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May 5, 2010

Harper devoted to screwing up farmers

Reuel S. Amdur

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Canadian farmers are facing a betrayal by their government.

It is currently involved in negotiating a Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which would impose serious constraints on what farmers can do and would put them under the thumb of the big chemical and seed companies, of which Monsanto is the biggest.

The proposed agreement would make it impossible for a farmer to save or sell seeds without the okay of the seed company.  And of course that okay would be at a cost.  It is called Plant Breeders Rights (PBR), but where are the farmers’ rights?  The agreement would allow the “plant breeder,” i.e., the big corporation, to control whom a farmer could engage to clean seed and who could store seed. 

If a corporation suspected a farmer of violating Plant Breeders Rights, it could go to court, which “may order the precautionary seizure of the moveable and immoveable property of the alleged infringer, including blocking his/her bank accounts and other assets.”  That is even before a finding that a farmer has in fact done anything.

Remember the terminator seed controversy? 

It arose after the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Delta and Pine Land Company developed technology in 1988 to prevent plants from producing fertile seeds.  Monsanto bought Delta and Pine in 2006, and though it promised in 1999 not to put such a process into commercial production, since 2006 there have been threatening developments.

You may ask why anyone would want to produce crops that could not reproduce.  There are some reasons that have been given.  For instance, crop rotation might be made more effective if seeds from the out-of-rotation crop were sterile and could thus not contaminate the process.  As well, they may prevent undesired premature sprouting.  Eliminating the escape of genetically modified genes into other plants, both wild and domestic, is another reason.  However, the issue of escape of the genes, if it is a significant matter, raises the much larger question of the desirability of genetic modification.  Aside from the spread of genetic material, the other matters are less significant. 

The really significant consequence of terminator technology would be to strengthen the control over the farmers by Monsanto and other companies who might become involved, forcing farmers to buy new seed every year.  PBR would have a similar consequence. 

Use of terminator seeds presents a particular danger in the developing world, where limited participation in the money economy could create serious economic dependency and insecurity, especially in drought conditions. 

In 2000, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity called for a moratorium on field testing and sale of terminator.  Canada has issued patents for terminator, and in 2005 it was trying to allow field testing, but opposition in Canada by farmers and NGO’s made it back off at the time.

Terminator seeds and the Plant Breeders Rights conspiracy are made from the same cloth. Whatever marginal benefits that could possibly be identified for their implementation—and it would be hard to find any at all for PBR—the important benefits are to the large multinational corporations in the agriculture supply business. 

You need to ask yourself: what possible reason would governments have in putting such power, such control, such ability to make near-monopoly profits in the hands of one or a few multinationals?

As has been mentioned, terminator seeds represent a severe threat to the survival of subsistence farmers in developing countries. 

USC-Canada is an NGO that promotes the collection, storage, and use of traditional seeds (“Seeds of Survival,” it calls them) that have thrived in the local conditions, rather than the importation of seed which may or may not take to the specific characteristics of soil and availability or shortage of moisture. 

While this use of traditional seeds would not be endangered by PBR, any importation by the developing world of commercial seed could make the subsistence farmers beholden to the multinationals, serving to inhibit local development for the sake of multinational corporation enrichment.

Terminator seeds and Plant Breeders Rights: bad news for Canadian farmers, bad news for Third World development.

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