UPOV ’91 coming through ‘Agricultural Growth Act’

Besides stronger plant breeders’ rights Bill C-18 proposes changes to feed, fertilizer and advance payments legislation

Canada has started the process of implementing UPOV ’91 — a stronger form of plant breeders’ rights that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says will encourage more private-sector plant breeding and is also expected to see farmers pay breeders more in royalties.

The changes are part of Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, introduced in the House of Commons Dec. 9.

Bill C-18 not only proposes to amend the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, but also the Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act, Seeds Act, Health of Animals Act, Plant Protection Act and Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. All fall under the the purview of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The bill also amends the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act (AMPA) and Farm Debt Mediation Act (FDMA) under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“The Agricultural Growth Act is good news for Canadian producers because it will increase farmers’ access to new crop varieties, enhance their trade opportunities and reduce the red tape burden,” Ritz said Dec. 9 when announcing the legislation at Canterra Seeds in Winnipeg.

Ritz said he hopes the bill will be law by the start of the new crop year Aug. 1, 2014, but added it depends on the will of Parliament.

UPOV (the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) was established in 1961. It was founded to protect plant breeders’ rights and by doing so “encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society,” according to its website.

Provisos

The Grain Growers of Canada want UPOV ’91 adopted “as soon as possible,” president Gary Stanford said in a letter to Ritz Dec. 6.

“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 Commission supports UPOV ’91, but with some provisos. The AWC says farmers must be able save seed. It also wants Ottawa to continue funding pre-breeding genetic research. Farmers and the public’s stake in the development of cereal germplasm the past 100 years also needs to be recognized, AWC said in a Nov. 18 letter to Ritz.

The Canadian Seed Trade Association, which represents most of the private seed companies in Canada, welcomed Ritz’s announcement, said president Peter Entz, who is also assistant vice-president seed and traits for Richardson International.

“We are optimistic that this will create the level of investment in plant breeding and development that will take variety development to the next level,” he said in an email.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) opposes UPOV ’91.

“We absolutely don’t need it,” said past NFU president Terry Boehm. “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.”

Ritz told reporters farmers will be able to save and plant their own seeds under UPOV ’91.

Cash advances

The bill also proposes changes to the cash advance program. Farmers will be able to fill out application forms once every five years instead of annually, cutting red tape, he said. And more farm products will be eligible for interest-free loans of up to $100,000, including breeding stock.

The Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act, Health of Animals Act and Seeds Act will be expanded to include international scientific research when approving new agricultural products, reducing red tape, CFIA said in a release.

CFIA will get stronger tools to protect Canada’s plants and animals. For example, CFIA will be allowed to order non-compliant agricultural products immediately out of Canada. Penalties for non-compliance are being increased.

Amending the Feeds Act and Fertilizers Act will allow for licensing and registration of fertilizer and animal feed operators and facilities that import or sell products across provincial or international borders. This will align legislation with key international trading partners, help Canadian feed and fertilizer industries maintain their export markets and provide a more effective and timely approach to assuring products meet Canada’s stringent safety and other standards.

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