, kind of a broad
statement, about the potential for registrations or licences to be required for
certain prescribed acts. I think the phrasing was broad enough that it was not a
specific concern, because I don't know what that system would look like. But it
was a request to the government that if this is the phrasing of the amendment
and if such a system was implemented, that the retail industry and all vested
parties be included in the decision to explore that system and then be included
in the development of that system. Certainly for the retailers that I represent,
many are involved in fertilizers and seed, and some are also involved in feed.
So it could be that multiple licences or registrations are required. If some
kind of fee structure and paper work are affiliated with that, then it becomes
burdensome if it's affecting the same company multiple times. That was the
concern that I wanted to raise; it's something that was flagged for the Canadian
Association of Agri-Retailers as a potential burden to retailers, depending on
how the system is structured. It's simply a flag and a request that if that is
developed at some point, that we be included in that development process.
Senator Plett: I have just a couple of questions. I appreciate all the
support, but it's difficult to ask people questions when they think the same way
we do and many of their answers are exactly what we have been saying all along.
But I certainly appreciate the support.
Mr. Jones, you explained to us the membership in your organization, but I
would like Ms. Burtnack and Mr. Van Akum to explain their memberships, too.
Ms. Burtnack: The Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers is a national
association. Approximately 600 businesses are members. We connect to a number of
individual staff within those businesses as well. Of those 600 businesses,
approximately 400 are retailers. Approximately 150 of those companies would be
suppliers, which could be chemistry, seed, fertilizer, agronomy, banks and other
services to retailers. They are primarily a member of CAAR in order to network,
connect with and support retailers. Approximately 50 would be sister
associations and other groups that we work with to collaborate and ensure that
we are helping retailers to be aware as possible as of the on-goings of the
Senator Plett: Thank you.
Mr. Van Akum: The Grain Farmers of Ontario is a provincial commodity
organization with the authority to collect check-off fees from farmers in
Ontario on the sale of corn, soybeans and wheat. Approximately 28,000 farmers in
Ontario belong to our organization as check-off paying members.
Out of that group of farmers in Ontario, across 15 districts in the province,
they elect 150 delegates. Those 150 delegates elect 15 directors to our board of
directors. Our delegates are also very much engaged in the setting of policy and
direction for the organization. It's in close consultation with our delegates
across the province that we have positioned our organization in support of that
Senator Plett: Mr. Van Akum, you told us that you farm corn, soybean
and wheat. Would farmers' privilege apply to you with all three of your crops?
Mr. Van Akum: Not so much on the corn and soybean side because on both
of those crops I grow varieties where genetic traits are involved. I signed a
licence agreement when I purchased that seed from the seed company that I will
not reuse those seeds on my own farm. Certainly when it comes to wheat, the
varieties we grow do not have similar patent-type protections, so in that case I
would have the opportunity to reuse that seed for my own use.
Senator Plett: Is that common with every corn and soy farmer, or would
some farmers not have these agreements that you are talking about?
Mr. Van Akum: It's quite common. I would estimate about 95 per cent of
Ontario's corn is grown in that way and about 70 per cent of Ontario's soybeans.
Senator Plett: My colleague Senator Tardif raised a concern about the
Governor-in-Council and orders of reference. First of all, let me just have one
lead-up question to this: Were your organizations consulted through this process
at all? Were either the organizations themselves or some of the farmers involved
in helping draft some of this legislation? Did some of your ideas come forward?
Mr. Jones: Certainly the Canadian Horticultural Council and Canadian
Potato Council have been involved for many years in trying to influence that
these amendments be adopted for UPOV 91. Our member organizations have certainly
been supportive of that. For a number of years, we've been requesting that these
amendments go through. The amendments required under UPOV 91 are certainly
things that contain all the elements that we were interested in seeking.
Senator Plett: Ms. Burtnack?
Ms. Burtnack: Not so much consulted, but certainly in the loop. We
work closely with the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and I know they have been
involved significantly in developing the phrasing. We've been informed and kept
in touch. It's a little beyond our scope, but we certainly want to be informed
and involved. I would say informed, yes, and consulted. It was not necessarily
our place to set the phrasing, but we were definitely supportive of the
direction it was going.
Senator Plett: I asked that question because the minister was here and
was very clear in that changes would only come forward after a thorough
consultative process. Mr. Van Akum already answered this question in part. Would
the three of you feel comfortable with the minister's assurances? Of course,
this would then pass on to other ministers down the road. Do you feel fairly
comfortable with the assurances we have that changes could not be made without
Mr. Van Akum: Yes, certainly our organization is comfortable with
those assurances. I think we have a good track record in Canada of consulting
with the stakeholders involved before a move gets made.
I've been chairman of our organization almost three years now. Early on in my
role, we brought forward in our visits with government, in our policy platform,
an encouragement to move to UPOV 91 for plant breeders' rights. We saw the
potential benefit there, and we saw this as a way to help accelerate and
stimulate innovation in variety development that could help us address a disease
challenge or increasing yields on our fields. For quite some time, we have been
bringing this forward and have had opportunity to add input along the way.
Ms. Burtnack: I would say that the process that I did witness that the
Canadian Seed Trade Association went through working directly with the minister
in terms of developing the phrasing and even initial drafts of some of the lists
of crops was very inclusive and a very strong back and forth dialogue, which I
think was very positive. The fact that it is somewhat removed from the process,
requiring gazetting and the extra steps, will expedite the process. What the
Canadian Seed Trade Association went through in terms of working with the
minister and the back and forth dialogue, if that is the process that would be
expected to go forward, that would be ideal and ensure that everyone's needs are
met with the final draft of whatever changes were put forward.
Senator Plett: Mr. Jones, if the minister would unilaterally make
changes to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, we would no longer be UPOV 91
compliant, would we?
Mr. Jones: No, the changes that are proposed are contained in UPOV 91,
so we are in support of those.
Senator Plett: If we pass the bill today or next week, and if the
minister would come along and, on his own, unilaterally make changes, he would
obviously be deviating from UPOV 91 and we would no longer be part of that?
Mr. Jones: Right, and divergent from the international standard.
