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Seeds

Farmers' rights

Project: Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Revisions to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants strengthen the intellectual property rights of seed developers. The convention was created in 1961 and is one of several international conventions and treaties that operate under the umbrella of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The convention’s governing body is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). The newly revised UPOV agreement extends the term of plant breeders’ intellectual property protections for new varieties from 15 years to 20 years. It also prohibits farmers from saving seeds, though there is an optional clause that allows member countries to exempt farmers from this restriction under certain conditions. For example, the clause says the restrictions can be waived if member countries implement other mechanisms that provide equivalent protections for the “legitimate interests of the breeder.” [International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/19/1991; Dhar, Pandey, and Chaturvedi, 6/23/1995] The revisions will enter into force one month after five states have ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to UPOV ‘91.

Entity Tags: International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants

Category Tags: International agreements, Farmers' rights

A number of agricultural biotech firms secure patents on genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). GURT, more commonly known as “terminator” technology, involves genetically engineering seeds to grow into sterile plants. The motivation behind this technology is to provide a means for seed companies to protect their intellectual property rights. By making their seeds genetically sterile, seed companies can prevent farmers from saving and replanting proprietary seeds, thus forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every year. Critics say that biotech companies intend to use the technology to force their seeds on Third World farmers, most of whom engage in subsistence-level farming and plant only common seed. The seed industry sees these farmers as a huge untapped market. Seed savers number an estimated 1.4 billion farmers worldwide—100 million in Latin America, 300 million in Africa, and 1 billion in Asia—and are responsible for growing between 15 and 20 percent of the world’s food supply. [USPTO Patent Database, 3/3/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998; Ecologist, 9/1998] In addition to GURT, companies are seeking to develop a similar technology, called T-GURT or genetic trait control. This technology would make plant growth or the expression of certain genes contingent on whether or not the seed or plant is exposed to certain chemicals. For example, AstraZeneca is developing a technology to produce crops that would fail to grow properly if they are not regularly exposed to the company’s chemicals. The Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) suggests that T-GURT could serve as a platform upon which certain proprietary traits could be placed. In order to turn positive traits (e.g., herbicide-resistance) on, or negative traits (e.g., sterility) off, the farmer would need to either apply proprietary chemicals to the crops as they grow or pay to have the seeds soaked in a catalyst solution prior to planting. Critics note that this technology, like terminator technology, would require that farmers pay every year to have functioning seeds. Farmers would, in effect, be leasing the seed. Companies developing GURT and T-GURT seeds include Novartis, AstraZeneca, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc, and DuPont. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999]
Critics Say: -
bullet Terminator seeds would either turn poor farmers into “bioserfs,” by requiring them to pay for their seed every year, or drive these farmers out of farming all together. Proponents counter that farmers would not be forced to buy the seed. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet If biotech seed companies were to penetrate the markets of non-industrialized countries, their seeds would replace thousands of locally grown and adapted varieties resulting in a significant loss of the world’s agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet The use of terminator technology would allow the seed industry to expand into new sectors of the seed market, like those for self-pollinating crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, oats and sorghum, according to the Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). “Historically there has been little commercial interest in non-hybridized seeds such as wheat and rice because there was no way for seed companies to control reproduction. With the patent announcement, the world’s two most critical food crops—rice and wheat—staple crops for three-quarters of the world’s poor, potentially enter the realm of private monopoly.” The organization notes that according to FAO, wheat, the world’s most widely cultivated crop, was grown on 219 million hectares in 1995. Rice, which was cultivated on 149 million hectares that year, produced the most crop by weight at 542 million tons. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Critics warn that terminator technology would threaten the farmers’ expertise in seed selection and traditional plant breeding. [India, 12/2/1998]
bullet Some scientists have warned that introducing terminator genes into the germplasm could result in the development of a virus that could disable all non-terminator seeds. “This is perfectly possible,” according to Dr. Owain Williams, of the Gaia Foundation. “Already bacteria have been developed for fixing nitrogen into corn roots, so why not a killer bacteria?” [Independent, 3/22/1998]
bullet Terminator technology is also likened to piracy. Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, write: “Patenting genes the same way you patent software robs Third World farmers. While they and their ancestors developed almost all important food crops, transnational corporations can now blithely patent those crops and make mega profits without in any way compensating traditional farm communities for the original research. Genetic resources taken freely from southern countries will be returned to them later as pricey patented commodities. ‘Terminator’ technology is a way of locking this ‘bio-piracy’ into the very genes themselves.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/1/1999]
Proponents Say: -
bullet Supporters of the technology say that farmers will not be required to buy the seed and therefore will not purchase it unless they perceive some benefit from using it. Critics say that this scenario is not realistic. In a market dominated by an ever diminishing number of seed companies, selection will be limited. RAFI notes: “Current trends in seed industry consolidation, coupled with rapid declines in public sector breeding, mean that farmers are increasingly vulnerable and have far fewer options in the marketplace.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Some proponents argue that terminator seeds would be no different than F1 hybrids, which produce lower quality seeds than their parents. [London Times, 11/4/1998]
bullet Advocates say that terminator technology will allow the industry to safely release genetically modified plants into the environment, without the risk of contaminating related crops or wild plants. [New Scientist, 2/26/2005] Critics say that alleged benefit is outweighed by the danger terminator seeds pose to food safety, farmers’ rights, and agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]

