CANADA: Monsanto Victory Plants Seed of Privatisation
Inter Press Service
BROOKLIN, Canada, Oct 5 (IPS) - Canadian farmers'
traditional right to save seeds is being threatened by
proposals to collect royalties on virtually all such
seeds following agribusiness giant Monsanto's victory
over grower Percy Schmeiser.
Canadian farmers' traditional right to save seeds is
being threatened by proposals to collect royalties on
virtually all such seeds following agribusiness giant
Monsanto's victory over grower Percy Schmeiser.
A recent review of Canada's entire production and
regulatory system for the seeds farmers plant looked at
ways to collect payments (royalties) on seeds the
growers save from their own crops, to link crop
insurance to the use of purchased certified seeds and
to increase intellectual property protection for seed
"It's a fundamental shift in agriculture to the
privatisation of seeds," says Terry Pugh, executive
secretary of Canada's National Farmer's Union (NFU).
"There are no benefits (in this) for farmers."
Formally known as the Seed Sector Review, Pugh
described the process as an industry-driven
restructuring of Canada's seed production system.
Companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dupont,
which dominate Canada's seed industry, are pushing for
"deregulation" and increased profitability, he added in
The essence of the review is to turn growers into
consumers of seed from producers of seed. "Farmers
can't believe this is happening," added Pugh.
Various regulations in Canada's laws have long
protected farmers from unscrupulous seed sellers by
requiring that new varieties of wheat and other grains
pass a merit test. Before they could be sold to farmers
their makers had to prove they offered better yields,
improved disease resistance or agronomic performance.
Until the 1990s most of the research into new seed
varieties was done either by government researchers or
publicly funded university plant breeders. To encourage
corporate seed research, Canada created the Plant
Breeders Rights Act (PBR) in 1990.
Under the PBR when farmers bought certified (high
quality) seed from a company they could save seed from
their crop for their own use the following year but
could not sell it to anyone else. This seed saving for
a farmer's own use could continue indefinitely but
growers were technically prohibited from selling it.
In fact, after several years most farmers felt free to
sell what they felt had become "common" seed. And seed
companies did not particularly object as long as
farmers did not try and pass off what they felt was
lower-quality or impure seed as one of their registered
That is all about to change as Canada's federal
agricultural department appears more interested in
protecting the profits of seed companies than farmers,
says Paul Beingessner, a third-generation grain and
livestock farmer near Truax in the province of
"There's lots of seed trading among farmers here. We
rarely buy certified seed for cereals. It's rarely
better seed and just not necessary," Beingessner said
in an interview.
If Saskatchewan spring wheat growers had to buy
certified seed each year, it would increase their costs
by an average of 1,400 Canadian dollars (1,110 U.S.
dollars) per farm, he calculates. He estimates that
five percent of all wheat and barley growers in the
province, the heart of Canada's "bread basket," buy new
The proposals in the Seed Sector Review are an attempt
to force more farmers to buy certified seed from the
seed companies, says Beingessner. "It's a money grab,
pure and simple."
The royalty provisions would also mean that farmers
would one day have to pay royalties on traded seed.
Bill Leask, executive director of the Canadian Seed
Trade Association, one of four groups that initiated
the review, would hardly use those words but feels
those who bring new varieties to market should be
rewarded for their efforts.
"It costs between one and two million dollars to create
a new variety of seed," Leask said in an interview. The
CSTA says it has 577 million dollars in sales annually.
While he acknowledges that new varieties are only
possible because of the breeding efforts of farmers
over the past millennia, Leask argues "today's seeds
are nothing like they were then, and are long ways from
the seeds of 50 years ago."
The review's final recommendations will soon be put
before the government but they do not include a royalty
provision for saved seeds, Leask says. "The NFU is
completely wrong about this. There are no royalty
provisions in Canada."
However, the seed industry does think royalties have
merit and would like to look at such a proposal in the
future, he adds.
Although the Seed Sector Review began in 2003, it is
consistent with a push for corporate control of seed,
best illustrated in Monsanto's May 2004 Supreme Court
victory over Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser, both
Pugh and Beingessner believe.
Monsanto alleged that Schmeiser illegally saved its
genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" canola (oilseed
rape) in 1997, after the firm obtained plants from his
farm the following year that contained its patented
Throughout six years of litigation, Schmeiser
steadfastly maintained his fields were contaminated by
pollen from a neighbour's Roundup Ready canola fields
and by seeds that blew off trucks on their way to a
nearby processing plant.
Despite widespread evidence of contamination on many
other farms, the Supreme Court determined the farmer
infringed on Monsanto's legal rights under Canada's
Patent Act by 'using' the company's patented gene when
he harvested and sold his crop.
That decision remains highly controversial.
Recently Rene Van Acker, a University of Manitoba
agricultural expert, wrote to tell the Supreme Court
that seed samples from Schmeiser's contested 1997 crop
that he tested were not 95-98 per cent Roundup Ready
canola, as Monsanto claimed. Rather, the amount of
Roundup Ready canola in the crop varied between three
to 67 percent, depending on the sample tested.