Senator Tardif: I have a supplementary further to Senator Plett's
question about whether we would be in compliance with UPOV 91 if the minister
unilaterally made a change. I would say that with UPOV 91, in some cases, some
countries have no farmers' privilege, and some countries such as Canada have a
modified farmers' privilege. Some countries have a full farmers' privilege.
There are variations of the type of exemption that is granted in the Plant
Breeders' Rights Act. I just want to put that on the record to clarify.
Mr. Jones: Currently there is no statement about farmers' privilege in
existing legislation, so we are taking a step in a positive direction that it is
entrenched in the legislation that farmers have the right to save their own
seed. Right now it's implied but not stated.
Senator Tardif: I understand that, but the legislation also allows for
change down the road with ministerial orders-in-council.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentations. From what I heard so
far, even from the last witnesses we heard, you are upbeat about Bill C-18 and
everybody wants it done as soon as possible. From your point of view, and I
asked this question before, what have we lost with this delay? Did you lose any
opportunity in innovation or investment? Have you felt something like this
should have been done years ago? What have we lost so far, and what will happen
to you if there is any delay on the bill at all?
Mr. Van Akum: I can respond to that and thank you for that question.
I think it can be difficult to specifically measure what the cost may be of
delay. It's fair to say that as every season goes by and we have not generated
that stimulus for more rapidly increasing the development of new and better
varieties, we have the potential to lose yield and suffer crop loss again from
disease that could be managed through genetic improvement.
That speaks to the need to get on with this and help to set up the platform
that will stimulate the development of new and better varieties that we can
incorporate into our farms.
Senator Enverga: Is there a way to quantify it or put a price tag on
what you have lost because we do not have this?
Mr. Van Akum: I can bring it down to the perspective of one farmer in
Ontario. This year I grew about 500 acres of wheat, not the biggest crop on my
farm. Certainly, if there was potential for five more bushels an acre for that
crop but I was not able to reach that potential because the variety I could
access did not have that yield potential in it, then the loss would be 25,000
bushels of wheat at $6 a bushel — significant dollars.
Senator Enverga: Mr. Jones?
Mr. Jones: One of the big losses is in competitiveness. I'm in the
potato industry. Our direct competitors are in the United States. They have PBR
production that we don't have, so they have access to varieties from Europe that
are new and improved, and that has limited the introduction in Canada. It
hinders our competitiveness, and we want to be on a level playing field with
other countries in the world.
Ms. Burtnack: Yes, I would agree, but it's difficult to
quantify. I would see the value in that, but it's an opportunity cost in my
mind. There is opportunity lost in terms of competitiveness, as Mr. Jones was
saying. If our competitors have a higher-quality, higher-yielding, more
disease-resistant variety or something with unique qualities and they secure a
market ahead of us, then it's difficult to move in and take a portion of that
market if they've had one to three years to secure and supply it. That
opportunity is lost with time.
One other piece from an agronomic perspective is that the disease
protectiveness or pest protectiveness that can be bred into some crops tends to
break down over time. As pests overcome the means of resistance, those crops are
not as effective in managing those pests. The more years it takes to develop new
varieties that are effective at controlling these pests, the more crop yield is
lost to less effective crops.
Senator Enverga: In addition, we are going to put this together and
pass the bill, hopefully with the blessings of everybody. What is the timing for
this? How can you catch up? Do you have a timeline for how long you need to
catch up with everybody in the market?
Mr. Van Akum: In communication with some seed companies that operate
in Ontario, I know that even the idea that Canada is considering moving to this
has raised the attention of seed companies that will be able to bring forward
new and better genetics to be incorporated and developed into better varieties
for Canadian farmers. We could be looking at a five-to seven-year period for
those varieties to be bred, properly developed and made available to the
Canadian farmer. It's not instant gratification in the breeding and development
of varieties. Over the long term, accessing the best genetics you can to develop
those varieties is a critical point.
Senator Enverga: It will take five to seven years to catch up. Would
you suggest that as soon as the next UPOV comes up, UPOV 2012 or 2015, the
government deliver it as soon as possible? Are we too slow in doing this type of
Mr. Van Akum: It's important to have an eye to potential opportunity.
At the same time, it's important to deliberate carefully and thoughtfully to
consider the changes and the impact.
Mr. Jones: In the potato industry, initially we would have an influx
of new varieties from Europe, for example the Netherlands as they are biggest
breeder of potato varieties. That would be followed by the development of
varieties bred for a Canadian environment.
Senator Tardif: My understanding is that only registered seeds can be
saved by farmers. Do you see the possibility of seed companies deregistering
their seed in order to continue collecting the royalties or preventing other
companies or farmers from reusing their seeds?
Mr. Jones: Only registered varieties can be sold. If a variety is
deregistered, it can no longer be sold as certified seed; so I don't see that
History has shown that varieties have a short life. Plant breeders' rights
typically last four to six years because there is such a high turnover rate in
varieties, such as the wheat yield gain. The Crop Science Society of America put
out a study last year showing that yield gain in wheat is just less than 1 per
cent per year. There is no desire to use older varieties because they change so
fast. The benefits to the growers are so strong for adopting new varieties that
the incentive to grow older varieties is not necessarily there.
Ms. Burtnack: I would say the same. I'm not fully fluent in the seeds
system, but I agree with Mr. Jones that registration would be required and
deregistration would be counterproductive to the seed companies. I could see how
you might come to that perception, but I don't see it as good business practice
to deregister those products. There is value in being certified and sold as
certified because there are certain guarantees and assumptions of the traits and
qualities of the seed that allow it to be of more value to that company.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Burtnack from Winnipeg.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Van Akum, thank you for your information here today.
The Acting Chair: We will now reconvene. Joining us by videoconference
is Terry Boehm, chair of the Seed and Trade Committee, from the National
Farmers' Union. We also have Devlin Kuyek, as an individual, author of a book
entitled Stolen Seeds: The Privatisation of Canada's Agricultural
Biodiversity, and Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada,
accompanied by Pat Mooney.
I now give the floor to the representatives of Food Secure Canada.
Diana Bronson, Executive Director, Food Secure Canada: Mr. Chair,
thank you for inviting us to appear before you today and share our views.