Timeline Tags: Food Safety

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Food security, Biotech/seed industry, Biodiversity, Farmers' rights, Environment, Biotech patents

Monsanto’s “Technology Use Agreement” requires farmers to pay a $12 ($15 CAD) technology fee for every acre they plant with Monsanto’s patented seed. Farmers pay the fee to the store where they purchase the seed. Under the terms of the agreement, farmers must deliver all of their crop to an elevator or crushing plant—they are prohibited from saving and replanting any harvested seed. They therefore must purchase new seed every year. They are also prohibited from making the seed available to other farmers, a practice known as “brown-bagging.” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999] “Monsanto effectively gains a license to control the seed even after the farmer has bought, planted, and harvested it,” notes a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety. [Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 13 pdf file] For thousands of years farmers have been planting the seeds they collected from the previous year’s harvest. Monsanto’s restrictions therefore cause great concern among organizations that deal with global food security since three-quarters of the world’s food producers are subsistence farmers who plant saved seeds. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] The contract also gives Monsanto the right to come onto a farmer’s land to take plant samples for three years after a farmer has stopped using the company’s seed. Another stipulation in the contract specifies that farmers can only use Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. This clause virtually guarantees Monsanto a dominant share in the non-selective herbicide market for its Roundup herbicide—which has no patent protection in Canada and whose patent in the US expires in 2000. Though many farmers are reportedly happy with the product, few like the provisions in this contract. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999] “This is part of the agricultural revolution, and any revolution is painful. But the technology is good technology,” says Karen Marshall, a Monsanto spokeswoman. The company says the no-replant policy is necessary in order to recoup the millions of dollars it has spent on research and development. The company claims its genetically modified seeds are increasing farmers’ yields and making it possible for them to use more environmentally-friendly pesticides. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999]

Entity Tags: Karen Marshall, Monsanto

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Coercive tactics

To enforce its “Technology Use Agreement” (see 1996), Monsanto sends detectives into farming communities to ensure that all fields planted with its patented seeds have been paid for. Farmers call them the “Monsanto police.” In the US, Monsanto has a contract with Pinkerton Security and Consulting. In Canada, the company uses Robinson Investigation Canada Ltd., which employs a team of former Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Monsanto also encourages farmers to use a toll-free “tip line” to blow the whistle on noncompliant neighbors. According to one farmer, Monsanto promises to reward snitchers with a leather jacket, an allegation that Monsanto denies. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999] Another tactic employed by the company is to place radio ads broadcasting the names of growers caught illegally planting Monsanto’s seeds. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] Monsanto threatens legal action against any farmer who it believes has violated the agreement. Suing one’s own customers “is a little touchy,” Karen Marshall, a Monsanto spokeswoman, concedes, adding that after spending so much money on research, Monsanto doesn’t want “to give the technology away.” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] Craig Evans, the head of Monsanto’s Canadian biotechnology operation in Winnipeg, says: “At the end of the day if we don’t enforce our patent rights, the potential for new technology to come forward to maintain the competitiveness of the industry could disappear, because if you can’t get the return, then you’re going to take your technology somewhere else. We’re just trying to be fair. All I’m trying to do is fulfill the promise of the growers who said, ‘Monsanto, I’m willing to pay you for your technology as long as everyone’s paying.’” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] Critics say Monsanto’s actions are tearing away at the social fabric that has traditionally held farming communities together. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), 4/14/2005] “Farmers here are calling it a reign of terror,” according to canola farmer Percy Schmeiser. “Everyone’s looking at each other and asking, ‘Did my neighbor say something?’” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] “Our rural communities are being turned into corporate police states and farmers are being turned into criminals,” Hope Shand, research director of Rural Advancement Foundation International, explains to the Washington Post in 1999. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Robinson Investigation Canada Ltd, Pinkerton Security and Consulting, Percy Schmeiser, Craig Evans, Karen Marshall, Hope Shand

