Late last year the Harper Government proposed the Agricultural Growth Act, a new bill that will encourage investment and modern innovation in the Canadian agriculture industry. By increasing farmers’ access to new crop varieties, trade opportunities and reducing some red tape that caused difficulty in the past, this new bill will equip Canadian farmers with the tools needed to more successfully compete in national and international marketplace, contributing to Canada’s overall economic growth.
Changes to nine pieces of Canadian food and agriculture legislation are pending including changes to seven acts under the control of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and two by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Read a detailed summary of the new agriculture bill.
Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz also stated at a press conference in Winnipeg that these changes will “modernize” and “streamline” these acts, providing more opportunities for Canadian farmers and ensuring they remain competitive in world markets.
One of the biggest changes is amendments to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (PBR Act) to line up with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV ’91) agreement. This includes a change to the Farmers’ Privilege that would allow farmers to use seeds from their own crops, encouraging more private sector breeding. This could also lead to farmers paying breeders more in royalties. Ritz stated he wants to bring Canada under the UPOV ’91 agreement by August 1, 2014.
Strengthening intellectual property rights for plant breeding could encourage investment in Canadian research and development. By giving Canadian farmers access to a wider variety of seeds, the agriculture industry should see an enhanced crop yield, improved drought and disease resistance and will be able to keep up with worldwide trade demands.
“Agriculture worldwide is evolving in response to growing global populations and demand,” said Bev Shipley, MP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex and Chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Knowing that, our government will continue to provide better tools and services to help Canadian farmers prosper on world markets and serve the needs of Canadians.”
The Grain Growers of Canada are behind the new bill. Gary Standford, President of the GCC wrote a letter to Ritz stating “We think UPOV ’91 will help pave the way for much greater investment in the development of new seed varieties for Canadian farmers, which will be needed to meet the greatly increasing global demand for food.”
The Alberta Wheat Board supports the changes to the Plant Breeders’ Rights but have a few concerns. They wrote a letter of support for these amendments to Agriculture and Agrid-Food Canada with the following conditions: farmers must be able to save seed, Ottawa continues to fund pre-breeding genetic research, and that there is recognition of a public equity stake in Canada’s proprietary cereal’s germplasm, which has been developed and funded by producer and tax payers dollars for the past 100 years.
According to the Alberta Farm Express, the National Farmers Union opposes the bill. NFU president Terry Boehm believes UPOV ’91 is not needed and was quoted, “Our plant breeders’ rights legislation conforms with all of our international trade obligations. This is simply a mechanism to extract more dollars out of the farmers’ pockets. Full stop.”
Learn more about the proposed changes to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, UPOV ’91 and the Farmers Privilege: Questions & Answers on the Agricultural Growth Act.