Food Secure Canada is a national membership-based coalition that has three
goals: zero hunger, healthy and safe food, and sustainable food systems. Our
goal is really to promote the idea of a national food policy for Canada that
would put those goals at the centre, that is, the elimination of hunger, a
sustainable food system, and healthy and safe food for everyone.
The bulk of our presentation today will be given by one of our member
organizations. The National Farmers Union is also a member of Food Secure
Canada, and that's Pat Mooney from the ETC Group who has worked on seed policy
for pretty close to four decades now and is a renowned international expert on
the topic of plant breeders' rights.
My message today is very general for you at a macro level. We think this is a
missed opportunity in agricultural legislation in Canada to move Canadian
agriculture in the direction that Canadians want to see. I will cite just one
statistic from the Department of Agriculture's own opinion surveys: 86 per cent
of Canadians want to buy more local food, yet the unique focus of our
agricultural policy has been on accessing export markets, more technology and
more innovation. We are not against any of those things, but we think they need
to be balanced with the kind of sustainable policies that Canadians want to see.
With that, I will turn over the rest of our presentation to Pat Mooney.
Pat Mooney, Member, Food Secure Canada: Thank you, chair, for this
opportunity. I do have a certain sense of déjà vu today in listening to some of
the presentations earlier this afternoon. I was involved in the legislation and
discussions about it back in 1977 when it was first proposed by the Minister of
Agriculture at that time. It is interesting to see what was proposed then, what
was promised and what was warned, the threats that were expressed if we didn't
pass plant breeders' rights legislation.
It is useful to ask ourselves, what happened since then? What happened to the
original promises and the original warnings if we didn't pass it, and what does
that mean for today? I heard the same arguments this afternoon as I heard back
in the 1970s and 1980s.
We were told then that one of the major concerns would be that if we didn't
have legislation we would be left behind, the public sector would go into
decline and we would lose investment from overseas and we would lose varieties
from overseas — all the things you heard today. In reality, frankly, not much
Well, some things have changed. Instead of seeing more seed companies in the
marketplace working with us, what we see is 7,000 seed companies in 1977 around
the world involved in commercial plant breeding and seed sales, and not one
company had even 1 per cent of the market in seeds globally. Today we see that
three companies have 54 per cent of the global commercial seed market. The top
10 companies together make up 75 per cent of the global commercial seed market.
So there's been an enormous implosion, in fact, in the number of companies
actually providing seed to this planet, not just in Canada.
In terms of the public breeding programs, we have seen a significant decline
in Canada and around the world in public breeding, the opposite of what was
proposed to us. I don't have the most immediate figures for Canada, but a few
weeks ago reports came out from the United States showing in the last 20 years
public sector breeding programs in the United States have declined by about 33
If we look at varieties being developed, frankly the focus of the major
breeding companies is on a handful of crops. We're not seeing a diversification
in species at all. In fact, the Global Crop Diversity Trust last year, which is
associated with the United Nations in the Food and Agriculture Organization,
reported that since the formation of UPOV in 1961 up until 2009 they have seen
an actual implosion in the diversity of foods on the table being offered to
people in industrialized companies, a 36 per cent implosion in that diversity,
so the opposite, again, of what was being proposed.
We are seeing the threats that were being made about, well, if we don't have
this legislation, we will lose access to overseas varieties. I would love to see
the lists of those varieties, because I know when we looked at that initially
back in the 1970s and 1980s, in different companies we found in general, when
the lists were provided on those rare occasions, usually about a third of the
varieties listed were actually not part of plant breeders' rights at all. They
had died. They were no longer part of certifications. We found about another
third of those varieties listed, whenever they were listed, were actually
available. It was simply other regulations, phytosanitary regulations and other
things, that made it difficult to access those varieties. It wasn't really
related to access to legislation or the exclusive monopoly protection.
Across the board, what we don't see is the benefits that were promised from
plant breeders' rights. What we see is general commentaries about what is
required, what is hoped for, what we wish would happen, but we don't see in the
record of the legislation or in other countries any of those benefits really
being presented. I think that's something we should be evaluating much more
closely than we have up to this time.
We are seeing, in fact, a real uniformity in the species that we didn't see
before in some cases. For example, the legislation moved in the United States
from 1970 because of a concern of southern corn leaf blight that was threatening
the corn crop in the United States and actually devastated the corn crop in the
United States. We were told that with plant breeders' rights in the United
States there would be a massive increase in breeding in corn. Well, we don't. We
have three companies that control 85 per cent of the corn market in the United
States. We are told by major breeders in the United States that there's greater
uniformity in the corn crop now in the United States than there was in 1970 and
a greater risk of disease now than in 1970.
Frankly, as we look through the list of promises and warnings, we don't see
the value to the legislation, and we recommend that the legislation be dropped.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much.
Devlin Kuyek, as an individual: Good afternoon and thank you, Mr.
In addition to the book that was mentioned, I'm also the author of this book,
Good Crop/Bad Crop, which I think still is the only comprehensive history of
seed policy in Canada. I am also quite familiar with the debates that were had
in the 1990s around the first plant breeders' rights legislation.
I work as well with an international non-governmental organization with a
focus on seeds and biodiversity in agriculture. We have closely analyzed the
impacts of the application of UPOV 91 in other countries.
I will confine my comments today to the aspects of C-18 that deal with the
Plant Breeders' Rights Act.
I think it is quite obvious that although different things have been said,
the intention to anybody looking at this of moving towards UPOV 91 in creating
farmers' privilege is to further curtail farmer seed saving and production
whether that happens gradually or immediately. This has always been the history
of UPOV 91 and the farmers' privilege. It is a steppingstone towards patents.
If you think of the Canadian context, it is very difficult to understand why
there would be a move to give seed companies more power, why there would be an
effort to curtail what is a traditional practice of farmers when it is already
so much under threat.
In addition to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act of 1990, which did
significantly restrain what farmers could do with seeds, you have patents on
transgenes, as was mentioned, so many of the biotech crops that are sold are
patented crops. Farmers are not able to save seeds from those crops. They're
also under threat if their crops are contaminated by those transgenes as those
crops become the property of the patent holder.