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Coercive tactics

Monsanto has become the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds and the second largest seller of all seed types. Only Pioneer Hi-Bred, soon to be purchased by Dupont (see March 14, 1999), sells more seeds than Monsanto. Within the US, Monsanto directly or indirectly controls nearly half the corn germplasm market and most of the soybean market. Its dominant position in the market has been attributed to several factors: its two-year buying spree of other seed companies (see 1996-1998), its control of a large percentage of the biotech industry’s plant patents (see 1980s-2004), and the Technology Use Agreement (see 1996) it forces farmers to sign. According to a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the availability of conventional seeds to farmers worldwide has been dramatically reduced as a result of Monsanto’s control of the market. “For many farmers across the country, it has become difficult if not impossible, to find high quality, conventional varieties of corn, soy, and cotton seed. Making matters worse, the direction of land-grant university research has been shifting away from producing new conventional seed varieties and toward biotech applications,” the report says. Indiana soybean farmer Troy Roush tells the Center, “You can’t even purchase them in this market. They’re not available.” Another farmer interviewed by the organization, a Texan, similarly states, “Just about the only cottonseed you can get these days is [genetically engineered]. Same thing with the corn varieties. There’s not too many seeds available that are not genetically altered in some way.” [Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 9-10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Biotech/seed industry, Monsanto, Farmers' rights, Biodiversity

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, former independent chairman of the FAO Council and recipient of the World Food Prize, writes in an article published by the Biotechnology and Development Monitor: “In India where there are nearly 100 million operational holdings, denial of plant-back rights or the use of the terminator mechanism will be disastrous from the socio-economic and biodiversity points of view, since over 80 percent of farmers plant their own farm-saved seeds.” [Swaminathan, 1998; ETC Group, 2/19/2002]

Entity Tags: M.S. Swaminathan

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biodiversity, Farmers' rights

During a debate on terminator technology held during the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Harry Collins, Delta and Pine Land’s vice president for technology transfer, distributes a paper in which he claims, “The centuries old practice of farmer-saved seed is really a gross disadvantage to Third World farmers who inadvertently become locked into obsolete varieties because of their taking the ‘easy road’ and not planting newer, more productive varieties.” [Collins, 1998; Ecologist, 9/1998]

Entity Tags: Harry B. Collins

Category Tags: Biotech/seed industry, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds, Delta & Pine Land

Several weeks after banning terminator seeds in India (see Before October 10, 1998), Shri Sompal, the country’s minister of agriculture summarizes the threat posed by the technology in a public statement: “This is lethal and poses a global threat to farmers, biodiversity, and food and ecological security. The use of this technology would threaten the farmers’ rights to save the seed for their harvest. Because of the lethal nature of the product, the public has been asked to be wary of the introduction of genetically modified foods in many parts wherever this technique is being tried to be introduced.… The farmer will be dependent upon terminator seed and will have to buy the same seed again and again. The company producing the seed can charge any price from the farmers. The farmer will not be in a position to use seeds saved from the previous crops. It will threaten the farmers’ expertise in seed selection and traditional conservation-cum-improved ways of carrying forward the seeds. The technology would have serious implications on the crop biodiversity. It may lead to gradual extinction of traditional varieties. Crop related wild varieties, important for natural evolution for crop species would be affected by cross-contamination. This concern would be of special relevance to India, since the country abounds in land races and wild relatives of crop plants.” [Rediff, 12/1/1998; India, 12/2/1998]

Entity Tags: India

Category Tags: India, Farmers' rights, Biodiversity, Food security, Environment, Terminator seeds

