THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY
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
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 chair.
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 left.
Senator Tardif: Good afternoon. I'm
Claudette Tardif from the province of Alberta.
Senator Enverga: Hello. I'm Senator Tobias
Enverga from Ontario.
Senator Plett: Good evening. My name is
Senator Don Plett from Manitoba.
Senator Oh: Senator Oh from Ontario.
Senator Unger: Betty Unger from Alberta.
Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais from
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova
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 possible.
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
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 to make.
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
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 this up.
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 full support.
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 Growth Act."
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
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 ratified either.
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 international partners.
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 our industry.
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
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 breeding programs.
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.
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
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
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 special
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 world.
I'd like to give you two examples of the impact
of Bill C-18 and UPOV 91 on our business.
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 updated.
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 competitive crops.
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
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to
answering any questions you might have.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much. We
will now begin the questioning.
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
. . . 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.
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
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
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.
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 on.
Mr. Wickett: You would pay royalties on the
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 rented land?
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
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 you.
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
Ms. Hart: Not to the extent that it may
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 manner?
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
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 benefit.
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 Advanced Payment Program?
Mr. Wickett: The Advanced 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
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 assessment?
The Acting Chair: Senator Unger do you have
a supplementary question?
Senator Unger: Yes, my question is for Dr.
You touched on royalties. Would you explain how
royalties are collected and paid, and what amount of money are we talking
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 of royalties?
Ms. Armstrong: We are compensated for our
services in terms of the services we provide to the seed growers and the
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 competitive position.
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
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
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
Mr. Wickett: From public research are you
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
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
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
Ms. Armstrong: Not the royalty.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for the
presentations. I've learned a few things today.
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
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
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 it?
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 19, 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 products?
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 made.
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 situation?
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
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 good.
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
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
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 quick.
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
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 Canadian situation?
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
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 position.
Senator Plett: All sizes of farmers, I'm
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 Act.
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 Innovation Coalition.
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
Modernization of Plant Breeders’ Rights
will help stimulate research in the grain sector as well as foster
investment and competiveness with new varieties.
From the President of the Canadian Canola
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
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 questions.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Mr.
Mr. Van Akum, you have the floor.
Henry Van Akum, Chair, Canadian Association of
Agri-Retailers: 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
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
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 may have.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much, Mr.
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 seeds.
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
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' privilege?
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 offerings.
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 the conversation?
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 changes.
Senator Tardif: Are there any commitments
being made on the consultation side? Have you received any commitments in
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
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
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 bill.
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 thorough consultation?
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
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
Senator Tardif: I understand that, but the
legislation also allows for change down the road with ministerial
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
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
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 work?
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 happening.
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'
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 has changed.
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 per cent.
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
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. Chair.
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 seeds.
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
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
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 different countries.
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 not true.
I know there's a lot of comment there and not a
lot of questions, but Mr. Mooney, please.
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
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 question.
Senator Plett: We're debating; I know, Mr.
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 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 this bill.
I would also just mention that —
Senator Plett: Now I do want to ask a
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 being problematic?
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 that be?
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 information.
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 that.
Senator Tardif: Are you concerned that Bill
C-18 will encourage less public plant breeders' support for research and
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
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 institutions?
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
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 protection.
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
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
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
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 development.
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
The Acting Chair: Mr. Mooney, can you give
your answer to Senator Dagenais?
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
Senator Dagenais: Let’s just say that
perhaps that was not the answer I was expecting.
The Acting Chair: But that is the answer
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
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 incorporated.
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
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
Mr. Boehm: I appreciate that. I think that
Mr. Kuyek summed that up quite nicely.
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
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 question.
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 payment program, but I read in your brief that:
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
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 being addressed.
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
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
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
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 president.
Mr. Boehm: — if we're talking about the
Western Canadian Wheat Growers, that would be an accurate number. The NFU is
exponentially higher than that.
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 membership.
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 information.