There are grower contracts with very strict limitations. One of the farmers
who just spoke mentioned some of the grower contracts that farmers now have to
face, which prevents them from saving seeds. These are now very widespread. In
Ontario, for instance, less than a third of the corn varieties available would
be sold without a grower contract, which would prohibit farmers from saving
You also have that with non-GMO crops even. Crops sold under the identity
preservation system, which is becoming more and more ubiquitous, often will
prevent farmers from saving seeds.
Seed companies are also focused heavily on the development of hybrids. Canola
was a publicly bred crop and a huge success story for public breeding in this
country. About 90 per cent of the varieties that are now available are hybrid
varieties, and those varieties cannot be saved by farmers. It is similar with
corn and any other crop where they can successfully developed hybrids.
In Quebec, many farmers find this a huge problem. They can't save seeds
because they can't get crop insurance if they use farm-saved seeds. Initiatives
have been sought by farmers to develop protocols to show the quality of
farm-saved seeds, but that has also been blocked.
There is already an enormous amount of pressure and threat on farmers who
face all kinds of things, from litigation to private detectives, to prevent them
from saving seeds.
The justification given for tightening the screws on farmers and their
involvement in seed saving and production, I think I have heard two main
arguments. One falls into research and development and innovation. The more
royalties that are collected, the idea is that that will go into research and
development, or plant breeding. I think that's a stretch. Again, most of these
companies who will collect the royalties will be outside of Canada. They won't
be doing plant breeding in Canada. To think that that would go into plant
breeding in Canada is quite a stretch. It also could go into any other things
that a company like Monsanto, for instance, would put their money into. But it
does have an opposite effect on research and development.
I spent a lot of time talking to public breeders when I was doing my research
and breeders around the world who feel that the most important thing to their
own breeding programs is free and open access to other germplasm. This is being
blocked. That was the main complaint that was put forward with the PBR Act, that
this would hinder public breeding, because public breeding doesn't function on
royalties. It functions on collective research and the sharing of knowledge, and
it is an incremental process where breeders work with the varieties that have
been developed before them and each adds their little bit. That's what gets
blocked with intellectual property rights, and that's where the problem lies
with public programs.
Public programs have been the bedrock for our seed system in Canada for
decades, and they continue to be. As others witnesses have noted here, those
public programs are in decline. We may have some public varieties that are still
being developed and a large number that are still of high quality and continue
to be used, but any public breeder from Canada will tell you about the serious
constraints they face and the cuts that they have had to their programs. That
also puts enormous pressure on farmers who have always benefited from access to
those public varieties and have then multiplied them, produced them, used them
for their own fields, shared them with their neighbours and exchanged them with
others. There has always been this strong public program that really included
farmers as a basis.
From those two different models you get research and development, but you get
very different outcomes. Supporting the large seed companies that dominate the
seed industry, they have focused on GMOs. They focus on the integration of
traits that are closely tied with the sale of their products, so pesticides,
even crops that produce their own insecticides, and they don't do much
fundamental breeding. They don't look at things like disease resistance. They
don't do much when it comes to end-use traits, things that the public sector has
really focused on.
They also don't integrate some of the other objectives that a public breeding
program can, looking at things like the environment, how varieties can sustain
rural communities and what consumers would like.
I have one last quick point to make, if you will permit me, Mr. Chair. The
argument made as a justification is that this will bring us into conformity with
UPOV 91. It is important to note that there are different models out there. The
U.S. has patents on plants. The EU has not allowed GMOs on the market. Chile had
adopted similar legislation to UPOV 91 and then repealed it after widespread
opposition. So there are different trends out there. There are differences in
Just because what works in the EU and the U.S., which are vastly different
seed markets, does not mean that that should be applied to the Canadian context.
It is the case, however, that a unique model is being pushed. This UPOV 91
model is being pushed around the world, mainly through trade agreements. Often
these are pushed by the home countries of the largest seed multinationals, by
the EU and U.S. in particular, and they have been imposing UPOV 91 on much
weaker players through these trade agreements. For instance, in Africa, 90 per
cent of the seed is farm-saved seed, developed by farmers. It has nothing to do
with UPOV. UPOV is only a threat to it. These countries have been arm-twisted
into accepting UPOV 91 through the economic partnership agreements with Europe.
Canada is getting similarly arm-twisted now. As for our legislation, yes, the
industry would say it is out of step with some other countries, and that's why
Canada is being targeted, I believe, to adopt UPOV 91. I think it would be a
shame if we simply took on what is not an agenda that suits Canadian interests
and adopted UPOV 91.
The Acting Chair: We apologize to Mr. Boehm, because we lost the
connection. Because of the storm, I don't think we will be able to reconnect.
Senator Plett will ask the first question.
Senator Plett: Hopefully we can reconnect.
We have had a number of witnesses over the last few weeks, and the first ones
today, here now, are not supportive, but all of our witnesses were not just
mildly supportive. I asked the question today again: What's the biggest concern
you have? The answer was, "Not getting it passed fast enough."
We have heard witnesses both here and in the House of Commons: the Western
Barley Growers Association, the Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Alberta
Wheat Commission, Canterra Seeds, the Canadian Seed Trade Association, Keystone
Agricultural Producers, Prairie Oat Growers Association, Partners in Innovation,
Grain Growers of Canada, Canadian Potato Council and the Canadian Federation of
Agriculture. The Chair of Cereals Canada was a witness, as was Grain Farmers of
Ontario. Mark Eyking, the Liberal agriculture critic, says that it looks very
good and that there is a lot that he can support.
It's across the board — farmers, businesspeople, seed companies. Canterra
Seeds was here a little while ago. I don't know if you were here and listened to
her. There have been a lot of comments that I have heard in the last few
minutes, and I read the National Farmers Union brief. I was hoping I could
question Mr. Boehm on some of the comments. I read something which essentially
referred to large versus small ma and pa operations and that C-18 and UPOV
provisions apply to everyone equally. The Canadian Seed Trade Alliance was at
the House of Commons committee and testified that of their 100 member seed
breeders in Canada, only 5 were so-called multinationals. We had Canterra Seeds
here — small, 27 people — and they're supporting this. So it is not just the
multinationals; it is not just the Monsantos. They are supporting it.