A bill that would require registration and state-level regulation for seed cleaners is introduced into the Ohio state legislature. Seed cleaners are businesses that “clean” seeds for farmers by removing the chaff (which includes grit, dirt, cut plant material). The proposal, introduced by Rep. Joe Haines, is being pushed by Monsanto. James E. Betts, a Columbus attorney who represents Monsanto, tells the Columbus Dispatch, “One of the things the state has a legitimate interest in is regulating the marketplace. It’s important that every seed a farmer gets is a pure seed and is, essentially, as advertised. The seed-cleaning business is not licensed or registered. It’s a segment of seed market that has not been identified.” Seed cleaners would be required to keep records on every farmer who has seeds cleaned or conditioned. For example, the cleaner would need to record the following: the accepted name and brand or variety of the seed; any patents or plant variety protection certificates associated with the seed; the farmer’s contact information; and the amount of seed being cleaned or conditioned. Farmers would also have to sign an indemnification statement, which would also be held by the seed cleaner. The seed cleaner would be obligated under law to store these records for five years and make them available upon request to the State’s Director of Agriculture. Roger Peters, an Ohio farmer and seed cleaner, asks, “Why should any farmer be forced to keep records on law-abiding farmers who clean their own seed? And why should public tax dollars be used to protect the patents of private seed companies like Monsanto?” Sean McGovern, executive administrator of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farmers Association, has similar feelings about the bill. “I can’t imagine any use for this bill accept to enforce Monsanto’s patents,” he says. [General Assembly of the State of Ohio, 1/28/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/7/1999; Columbus Dispatch, 4/4/1999] The bill is not passed. [General Assembly of the State of Ohio, 1/28/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Ohio

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Biotech/seed industry, National legislation/policy

Monsanto’s 2005 “Technology Use Agreement” (TUA) includes several provisions that were not present in its 1996 agreement (see 1996). The company’s TUAs have been heavily criticized by farmers and groups concerned about food security and farmers’ rights because of its provisions barring farmers from saving and replanting seed. Another part of the contract that has been unpopular among farmers is the requirement that farmers grant Monsanto the right to come onto a farmer’s land to take plant samples any time during the first three years after a farmer has stopped using the company’s seed. Some of the provisions that have been added since 1996 state the following:
bullet All legal disputes (except those involving cotton) must be settled at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri or the Circuit Court of the County of St. Louis.
bullet Farmers must give Monsanto permission to access third-party records of the farmers’ activities, such as those held by USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Center for Food Safety notes: “The breadth of this provision allows the company to obtain documents that are not necessarily directly related to a farmer’s seed or chemical purchase, permitting Monsanto to assess a grower’s financial state.”
bullet Farmers are not required to do anything to prevent contaminating neighbors’ fields with Monsanto’s genes. Recognizing that a “minimal amount of pollen movement (some of which can carry genetically improved traits) between neighboring fields is a well known and normal occurrence in corn seed or grain production,” the agreement suggests that farmers planting the company’s seeds are not under any obligation to prevent the contamination of neighboring non-transgenic crop fields. Conventional farmers “assume the responsibility and receive the benefit for ensuring that their crop meets… specifications for purity,” the agreement asserts.

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Farmers' rights

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Ethics Panel meets in Rome to consider the ethical implications of recent advances in biotechnology. The panel is made up of world-renowned agronomists and ethicists. The focus of their discussion is on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Following the meeting, the panel prepares a report that includes a summary of its views and lists a number of recommendations. The overriding concern of the report, completed some time in 2001, is that there is an inherent conflict between the interests of the corporations developing the technology and the social issues that GMO defenders say the technology will address. The biotech industry’s primary concern is “to maximize profits,” not to address the needs of the world’s rural poor, the report says. The panel notes that the private sector receives more resources than the public sector for GMO research, and that in some cases, public resources are actually being diverted to support private sector priorities. Another problem, according to the panel, is that the adoption of GM crops could undermine farmers’ livelihoods. Noting the power and leverage enjoyed by industry, the panel’s report warns that seed companies “may gain too much control over the rights of local farmers” and create a dependency among the rural poor on imported seeds. This would especially be the case if the biotech industry were to move ahead with genetic use restriction technologies (GURT), more commonly known as terminator technology (see 1994 and after). “The Panel unanimously stated that the ‘terminator seeds’ are generally unethical, as it is deemed unacceptable to market seeds whose offspring a farmer cannot use again because the seeds do not germinate,” the report says. “GURTs are not inherent in genetic engineering. While corporations are entitled to make profits, farmers should not be forced to become dependent on the supplier for new seeds every planting season.” However the panel says it does believe there is potential for the ethical use of GURTs. According to the panel, “Where the concern is with possible outcrossing of crops, for example GMOs that could damage wild plant populations, GURTs might be justified. This may also apply elsewhere: when the primary concern is to prevent reproduction of farmed fish with wild populations, for example, then GURTs could be useful in protecting wild populations.” In conclusion, the panel stresses the need for independent, publicly-funded research on GMOs that is “directed to the needs and benefits of poor farmers, herders, foresters and fishers.” [Food and Agriculture Organization, 2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture

Category Tags: Studies-other, Terminator seeds, Farmers' rights, Biotech/seed industry, Food security, Public-private collaboration

Monsanto’s Bollgard Bt cotton fares poorly during a one-year trial period in South Sulawesi, a province of Indonesia. During a drought, much of the crop suffers from a population explosion in cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), though the pest has no effect on local varieties. Other pests also attack the crop. As a result, farmers are forced to purchase additional pesticides and use them in larger amounts than is usually necessary. Monsanto had said its Bt cotton would require less pesticide. It also claimed its product would produce yields as high as 3 tons per hectare, and even promised some farmers they would see 4-7 tons per hectare. But the average yield turns out to be only 1.1 ton per hectare with 74 percent of the total area planted actually producing less than one ton per hectare. Approximately 522 hectares experience complete failure. As a result of the poor harvest, 70 percent of the 4,438 farmers participating in the experiment are unable to repay the loans they obtained to buy the seed. They had purchased the cotton seed on credit for Rp 40,000/kg from Branita Sandhini, a Monsanto subsidiary, as part of a package deal that also included pesticide, herbicide (including Roundup), and fertilizer. By comparison, Kanesia, a non-transgenic cotton that is grown by other farmers in the area costs only Rp 5,000/kg. Not only does the farmers’ purchase agreement with Branita Sandhini require that they pay these high prices, it also prohibits them from saving and replanting harvested seed. After harvest, they rely on the same company to purchase their crop. However, before buying the harvest, Branita Sandhini asks the farmers to sign a new contract for the following year. In the new contract, the seed prices are double the previous year’s. Fearing that the company will refuse to buy their harvest if they do not sign, many indebted farmers reluctantly agree to the new terms. Others burn their fields in protest. One woman recalls, “The company didn’t give the farmer any choice, they never intended to improve our well being, they just put us in a debt circle, took away our independence and made us their slave forever. They try to monopolize everything, the seeds, the fertilizer, the marketing channel and even our life.” [Jakarta Post, 6/1/2002; Nation (Jakarta), 9/27/2004; Institute for Science in Society, 12/5/2004; Institute for Science in Society, 1/26/2005]

Entity Tags: PT Branita Sandhini, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Indonesia, Farmers' rights, Cotton, Resistance

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) passes conference resolution 3/2001, approving the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, popularly known as the International Seed Treaty. The vote is almost unanimous with only two countries abstaining: the United States and Japan. [The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 11/3/2001 pdf file; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] The treaty—under negotiation for seven years [Financial Times, 11/6/2001] —requires countries to share the genetic resources of all seed varieties from 35 food crops and 29 forage crops, officially designating them as part of the global commons. The seeds will be deposited in a network of seed banks for use by all member countries, free of charge, for research and experimental plant breeding. The treaty prohibits using the seeds for chemical or pharmaceutical research. Companies using the seed for commercial purposes are required to pay an equitable share of the resulting profits to a trust fund, which will finance efforts to improve the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in developing countries. A multilateral system will be set up to facilitate countries’ access to the 64 selected crops. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Reuters, 11/5/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001; Food and Agriculture Organization, 6/29/2004] The treaty also affirms farmers’ rights “to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material, and to participate in decision-making regarding, and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture… .” [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file] The US refusal to sign the treaty was based on its concern that the treaty does not do enough to respect intellectual property rights. Specifically, the US wanted “WTO rules on intellectual property rights [to] be applied without modification to the new treaty,” according to the Financial Times. It also wanted any references critical of intellectual property scrubbed from the text. But the Chair, Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi of Venezuela, would not permit it. The US, along with countries like Australia, expressed concerns during negotiation that there would be little incentive for biotech companies to invest in crop research if they were required to share their patented GM genes. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] Additionally, the US wanted a provision in the treaty that would have allowed for germplasm embargos against Cuba or other “enemies” of “enduring freedom.” [ETC Group, 11/4/2001] The treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 48th country ratifies it. [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Australia, Japan, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bush administration (43), United States

Timeline Tags: Food Safety

Category Tags: Biodiversity, International agreements, Food security, Farmers' rights

The Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) completes an analysis on the implications of genetic use restriction technology (GURT) for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The paper was requested the previous year by member governments of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In its 6-page memorandum, UPOV says it believes that using GURTs as a means to protect intellectual property would be less advantageous for society than implementing Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation based on UPOV’s 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see December 19, 2002). UPOV notes that unlike GURT, its 1991 convention has provisions that allow farmers to save seeds; set a time-limit (20 years) on a breeder’s exclusive rights; and permit farmers, researchers, and breeders to breed protected seeds when it is done privately, for non-commercial or experimental purposes, and when it is done to breed new varieties. Furthermore, under GURT, there is “no provision for public interest, allowing government access to varieties under particular circumstances,” as there is in the UPOV’s convention. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Studies-other, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds

An ad hoc expert panel created by the sixth conference of the Biodiversity Convention convenes in Montreal to consider the impact that genetic use restriction technology (GURT), also known as terminator technology, would have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The expert panel hears from 11 groups including the US, Canada, two individual farmers, an indigenous rights group, four civil society organizations, the International Seed Federation, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The paper presented by UPOV, completed in January (see January 10, 2003), is not well-received by the US or industry representatives. Though the UPOV is generally an ardent supporter of intellectual rights protections, its analysis argues that GURT technology could threaten the interests of small farmers. The paper is so unwelcome, in fact, that the US and the International Seed Federation will succeed in pressuring the UPOV to revise it (see March 13, 2003-April 11, 2003), eliminating all references to GURT from the body of the paper. Prepared by Monsanto’s Roger Krueger and Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the International Seed Federation’s analysis takes the position that GURT technology would be advantageous for small farmers. Their paper argues that GURT would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with more options. “The International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that GURTs have the potential to benefit farmers and others in all size, economic and geographical areas… In reality, the potential effects of the GURTs may be beneficial to small farmers… ,” the paper asserts. “It is the strong belief and position of the ISF that GURTs would potentially provide more choice, to the farmers, rather than less choice.” Kruefer and Collins also say the technology could be used to prevent the contamination of non-transgenic plants with genetically modified genes and thus could be “quite positive for the environment and biodiversity.” [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The expert panel’s final report will list 35 “potential negative impacts” of GURT on small farmers and local communities and only nine “potential positive impacts.” It will recommend, among other things, “that parties and other governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use.” [Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Roger Krueger, Harry B. Collins

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biotech/seed industry, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds, Indigenous peoples, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land

Bill Leask, executive director of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, one of four groups that initiated the Seed Sector Review, tells Inter Press Service in an interview, “I don’t think farmers ought to have a legal right to save seeds.” He and others in the seed industry have said they believe seed saving is a “privilege.” [The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 4/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Bill Leask

Category Tags: Biotech/seed industry, Seed Sector Review, Farmers' rights

Monsanto announces that it is temporarily halting sales of genetically modified soybean seeds because farmers are saving and replanting patented seed, making it difficult for the company to collect royalties. “We are suspending our soybean business… because it’s simply not profitable for us,” says Federico Ovejero, a spokesman for Monsanto Argentina. “We remain committed to releasing our technology in places where we can ensure a fair return on our investment.” Monsanto has been pressuring Argentina to clamp down on what it says is “seed piracy.” [Associated Press, 1/19/2004; Latin America News Digest, 1/20/2004; ETC Group, 2/26/2004] Monsanto estimates that more than half of the seeds planted during the October-November planting season appears to have been pirated. [New York Times, 1/20/2004] One Argentinean seed industry executive warns that Monsanto’s action “is the first warning sign that all new technologies will abandon us if intellectual property rights are not respected.” [Associated Press, 1/19/2004; ETC Group, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Category Tags: Argentina, Monsanto, Soybeans, Farmers' rights

Farming cooperatives in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul agree to pay Monsanto royalties for all genetically modified soybeans they grow in 2004. Exporters and crushers will sign licensing agreements with Monsanto requiring them to collect a $.21 royalty for every 90-kg bag of GM soybeans purchased from farmers. [Latin America News Digest, 1/29/2004; Chemical News & Intelligence, 1/29/2004; Resource News International, 1/30/2004; ETC Group, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Brazil, Soybeans, Monsanto, Farmers' rights

Paul Bremer, the US administrator for Iraq, issues Order 81 rewriting Iraq’s 1970 patent law. The order extends intellectual property right protections to plants, making it illegal for Iraqi farmers to save, share, or replant seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law. The order was written with the help of Linda Lourie, an attorney-advisor in the US Patent Office’s Office of External Affairs. She was invited to Iraq to help draft laws that would ensure Iraq’s eligibility into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Bremer’s order, however, makes Iraq’s patent law stricter even than the WTO-compliant 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see March 19, 1991), which allows its member-states to exempt farmers from the prohibition against seed saving. Lourie claims these changes were sanctioned by the Iraqi governing council, which she says wants Iraq to have the strongest intellectual property rules in the region in order to attract private investment. [Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, 4/4/2004 pdf file; GRAIN, 10/2004; National Public Radio, 11/24/2004]