Other research has shown that Roundup Ready canola has
spread widely, and now shows up in ditches, schoolyards
and city lots. Even the purest, certified non-
genetically engineered canola now contains up to 4.9
per cent Roundup Ready content, Van Acker writes.
Moreover, the researcher says he cannot find any
documents that substantiate Monsanto's claim that
Schmeiser's crop was 95 percent contaminated.
At the heart of the debate over ownership of seeds is
the principle of a farmer's right to save seeds. The
Schmeiser case and the recommendations of the Seed
Sector Review are completely contradictory to the
International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, which
came into force this summer, says Pat Mooney of the ETC
Group, a Canadian non-governmental organisation (NGO)
that was heavily involved in the treaty negotiations.
"The treaty is very strong on farmer seed saving.
Canada was the first country to ratify the treaty,"
Mooney told IPS.
In Leask's view the treaty is all about protecting the
rights of indigenous people in developing countries,
who have saved seeds for centuries. In Canada there is
no legal right of farmers to save seed, he argues.
The review recommends the government acknowledge
farmers' "privilege" to save seed for their own
holdings, an approach Leask supports. "I don't think
farmers ought to have a legal right to save seeds," he
More Blacks Going to Prison in 17 Key Election States
Date: Wednesday, August 25, 2004
By: Bonnie Winston, BlackAmericaWeb
Prison spending grew five times as fast as spending for
higher education in the past 20 years, according to a
report released Wednesday examining prison growth in 17
states considered key to this year’s presidential
And with the growing prison and jail population, nearly
twice as many black men in their early 30s have been to
prison as have obtained a bachelor’s degree, according
to the report by the non-profit Justice Policy
Institute based in Washington, D.C.
"Prisons are growing, education is suffering and the
African-American community hit hardest is increasingly
shut out of the debate," Vincent Schiraldi, the
institute’s executive director and a co-author of the
report, said in a statement. "As presidential
candidates mine these states for votes, voters need to
hear about how they intend to create a more balanced
approach to crime that doesn’t rob education to fund
The institute examined prison spending in Arizona,
Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota,
Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio,
Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington (state), West Virginia
and Wisconsin. Considered neither solidly Republican
nor Democratic, those 17 swing states will be pivotal
in whether Republican President George W. Bush is re-
elected or whether his Democratic challenger, Sen. John
F. Kerry of Massachusetts, wins in November.
Eric Lotke, research and policy director for the
Justice Policy Institute, told BlackAmericaWeb.com that
the organization hopes to have an impact on justice
policy by making its findings available to citizens
around the country.
"By seeing what we’re spending on prisons and what
we’re sacrificing to do that, people can ask
questions," Lotke said. "This issue of justice policies
has fallen off the road map."
Among the institute’s other findings in the 17 states:
* Dollar for dollar, state and local spending on
corrections increased more than twice as much as
spending on education or health between 1977 and 2001.
* The average cost of keeping a person in prison for a
year was $22,650 in 2001, while the average annual cost
of undergraduate tuition at a public university in 2000
was $4,800 and $14,000 at a private college.
* Nearly 7 million people in the United States are in
prison or jail, or are on probation or parole; that’s
more people than in the eight least-populated states
* There is a dubious connection between increases in
incarceration and decreases in crime.
* Nearly 2 million adults in the 17 states are
ineligible to vote because of felony disenfranchisement
laws in those states. Nationally, about 4.7 million
Americans can’t vote because they have a felony
* Black men make up 30 percent of disenfranchised
voters, but only 6.1 percent of the U.S. population.
Having undergone "30 years of get-tough philosophy and
sentencing laws," the nation’s criminal justice system
is "not going to change by mere tinkering around the
edges," said Marc Mauer, assistant director of The
Sentencing Project, a national research and advocacy
group involved in criminal justice issues.
He said today’s focus should be on strengthening
families and communities and on changing harsh
mandatory sentencing laws.
"We need to make this a non-partisan discussion...
redirecting the debate to one of fairness and
effectiveness," said Mauer.
Change may be in the offing, he said, because many
states are in difficult financial straits and are re-
evaluating their spending priorities - prisons versus
education or health care. And, he said, because of the
positive outcomes from drug courts offering treatment
to lower-level drug offenders, "there is the
possibility (in some states) of expanding those types
of programs" as an alternative to incarceration.
"When a young black man has nearly twice the chance of
going to prison as obtaining a college degree,
something is terribly wrong," said Jim Lanier of the
National Urban League’s Institute for Opportunity and
Equality. "It is imperative that we shift the
investment away from locking people up into educating
"It is also critical that those who would hold our
nation’s highest office tell us how they intend to
address America’s massive incarceration rate and the
impact it is having on the African-American community,"
Web Site: www.justicepolicy.org
Legislators ponder action on deal with black farmers
BY PETER HARDIN
TIMES-DISPATCH WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
WASHINGTON A landmark civil-rights settlement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and black farmers has fallen so far short of weighing most farmers' claims for
payments that key lawmakers are considering action.