Our crop yields over the years have been increasing every year as a result of
innovation. The Plant Breeders' Rights Act is building on that. I want to know
how you square that box when we have had farmers telling us, "Please, pass this;
this is a good thing for us."
The fact of the matter is we know that when you have large farms and have a
problem with the crop, it is a large problem. If you have a 100-acre crop, it is
not a big problem. I'm from Manitoba. It is the hog capital of Canada, and when
a disease breaks out in a barn nowadays, it is a major concern because of the
size of the operation.
The fact of the matter is that we want to keep up with other countries. We
want to export, and we're trying to stay in that business. In a few years from
now we will need to feed another I don't know how many more billion people, and
we need to increase our crops. Yet, here we are concerned that the
multinationals are taking over when the small guys are saying that's just simply
I know there's a lot of comment there and not a lot of questions, but Mr.
Mr. Mooney: Thank you, senator.
I'm from Manitoba too, and I think it doesn't make any difference how many
we're talking about here in terms of which industry associations are speaking of
this. The bottom line is that, again, three companies have 54 per cent of the
global commercial seed market. The bottom line still is that, if you look at
agricultural inputs in general — and that's why you get testimony from CropLife
and the fertilizer industry as well — six companies collectively make up 75 per
cent of all research.
Senator Plett: Tell me what's wrong with that, not that they have it.
Tell me what's wrong with the fact that we have that. Does that make your life
more difficult? Does that put less food on the table for me and the average
Canadian that we have that?
Mr. Mooney: Yes, I think we see a decline in innovation. When you have
an oligopoly in the marketplace, you don't get a lot of innovation. There's no
incentive to innovate. There's an incentive to advertise.
Senator Plett: Yet our yields are increasing every year.
Mr. Mooney: They're increasing very slowly in fact. We're not getting
major yield increases. We're getting 1 per cent for wheat per year, which is not
very much. Farmers on their own, in Africa, will get yield increases of close to
1 per cent per year just from saving their feed and planting again, adapting and
selecting the best seed every year. That's not an impressive figure. What you're
getting is a lot of platitudes about who will innovate and how and a basic
assumption that somehow plant breeders' rights or intellectual property
protection will be beneficial. You are not getting data given to you as to what
it really comes to. What are we actually getting in this? We get higher yield
increases in the public sector, for example, through the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research. They do much better than the yields that we
have been hearing about today.
Senator Plett: My father farmed a little bit. My grandfather farmed a
little more — small farms — and they were getting 10 to 15 bushels to the acre.
Now, sir, I don't want to date you, but looking at the colour of your hair, you
and I are maybe close to the same age. Now these 15-bushel-an-acre crops are 70
and 80 bushels an acre. That's not 1 per cent.
Mr. Mooney: That wasn't the plant breeders' rights either; it was
before the legislation was passed. The big boom in yields was coming out of
1960s, 1970s, the late 1950s even, before there was any legislation here in
Canada or the United States.
Senator Plett: But plant breeders' rights aren't going to stop those
yields from increasing. So if you're saying that they will not enhance it,
they're not going to stop it.
Mr. Mooney: We are not seeing the increases in yields we used to see,
and we are seeing greater uniformity in the crop than we used to see, as I
pointed out with corn.
The Acting Chair: Mr. Mooney, Senator Plett. Senator Plett, short
Senator Plett: We're debating; I know, Mr. Chair.
The Acting Chair: Mr. Mooney, short answer. Not a debate. Okay?
Senator Plett: I appreciate it, Mr. Chair. I apologize for that.
Mr. Mooney: I apologize, too.
Senator Plett: I will try to control myself. I will just simply close
with this: The farmers and the agricultural producers in our country are
supportive of this bill, and I believe that, as a government, we are responsible
for doing what Canadians want us to do. I don't see a move by Canadians to
prevent us from passing Bill C-18. I see the opposite.
The Acting Chair: Would you like to add anything, Mr. Kuyek?
Mr. Kuyek: Yes, please.
The Acting Chair: Go ahead, sir.
Mr. Kuyek: I'd just like to say that the National Farmers Union was
unable to present here today, but I'm aware of Mr. Boehm's position and the
position of the NFU. They are very much in opposition to Bill C-18, particularly
the provisions regarding the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. They have a detailed
critique that you have, so you do have opposition from the farming community to
I would also just mention that —
Senator Plett: Now I do want to ask a question.
The Acting Chair: Mr. Kuyek, if the National Farmers' Union wants to
be heard, it will have to provide us with a brief on its position. I am told
that we have received it and that the senators have seen it. So tonight, we
would like to hear you talk specifically about your own views.
Mr. Kuyek: Just one last bit of information. I was responding to say
that a critique has been put out by a certain farmers' organization, and also to
say that I think there is a difference between companies that do seed
multiplication or pedigreed seed and those that do actual plant breeding. I
think a lot of what we're saying is that we'll see a decline in plant breeding
in Canada. That doesn't necessarily mean you will see a decline in seed
companies. They are two different things. I think the main focus should be on
encouraging plant breeding for Canada.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for being here this evening. Your
perspective is certainly very different from what we've heard from other
witnesses. You are presenting an entirely different point of view, where you are
suggesting there are real concerns with Bill C-18.
Mr. Kuyek, you mentioned the fact that contracts are being increasingly used
by seed companies. More and more seed companies in Canada are selling their seed
varieties exclusively through contracts with farmers. How do you see that as
Mr. Kuyek: When you have a decline in the number of varieties
available that are not being sold by contract, and those contracts that farmers
are forced to sign in order to access the varieties that they are purchasing
prohibit them from saving seeds, you're forcing farmers, first of all, to pay
more every year, and you're interfering with the long-standing tradition of
farmers' seed-saving. So you are automatically undercutting what we are told the
government is concerned about, which is the farmers' privilege, but those
contracts are automatically undercutting it. Most of the companies doing the
plant breeding in the private sector are increasingly interested in having those
contracts signed every time they sell seeds.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Mooney, you indicated that the number of varieties
of seeds is decreasing, has decreased. Would you clarify that, and why would
Mr. Mooney: If I did, I misspoke; I'm sorry. It is not the number of
varieties; the quality of the varieties I think is somewhat declining,
certainly, and they are not increasing at the rate they used to. Actually, the
number of crops that are being bred is declining. We are seeing a heavy
concentration of a handful of crops by the major companies. Forty-five per cent
of all agricultural research by the private sector worldwide is really on one
crop: corn. So that's where the focus is. They often describe themselves as corn
companies and they do a bit of other stuff as well as that. So we are seeing a
real concentration in a very few areas.