Entity Tags: L. Paul Bremer, Linda Lourie

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Iraq, Coercive tactics, Farmers' rights

The Seed Sector Review, an industry-led initiative to restructure Canada’s seed and grain quality assurance systems (see (July 2003)), releases its phase one final report. [Inter Press Service, 10/5/2004; Natural Life, 1/2005] The report, titled Report of the Seed Sector Advisory Committee, includes several recommendations:
bullet The report expresses the view that the farmer’s “privilege” of saving and replanting seeds discourages private sector investment and makes it difficult for companies to “recoup” their investments. The report suggests developing a new system of relations between the farmer and the seed companies that would be more “equitable.” Such a method would “involve examining the balance between farmer’s privilege and breeders’ rights.” One possible solution would be to collect royalties on seed saved by farmers. “Suggestions were made that royalties could be collected through elevators or seed processors or through CWB contract programs,” the report says. [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 33 pdf file]
bullet The report notes that many participants of the Seed Sector Review would prefer that farmers be required to use certified seed. It cites several reasons why this would be desirable, including “improved intellectual property protection (and royalty collection), which would in turn support (fund) more research”; “a healthier seed grower and trade industry”; “more private sector involvement in Western Canada cereal breeding”; “elimination of the controversial brown bag market for sales of common seed”; “improved agricultural practices”; “improved confidence for quality assurance in the value chain”; and “increased profitability for the higher generation seed production and variety developers.” The report suggests several strategies that could be employed to compel farmers to buy certified seeds. Among those listed are “link crop insurance premiums with use of certified seed”; “increase the perceived value of certified seed”; collect royalties; “require specific standards on common seed” that would make it more costly for farmers to sell their own seed; and limit “the number of generations produced from certified seed,” which the reports notes would also result in common seed becoming “too expensive, making certified seed more economical.” [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 42 pdf file]
bullet The report notes that participants in the review would like to see the current wheat quality system, based on kernel visual distinguishability (KVD), replaced with a new system. They complain that KVD is a “stumbling block to innovation.” Several suggestions for an alternative system are made in the report. The report acknowledges that moving to a new system would be costly and suggests that this should be paid in part with public funds. “There should be some level of public investment in its development and implementation to support the competitive position of Canadian exports.” According to Canada’s National Farmers Union (NFU), the alternative systems suggested in the document “would increase farmers’ costs for administration, testing, segregation, identity preservation, dispute settlement, and transport costs.” [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 41 pdf file]
bullet The report considers the advantages that seed producers would have if Canada were to make its Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) Act compliant with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Convention (UPOV) of 1991 (see March 19, 1991). The 1991 UPOV is much more restrictive for farmers than the 1978 UPOV, upon which Canada’s PBR Act is currently based. Adopting the 1991 UPOV for the PBR’s framework would, among other things, lengthen plant breeders’ protection and royalty periods from 15 years to 20 years; take away farmers’ automatic right—protected in UPOV ‘78—to save, re-use, and sell seed (which is referred to as the “Farmers’ Exemption” in the UPOV Convention) [National Farmers Union, 5/13/2004, pp. 3-4 pdf file] ; create “a cascade right to extend PBR to harvested material and end products in crops where breeders did not have the opportunity to exercise his [sic] rights on propagating material” (The seed companies would need this change in order to collect royalties at elevators and seed cleaning facilities); and pave the way for seed companies to patent seed already protected under the Plant Breeders Rights Act. The report notes that participants in the review were highly supportive of the proposal to adopt the 1991 UPOV (see March 19, 1991). “[T]his change should be made as soon as possible.” [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 32-34 pdf file]
Reaction - The Seed Sector Review is not well received in the farming community. The Sakatoon-based National Farmers Union launches a “seed saver” campaign to rally farmers against the seed industry’s proposed changes. The farmers see the review’s recommendations as an effort to further privatize the commons, and to increase corporate profits at the expense of growers. Most of their fury is focused on changes that would compel farmers to purchase certified seed by making it more difficult to save, trade, and replant their own seeds. “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,” says Paul Beingessner, a third-generation grain and livestock farmer from Saskatchewan. Beingessner calculates that if the recommendations were implemented, the average Canadian farm’s expenses would increase by $1,400 CAD. “It’s a money grab, pure and simple,” Beingessner says. Pat Mooney of the ETC Group, a Canadian civil society organization, says the Seed Sector Review contradicts the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (see November 3, 2001), which came into force in June (see June 29, 2004). That treaty reaffirmed farmers’ rights to save, trade, and replant seed. Canada ratified the treaty on October 6, 2002. [Inter Press Service, 10/5/2004]

