Farmers struggle to keep using traditional seeds varieties, Canada

Canadian Government did not listen to farmer-s protests against Bill C-18: the Bill is now Law and will obstacle the use of traditional seeds varieties.


In 2005, Canadian farmers had successfully fought against a law that would have introduced UPOV ’91 into Canada. The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an intergovernmental organisation with headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland). It was established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, which was adopted in Paris in 1961 and it was revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991. The organisation claims that it aims at providing and promoting an effective system of plant variety protection, but through the development of new varieties of plants and the protection of intellectual copyright. Yet UPOV's focus on patents for plant varieties hurts farmers, in that it does not allow them to use saved seed or that of protected varieties.

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Basic Data
NameFarmers struggle to keep using traditional seeds varieties, Canada
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Biopiracy and bio-prospection
Specific CommoditiesSeeds
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsUPOV 91 would extend Plant Breeder Right protections from 15 to 20 years and expand breeders’ rights to include exclusive control over cleaning, conditioning and storing PBR protected seed.

According to the National Farmers Union, which has vocally opposed the adoption of UPOV 91 regulations, the bill restricts farmers’ ability to re-use seed.

“UPOV 91 is a form of plant breeder’s rights legislation which, at the very least, severely restricts farmers’ ability to save, re-use, exchange or sell seed,” said NFU president Terry Boehm, who added that the proposed change gives breeders rights over cleaning, treating and stocking seed. Farmers should be very aware that this regime will allow breeders to collect royalties on the entire crop, not just on the seed as allowed under our current plant breeders’ rights legislation.” (4)
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date09/12/2013
End Date25/02/2015
Relevant government actors- Green Party of Canada

- New Democratic Party
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters- National Farmers Union

- Food Secure Canada

- Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace

- United Church of Canada

- National Farmers Union Seed and Trade

- Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Trade unions
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Soil contamination
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNew legislation
Development of AlternativesAn alternative to the bill C-18 was presented by the National Farmers Union. They proposed that Canada developed and implemented a Seed Act for Farmers that would allow farmers to retain customary use of seed. The fundamental principles of such a law include:

- The right of farmers to exchange and sell seed, including through farmer‐owned organisations

such as cooperatives, non‐profit organisations and associations.

- The unrestricted right of farmers to grow, save and use seed for planting which cannot be negated by any contract. This right would be supported by

— unrestricted right to clean seed

— unrestricted right to store seed

— unrestricted right to prepare seed for planting, including applying seed treatments

— unrestricted establishment of new seed cleaning plants  

— unrestricted access to seed cleaning equipment and parts.

- Seed cleaning operations are an integral part of the seed system and thus

— shall not be prosecuted  for the cleaning of protected varieties for a third party

— cannot be compelled to give out their client lists.

- Plant breeders rights legislation that would confer the right to claim royalties only at the time of

seed sale. (i.e. no endpoint royalties or cascading rights).

-Following expiration of plant breeders rights, varieties would be in the public domain allowing for unrestricted use and/or made available under a general public license.

- The opportunity for farmers and other non‐accredited plant breeders to register new varieties.

- A variety registration system that would protect farmers and our food system by ensuring seed that meets farmers’ needs for quality, reliability and agronomic performance under local conditions across Canada is available. This system would make distinctions in requirements for varieties to be used in conventional or organic production when necessary. Such a system would:

— ensure that varieties remain in the public domain following the expiration of plant breeders’ rights;  

— allow varieties to be registered under a general public license to ensure that such varieties remain freely available to farmers and public plant breeders;

— prohibit cancellation of varieties by the variety registrant;  

— allow the cancelling of registration for varieties only if evidence, including input from Recommending Committees, supported the cancellation;

— have an accessible public appeal mechanism regarding registration and deregistration of varieties to support the public interest. For example, to prevent the registration of unwanted genetically modified varieties; to maintain registration of older varieties;

— require robust, independent third‐party merit testing for new varieties to ensure they are as good as or better than existing varieties, which takes into account market harm, ecological impacts, multiple farming systems, nutrition, disease resistance and other

relevant factors;  

— formally recognize the value of land races that are not intended to have uniformity and stability as defining characteristics, establishing mechanisms to allow  heritage plant varieties such as Red Fife Wheat to be utilised in appropriate rotations and markets  

- A dispute settlement process that uses due process that would ensure  

      — inspection and sampling would be done only with the farmer’s explicit permission and in the presence of, and verified by, a qualified neutral third party.

      — binding arbitration carried out by a public commission would settle questions of infringement, etc. between farmers and companies. Such a commission would be modelled on the process used by the Canadian Grain Commission in settling grain grading disputes.

- No possibility that the production of seed could ever be considered counterfeiting or a violation of trademark.

- Prohibition of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs), sometimes referred to as Terminator Technology.

- No gene patents or other patent mechanisms on seed.(3)
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Despite strong pressure from a big part of the parliament, the civil society, national and church organisations, the Bill became Law.
Sources and Materials

Bill C-18 - The Agricultural Growth Act
[click to view]


(3)National Farmer Union, Fundamental Principle of a Farmer Seed Act
[click to view]


(1)Brantford Expositor
[click to view]

[click to view]

(4) Ottawa Commits to UPOV91 for Plant Breeders Rights
[click to view]

Media Links

National Farmers Union video against Bill C-18
[click to view]

National Farmers Union postcard against the Bill C-18 addressed to the Canadian House of Commons
[click to view]

Other Documents

A Corporate Agri-business Promotion Act Describe the background facts
[click to view]

National Farmers Union postcard against the Bill C-18 addressed to the Canadian House of Commons
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorCarolina Modena
Last update05/08/2015