We're also seeing a great genetic uniformity of the varieties that are in the
marketplace. Three companies — Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer — make up
85 per cent, for example, of the corn market specifically, and there really is
not any genetic variation in the varieties. It's the same germplasm that's being
played over and over again, which creates a great vulnerability to disease.
Senator Tardif: You mentioned something about germplasm that I did not
quite understand, the fact that the free and open access to germplasm would no
longer be the case under Bill C-18.
Mr. Mooney: Companies are becoming much more private with their
germplasm. There was a time, before there was intellectual property legislation,
when there was a relatively free flow of breeding material between the public
sector and the private sector — much more activity, of course, in the public
sector. Now we are seeing protectionism taking place, where companies don't want
to disclose what they are working with and they make it hard to get that
Mr. Kuyek: In my conversations with public plant breeders, they often
would say they are used to sharing their work, their varieties, their germplasm
with other breeders — it's a give-and-take culture — but now they were getting
directives from upper management that they have to get their IPRs in order
first, and then maybe they will share. They were having trouble getting access
to good germplasm from other plant breeders who wanted to ensure that they had
their intellectual rights protected. It really blocks that kind of culture of
sharing between plant breeders, and they were really feeling the impacts of
Senator Tardif: Are you concerned that Bill C-18 will encourage less
public plant breeders' support for research and infrastructure?
Mr. Kuyek: Absolutely. I think that is the intention. I think the
support to the private sector has come at the expense of the public sector. I
think we've seen a serious decline since 1990. The government, when it brought
forward the Plant Breeders' Rights Act in 1990, promised that there would not be
a decline in support of the public research sector, and that was key to getting
farmer support at the time. That has not happened.
There is a contradiction between public sector breeding and private sector
breeding. Public sector breeding makes varieties available at a low cost that
farmers can freely use, so it keeps costs down. The private sector makes
varieties available and they want to collect royalties on it, so they don't want
farmers saving seeds, so the costs are much higher for farmers. If you have a
low-cost alternative — and it was said during the discussions of the 1990 PBR
Act, and people were very straight about this in the industry; they said that if
we continue to have a strong public sector, there can't be a private sector. I
believe that's the case for many crops.
I think the intention of this bill is, in part, to hasten a further decline
of the public sector and to give things over further to the private sector. As
Mr. Mooney has pointed out, that private sector is controlled by only a small
number of companies that actually do the plant breeding, and their interests are
not necessarily the interests of the Canadian public. They have very specific
agendas, particularly tied to the sales of their pesticides.
Mr. Mooney: There is a real dearth of data in Canada about what has
happened with the legislation, so I am forced to go to other countries.
To give an example of costs, in 1977 when Eugene Whelan first proposed the
legislation, the rule of thumb was that you could develop a new breeding line of
wheat for about a million dollars maximum — it wouldn't cost more than that —
and that would give you a whole series, a succession of varieties coming into
the marketplace. Today, USDA says it costs about $136 million to introduce one
new plant variety, a genetically modified plant variety. About $20 million of
that is related to regulation, and more than $100 million is still the cost of
doing that. Yet we are not seeing the increases in yields or the benefits; we're
just seeing a much greater cost to farmers.
Senator Dagenais: I would first like to discuss the advance payments
program with you. We know that Bill C-18 will amend that program. One amendment
will be to widen the range of eligible agricultural products. It will then
clarify the definition of "agricultural products," which is a good thing. It
will also update the requirements of the Advance Payments Program, which is also
not a bad thing. The bill will then try to improve access to the program.
Finally, it will reduce red tape, which is a positive change as well.
I would like to hear what you have to say about the proposed changes in Bill
C-18. In your view, what impact will they have on farmers and financial
The Acting Chair: We were able to reconnect with Mr. Boehm. We will
let him give his presentation and you can answer Senator Dagenais' question
afterwards. Thank you.
Terry Boehm, Chair, Seed and Trade Committee, National Farmers Union:
My name is Terry Boehm. I've been a grain farmer all my life, a grains and
oilseed producer southeast of Saskatoon on an approximately 4,000-acre farm.
Seed is critically important to me and it's critically important to the
members of our organization, the National Farmers Union, which is Canada's
largest voluntary farm organization. People have actually voluntarily joined.
A number of organizations appear before the Senate committee that state that
they represent significant numbers of farmers of various incarnations — canola
producers, et cetera. I produce canola, flax, wheat, lentils, mustard, barley,
rye — a host of crops.
I would like to say that many farmers, including myself, feel we are not well
represented by these organizations that have spoken in favour of enhanced plant
breeders' rights, UPOV 91, and that they are not representing the views of a
significant portion of farmers in spite of what they say.
Canadian farmers and governments have a long history of developing
institutions to rebalance power. Farmers fought against railways and grain
companies. We have the Canada Grain Act, the Canadian Grain Commission, supply
management, the single desk Wheat Board, cooperative wheat pools and a host of
other mechanisms that rebalance power to reduce the exploitation of farmers.
This came about in the recognition that balancing of power was important not
just for farmers but for the economy of the country as a whole.
Right now through this legislation we are seeing seed being wrested away from
farmers and citizens through a series of exclusive rights that are being
conferred on plant breeders, and that's of course to produce and reproduce
propagating material, to condition, to sell, to import, to export, to make
repeated use of propagating material, to stock the propagating material, and to
authorize conditionally or unconditionally the doing of any act in that regard.
By anyone's read this is total control over seed.
But there is more for plant breeders. They have the right to collect
royalties anywhere in the seed and food system. They have a cascading right if
they do not collect royalties at the time of seed sale. This, of course, makes
the possibility of collecting end-point royalties on a whole farmer's crop a
possibility. Plant breeders now have the possibility of holding patents and
plant breeders' rights on the same variety along with longer terms of
One of the big wins in this legislation is the concept of "essentially
derived," whereupon the holder of an old variety can claim a new variety is
essentially derived from the old and therefore claim rights over the new
variety, the exclusive rights I listed earlier. Of course, the criteria for
"essentially derived" is a bit murky, but we expect that will be settled in the
courts and through endless court battles, et cetera.
