In his new year’s message, Pope Francis assures us that peace can be attained and enjoyed but only if it is the creative work of solidarity and a persevering commitment to the common good. He reminds us that peace is an indivisible good; either it is the good for all or it is the good of none.This, he says, means NOT being guided by a desire for profit or a thirst for power. What is needed, rather, is to lose ourselves for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, to serve them instead of oppressing them for our own advantage. The other—whether a person, people or nation—is to be seen not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our neighbor, a helper.
NFU (National Farmer's Union) wishes to draw our attention to a matter which I think offers humankind only more social unrest.The NFU concern can be expressed in a question;"should giant corporations, for the sake of their future profits, be able to take control of the seed that grows the food needed to feed the world?".This question is intimately linked to two other questions; "will civil society ever engage in 'the creative work of solidarity', and work with 'persevering commitment' to replace the reigning 'big money must make more big money' global casino economy with an economy that is regulated by the rights of all people, especially the poor? And thirdly, in the instance of Bill C-18, "is the current Federal Government acting as a conduit for corporate power or is it thoughtfully facilitating the best interests of society?" To find answers requires considerable research and reflection. For this reason, kudos to NFU for developing the ‘Fundamental Principles for a Farmers’ Seed Act' and to Terry Boehm for his comments found below.So in the light of Pope Francis’ reflection on peace and the NfU’s concern for the common good, please read on.
NFU Proposes New Vision for Canadian Seed Ownership
“The government is selling the ag omnibus legislation (Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act) as ‘the only way’ to provide the new plant varieties that farmers need to maintain their competitive advantage,” says Terry Boehm, Chair of the NFU’s Seed and Trade Committee. “We – and many other farmers and progressive thinkers in the world – know that there are other ways to ensure that farmers have access to new seed varieties in ways that do not compromise either our national sovereignty or our control over seeds and, therefore, over our food.”
The NFU has put forward “Fundamental Principles for a Farmers’ Seed Act”(attached) which recognizes the inherent rights of farmers to save, reuse, select, exchange and sell seeds, while protecting public domains related to plant seeds. The principles build on Canada’s 2002 signing of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, by which farmers would retain their “customary” use of seed.
Boehm asserts one reason only for agribusiness’s pursuit of these legislative changes, especially implementation of UPOV ’91, a much more restrictive intellectual property rights protection regime than what is now in place. “UPOV ’91 is a way to transfer enormous amounts of money from farmers’ pockets into corporate coffers,” he argued.
Boehm outlined the NFU’s Farmers’ Seed Act (see attached backgrounder), which assures the right to exchange and sell, as well as clean, treat and store seed. “Farmers – in fact Canadians – cannot allow giant corporations to take control of our seed resources,” said Boehm. “Those who control seed control food, and as a sovereign nation we must ensure that control of seed and food is protected in the public interest. The NFU Farmers Seed Act will make a major contribution to that goal.”
The Act’s principles address the full spectrum of activities involved in ensuring Canada’s sovereignty in the area of seeds – from reproduction, saving, storing and re-using to cleaning and treating; from variety registration to third-party dispute settlement mechanisms; as well as restrictions on royalty claims, among others. “Canadians have lost a lot over the last two years,” notes Boehm. “Research budgets have been gutted. Canada’s world-recognized research programs have been torn apart. Agencies with the specific role of balancing power relationships among farmers and giant international agri-businesses have been weakened or dismantled, while corporations have been given carte blanche over the seed industry and thus our food system.”
“This “Farmers’ Seed Act”, which is based on principles that serve public rather than private interests, is a rallying point for farmer and eater alike,” emphasized Boehm. “All Canadians can stand behind its principles. By calling for our elected officials to act on these principles, we give a strong message about the kind of Canada we want – a Canada that is sovereign in regard to seed and food,” he concluded.