Seed World

Bill C-18 Awaits Approval | January 2015



Bill C-18 Awaits Senate Approval

An omnibus agriculture bill that changes the rules around seed royalties could become law as early as spring 2015.

Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, proposes changes to nine pieces of federal legislation. One aspect that’s drawing attention is the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, which gives plant breeders more authority over the new varieties they develop.

The bill’s supporters include Partners in Innovation, a coalition of 20 agriculture groups that formed in 2013 to support amendments to Plant Breeders’ Rights. The new bill should position Canada’s agriculture industry well internationally, especially for grains and oilseeds, says Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and a Partners in Innovation member.

“One of the issues that was raised during the debate was whether this would concentrate seed development in the hands of big companies. But we’ve heard some small groups, co-ops, and small- and medium-sized companies say they might start looking at developing specialty seeds, now that they have a mechanism to collect royalties.”

Bill C-18 passed through the House of Commons Nov. 24; passed Second Reading in the Senate Dec. 9; and was referred  to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. The committee held its first hearing on Bill C-18 just before Parliament rose for the holiday break.

The new act will bring Canada in line with 54 of the 72 members of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), who are party to the most recent convention — UPOV 1991.

That worries the bill’s opponents, such as the National Farmers’ Union. “Our concern is that the changes to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act give a lot more control of our seed to multinational seed companies,” argues Ann Slater, NFU vice-president of policy. For example, Bill C-18 extends the royalty period on new seeds from 18 to 20 years. On other points, Bill C-18’s opponents and supporters disagree on how the new legislation will be legally interpreted. NFU is concerned the bill will allow seed companies to collect end-point royalties on farmers’ crops, instead of collecting royalties when seed is purchased. The group also argues that the new bill could impede the “farmer’s privilege” to collect and reuse their seeds. “It takes away farmers’ centuries-old practise of saving and replanting seeds,” Slater says.

An International Perspective
An opposing view comes from the Canadian Seed Trade Association, which is anxiously waiting for Bill C-18 to pass.

“It puts our plant breeders on the same footing as plant breeders around the world,” explains Patty Townsend, CSTA chief executive officer. According to Townsend: “the bill does not establish end-point royalties and it actually entrenches the farmer’s privilege in legislation for the first time.”

Gerry Ritz, the agriculture minister who introduced the bill, said in a statement that C-18 will help Canadian agriculture compete internationally. “Every relevant farm group in Canada has come out in support of this important bill, which entrenches in legislation a farmer’s right to save, clean and store their own seed. After 23 years of debate and discussion, farmers have been clear that they want government to get in line with our major trading partners on plant breeders’ rights, so they can have the innovative tools they will need to beat the competition, build a stronger farm gate and feed the world.”

Susan Peters