What do farmers and citizens get? They get a privilege to save and reuse seed
on their own holdings and to condition that seed. There has been discussion
about storage. The National Farmers Union has been vigorous in raising the issue
of stocking. If you can't store seed, how can you exercise a farmer's privilege
or stock seed? The problem is that that even with the amendment to the
legislation, the exclusive right to stock seed still remains, in section 5.1,
with the plant breeders. So we think that if push comes to shove, this will be
another issue that will see farmers confronted with expensive legal battles with
large plant breeding conglomerates.
The minister appeared before the House of Commons Agriculture Committee and
agreed that the farmers' privilege could be removed or modified at any time by
regulatory change. Again, we fail to see how a farmer's privilege is enshrined
under these circumstances.
The whole question of rights is being inverted. The breeder is given an
extensive list of exclusive rights and the farmer a privilege, which is
conditional and could be revoked. In addition, UPOV and our Commissioner of
Plant Breeders' Rights stated in a recent presentation that farmers' privilege
should be subjected to reasonable limits and these could be determined by the
size of the holding, the type of variety, the number of cycles of reproduction,
remuneration, proportion of harvested material, et cetera.
We feel this bill is not about fostering innovation, but it's all about
granting powerful new tools to extract wealth from farmers by increasingly
consolidating a group of companies engaged in plant breeding and seed sales.
If we look at canola, where companies have used patents similar to plant
breeders' rights in many ways — and indeed plant breeders' rights even go beyond
the power of patent, particularly in that list of exclusive rights — the patents
have been used to restrict farmers from replanting seed on approximately 97 per
cent of the 20 million acres of canola that was seeded in this past year. At an
average price of $11 per pound, that results in about $1.078 billion annually in
seed sales in canola.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association, which represents the players selling
canola seed, states that about $80 million, or 8 per cent, was reinvested in
varietal development. We would question what makes farmers or others believe
that if there is a functioning farmers' privilege, where farmers can save and
reuse seed, why private entities would invest substantially in varietal
Of course, there is another way to innovate, and that is to reinvest in
public plant breeding, to use participatory plant breeding with farmers and
plant breeders cooperating. The NFU has produced a document called the
Fundamental Principles of a Farmers Seed Act, which details a number of
things that we believe should be fundamental principles used in regard to seed
for the Canadian public.
The Acting Chair: Mr. Boehm, can you please conclude, because the
senators want time for questions?
Mr. Boehm: Yes, I'm ready to wrap up.
Many organizations are complacent. They feel that this is only fair,
appropriate and that reinvestment will occur. Essentially, we see no evidence
for the implied promise that magic bullet varieties will be developed
extensively because of this legislation, but we will lose control and autonomy,
and become dependent on others for the supply of seed. Ultimately they will
control seed, the food system and people through that food system.
I'll close there. There are many other concerns we raised in our brief about
cash advances, about incorporation by reference. We're particularly concerned
about those and a number of other pieces in this omnibus bill.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your committee today.
The Acting Chair: Mr. Mooney, can you give your answer to Senator
Mr. Mooney: I think Mr. Boehm did a pretty good answer of answering
the concerns, which I share. While there are clarifications in the bill that can
be constructive and helpful, I would still argue that one of points not
mentioned was the extension of exclusive monopoly from 18 years to 20 years.
The point Mr. Boehm made about "essentially derived" is of major concern to
us. It does mean that you can extend the life of the possible protection for the
variety much longer as you go from one generation to the next. You can find a
very long line of control.
I am also concerned that while we do have the goodwill and intent of the
ministers of the day to say certain things will not be done through regulation,
UPOV 91 has flexibility in it that allows for changes in regulation. I've heard
previous ministers, including the first one who introduced this legislation in
1977, saying they would make sure that the public breeding program was
protected, for example. In those days we did not have farmers' privilege; we had
farmers' rights. The minister then said the farmers will always have right to
save and exchange seed. That's no longer the case. Goodwill of one
administration does not mean it will stay there, and I would be worried about
that as well.
The Acting Chair: Senator Dagenais, are you finished?
Senator Dagenais: Let's just say that perhaps that was not the answer
I was expecting.
The Acting Chair: But that is the answer you received.
Senator Dagenais: Well, that is the answer we will take then.
Senator Tardif: I guess there are so many questions and so little time
to get to them.
You did mention, Mr. Boehm, your concern with incorporation by reference, and
in your brief you've mentioned your concern with foreign reviews. Could you
briefly explain your concerns to the committee?
Mr. Boehm: We think the incorporation by reference clauses are a
significant threat to our science capabilities in Canada, our regulatory
capabilities and our democratic processes in so much as documents can be
incorporated by reference, changes made, and they no longer have to be published
in the Canada Gazette. Third parties would be able to do this outside of
our regulatory agencies and governments by the nature of having these
With respect to the use of foreign reviews, we worry that companies would
cherry-pick foreign studies that presented their product in the most favourable
light and that these would be accepted in Canada through these mechanisms
without verification by our own regulatory bodies and research capabilities. So
we think this will actually undermine our capacity. This is really about
thinning the borders in terms of national interests and facilitating
international corporate interests in maximizing their markets for essentially
the same products all over the place.
Senator Tardif: Ms. Bronson, what connection can you draw between your
document entitled Resetting the Table: A People's Food Policy for Canada
and the bill?
Ms. Bronson: That document was the outcome of consultations with 3,500
people over three years. It was truly a democratic consultation process in all
sorts of sectors. The document proposes a vision of food that is completely the
opposite of the vision proposed in Bill C-18. The policy suggests that we should
consider the issues of fairness and hunger together with issues of farming, more
sustainable farming methods and health. All too often we look at those various
aspects in a vacuum.
It is as if they had no relation to each other, but their relations are
fundamental. The health crisis in this country is related to the amount of
glucose people are eating. Our levels of diabetes and obesity are related to the
kind of food we are producing. What we see as a very central contradiction in
our lack of food policy in Canada right now is the failure to make these links.