Senior lawmakers from both parties raised strong concerns at a House hearing yesterday that tens of thousands of black farmers were effectively shut out of even getting
considered for payments under the 1999 settlement.
"We will never be able to put the racially discriminatory practices that have occurred, and continue to occur, within the USDA behind us until every one of these individuals
has at least had the opportunity to be heard," said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio and chairman of the House Constitution subcommittee.
Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., brought up ways that Congress might intervene to allow an opportunity to be heard to farmers who made their claims late.
If the current situation is allowed to stand, Scott cautioned, "black farmers will not only have been victimized by the discriminatory practices at USDA, but by the remedy
process, as well."
While the panel reached no conclusions, it closely examined data about the settlement's implementation and explored possible ways to try to fix what lawmakers saw as its
Black farmers and their supporters helped fill the House hearing room and applauded at the session's close, after the panel had aired key issues that activists have been
working hard to spotlight. Earlier, about 50 to 75 black farmers rallied at the Agriculture Department.
The class-action lawsuit involved allegations of USDA discrimination against black farmers nationwide, and its settlement has led to about $831 million in financial relief to
some 13,500 people, out of more than 22,000 people who were judged eligible to submit claims. Compensation was not automatic under the settlement terms.
About 66,000 people filed on time to meet an extended deadline for claims, according to testimony by Randi I. Roth, the court-appointed monitor in the case. Of that number,
only 2,231 so far have gotten a new chance to file a claim for compensation.
An additional 7,870 people filed to become eligible for payments after the extended deadline for late claims had passed, according to written testimony provided by Roth.
In other testimony, Alexander Pires, a lawyer who was in the forefront of bringing the initial lawsuit, said that all of the law firms involved have made about $15 million. He
defended his handling of the settlement, which came under attack from a black farmer witness, Phillip J. Haynie II of Heathsville, and under questioning from lawmakers.
Contact Peter Hardin at (202) 662-7669 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story can be found at:
Ag may add black farmers to subsidy panels
Date: Wednesday, September 29, 2004
By: Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The Agriculture Department plans to put more black
farmers on the committees that have oversight in how federal farm
subsidies are allocated.
The increase in black voters on the committees should happen soon after
the November election, Vernon Parker, the department's top civil rights
official, said Tuesday.
Parker spoke on a street outside the department's headquarters while
about 75 demonstrators rallied against what they saw as the
department's continuing refusal to rectify a history of discrimination. The
department has settled one major class-action discrimination suit and
faces the possibility of another.
The planned expansion of minority participation focuses on county
committees elected by farmers. The committees review eligibility for
programs administered by the Agriculture Department's Farm Service
The department's plan is a step in the right direction, said John Boyd,
president of the National Black Farmers Association, but is "a dime too
late." If the change had been made a decade or more ago, "it could have
saved a lot of black farmers," he said.
Black farmers contend that white-dominated panels of three to five
members in many counties have used their power to force the
foreclosure of many black farms, which then are purchased by whites.
The committee system is undergoing "a severe overhaul," said Parker.
The department announced plans to change the committee structure in
The department currently has the option of appointing nonvoting minority
members to county committees if farmers do not elect them to voting
seats on the panels. Under the proposed changes, the department could
independently nominate members from minority groups to run for voting
seats. It also could appoint voting members from minority groups to the
committees if none run or win election, said Ed Loyd, a department
Placing minority group members on the committees would be an option if,
for instance, a committee has been the target of bias complaints, Loyd
Speakers during Tuesday's demonstration also accused the department
of obstructing the process through which claims are paid under a
landmark discrimination class action settlement in 1999.
In that case, black farmers complained they were denied loans and other
assistance because of a pattern of discrimination. A new federal lawsuit
contends discrimination has continued since the last settlement, and
seeks class action status on behalf of 25,000 blacks who farmed or
attempted to farm between 1997 and 2004.
At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the
Constitution, lawmakers said the 1999 class action settlement did not
help most of the farmers in the class. About 65,000 black farmers were
excluded because they did not file claims in time, said subcommittee
chairman Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.
"We cannot in good conscience allow a settlement that leaves out more
potential claimants than it allows in to go unexamined or remain
unresolved," Chabot said.
Court-appointed administrators of the settlement countered that their
hands were tied by the settlement's own restrictions. To qualify for an
extension, farmers had to show they were delayed by extraordinary
circumstances such as a hurricane or serious illness, and most could
not, said Michael J. Lewis, the settlement's arbitrator.
Congress could pass a law to let the excluded farmers try again for
restitution from the Agriculture Department, said Alexander Pires, the
class action's lead lawyer. But if he asked the court simply to change the
terms of the settlement, the department would object, he said.