We are witnessing increasing corporate consolidation in the retail sector, just
as Mr. Mooney has underlined in the seed sector. It exists in meat. It exists in
many different sectors in the food economy at the same time as we have policy
fragmentation. We have the Department of Environment, the Department of Health
and the Department of Agriculture not necessarily talking to each other and
making a lot of sense.
We're proposing that all of these departments, levels of government and
stakeholders — industry, farmers, dietitians, food banks, community centres —
come together to figure out a food policy for Canada and that we reassert the
fundamental role that government has to play in making policy in this country. I
think that is what is eviscerated in this bill.
We heard about the decline of public breeding and the consequences of not
having the government looking out for the public interest. We've substituted a
sort of fantasy world where we are so entranced with technology, innovation,
export markets and competition that we have left aside the values this country
holds dear, where no one should be hungry, where everyone should have access to
healthy food, where our rural communities would have lively economies and where
people could make a decent living farming.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Kuyek, you wrote on the topic of privatization of
Canada's agricultural biodiversity. Are intellectual property rights the only
way to stimulate innovation?
Mr. Kuyek: No, and we have evidence with seeds. If you look at any
country in the world, you'll see innovation, and that happened far before
intellectual property rights were implemented.
Intellectual property rights have a very simple narrow function — to
commodify seeds. So plant breeders' rights are a way to commodify seeds, to turn
them from what was a public good into a private good to capture revenues. That
may work for Monsanto, Pioneer and certain seed companies, but it is certainly
not the only way to innovate.
We have a very successful example of public plant breeding here. Around the
world, you have seen very successful examples of farmers' seed systems that
serve their communities and countries. I was trying to underline that you have
different models of innovation and they give you different results. What you can
expect from a public breeding program and what you can expect from a farmer-led
breeding program are different from what you can expect from a breeding program
that is in the hands of a small number of pesticide companies.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Boehm, do you want to comment?
Mr. Boehm: I appreciate that. I think that Mr. Kuyek summed that up
What we are seeing, though, is that intellectual property rights, in which
plant breeders' rights are being included, are being reinforced with
international trade agreements, enforcement measures in the CETA accord, et
cetera, that make it even more tenuous for farmers and public breeders to
operate without fear of litigation action. I think this is particularly
problematic with all of these mechanisms.
Over a century ago, there was a great debate in the Paris conference in 1888,
I believe, where they were discussing industrial property, essentially
intellectual property. They concluded that these mechanisms should not be used
on seed or agricultural-related products because they would lead to
monopolization and control of the food supply. I think that was a wise
conclusion, but we've lost that now and we're moving down that path.
Senator Tardif: Thank you.
The Acting Chair: In conclusion, we have Senator Plett on a short
Senator Plett: No, it's actually a few questions, chair, because Mr.
Boehm was not here earlier. I think I have the right to ask him a couple of
questions, so I want to do that.
Mr. Boehm, I will give you an opportunity because you felt you were
shortchanged on some of your presentation. I'm going to give you the opportunity
to talk about the amendments to the Advance Payments Program, because what I
read in your brief is you are advocating for us not allowing farmers to borrow
money anymore. This is an advance payments program, but I read in your brief
This is unsustainable. Increasing access to credit is a band aid measure
that will only make the debt problem more acute when interest rates increase
from their current record low levels.
Are you advocating that banks not borrow farmers any more money, either? We
are making it easier for them, not more difficult.
Mr. Boehm: No, essentially, in that section of our brief we are
addressing that farm numbers have reduced drastically. We have a little over
200,000 farmers in Canada, and we have in the neighbourhood of $90 billion of
debt, increasing significantly over time. In the past three years, I believe
there has been an additional $10 billion.
What the farmers' union has been worrying about for a long time is how to
attract people into agriculture given the fact that the off-loading of costs is
being assumed by farmers, whether it's in transportation, the cost of seed, et
cetera. We feel that increasing the cash advance program without reference to
the effects of size of farms, the amount of people staying in agriculture, et
cetera, is not looking at the root issues, where increased farm debt is not
Of course, agriculture has always operated on credit, in this country as
well, but we think that this legislation will exacerbate the debt problem. We
think that we should be looking comprehensively at reducing farm debt levels and
not papering it over with an enhanced cash advance program.
Senator Plett: You are the first witness that has advocated for that,
certainly. If anything, farmers have been suggesting maybe we should increase
them a little bit, certainly not decrease.
The last time you and I met, sir, you were here testifying on another
wonderful piece of legislation also called Bill C-18, and that was the Wheat
Board bill. I also had the pleasure of sponsoring that one. Of course, the
farmers in Western Canada have never stopped thanking us for it.
At that time, I asked you a question, sir, and I have asked the same question
of every panel here today. I will ask you the same question. At that time, I
asked you a question about your membership numbers in the National Farmers Union
and you couldn't give me an answer. I'm wondering whether in the last few years
you have had an opportunity to count the number of members you have and whether
you could give me an answer today.
Mr. Boehm: Well, unfortunately, I'm no longer on the board of the
farmers' union. I was the former president, so those numbers are not available
to me. However, our membership is increasing, I know that, particularly amongst
young farmers across the country.
Senator Plett: If I were to suggest to you that your numbers are just
under 200, what would you say to that?
Mr. Boehm: Well, we can get into a silent bid auctioning system, but —
Senator Plett: No, I'd like an answer from you. You were the
Mr. Boehm: — if we're talking about the Western Canadian Wheat
Growers, that would be an accurate number. The NFU is exponentially higher than
Senator Plett: You are not testifying as an individual; you are
testifying on behalf of an organization, on behalf of a union. You have a
Mr. Boehm: That's right.
Senator Plett: I would like to know, if you are not testifying as an
individual, how many people do you represent? We heard one individual say today
he was representing 1,000 members. How many are you representing?
Mr. Boehm: Well, we're representing thousands across the country.
Senator Plett: Thank you, chair.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Boehm. I'm sorry for the
technical problems; it is not our fault.
Thank you very much, Mr. Kuyek, Mr. Mooney and Ms. Bronson for your good