Entity Tags: Seed Sector Review

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Biotech/seed industry, Seed Sector Review

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In a split 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada rules that Percy Schmeiser violated Monsanto’s patent when he grew canola in 1998 that contained the company’s patented Roundup Ready gene. [Washington Post, 5/22/2004; Vancouver Sun, 5/22/2004; New York Times, 5/22/2004]
Decision - Schmeiser’s lawyer, Terry Zakreski, argued that the protection of Monsanto’s patented genes and cells necessarily extended to restricting the use of any plants and seeds containing them. Since this in effect means that Monsanto is claiming patentholder’s rights for the whole plant, the court must rule, in light of its 2002 Harvard College v. Canada decision that higher-life forms cannot be patented, that the company’s patent must be invalid. However, the majority rejects Zakreski’s argument and affirms the validity of Monsanto’s patent. The majority says the “Harvard Mouse” case does not support Schmeiser’s argument because, while Harvard had sought to patent an actual mouse, Monsanto’s patent is limited to certain genes and cells. Furthermore, Harvard did acquire patents on certain parts of the mouse, a plasmid and a somatic cell culture, and therefore the “Harvard Mouse” case supports Monsanto case, not Schmeiser’s. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 8] The majority also rejects Schmeiser’s defense that he did not use Monsanto’s patented genes. While sidestepping the issue of whether or not it would be necessary to spray Roundup on the plants in order to exploit Monsanto’s patented genes and cells, the majority says that his 1998 canola crop provided him with “stand-by” utility, which a previous court decision determined constituted “use.” In possessing and growing the crop, the majority argues, Schmeiser had reserved the option to spray it with Roundup, should the need arise, or sell it to make a profit. The majority thus holds that Schmeiser infringed on the patent. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 11-13] It is important to note that the majority says this decision does not concern “the innocent discovery by farmers of ‘blow-by’ patented plants on their land or in their cultivated fields.” The majority makes it clear that they do not accept Schmeiser’s claim that his property was “contaminated” with Monsanto’s genes. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 5] For them it is accepted fact that (1) “tests revealed that 95 to 98 percent of his 1,0[3]0 acres of canola crop [in 1998] was made up of Roundup Ready plants” [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 6] ; (2) “he sprayed Roundup to isolate the Roundup Ready plants he found on his land” [emphasis added]; (3) he “segregated the seeds”; and (4) “he ended up with 1030 acres of Roundup Ready Canola.” All of these statements are made as matters of accepted fact even though they were, in fact, all disputed by Schmeiser (see January 20, 2004). [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 15] The court does however side with Schmeiser on the issue of compensation owed to Monsanto. “[Schmeiser’s and Schmeiser Enterprises’] profits were precisely what they would have been had they planted and harvested ordinary canola. They sold the Roundup Ready Canola they grew in 1998 for feed, and thus obtained no premium for the fact that it was Roundup Ready Canola. Nor did they gain any agricultural advantage from the herbicide resistant nature of the canola, since no finding was made that they sprayed with Roundup herbicide to reduce weeds. The appellants’ profits arose solely from qualities of their crop that cannot be attributed to the invention.” [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 17]
Dissenting Opinion - The minority opinion disagrees that any of Monsanto’s rights as a patentholder extend to plants, seeds, and crops. It accepts that Monsanto’s patent claims for the genes and cells are valid, but says that none of the protections afforded by the patent extend “to the plant itself, a higher life form incapable of patent protection.” According to the minority, “In order to avoid the claim extending to the whole plant, the plant cell claim cannot extend past the point where the genetically modified cell begins to multiply and differentiate into plant tissues, at which point the claim would be for every cell in the plant, i.e., for the plant itself.” Consequently, only the original genes and cells produced by Monsanto in the lab and contained within the original seed are protected by the patent—the resulting plant, its seeds, and the plants that grow from those seeds, are not. “Therefore saving, planting, or selling seed from glyphosate-resistant plants does not constitute an infringing use,” the minority concludes. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Percy Schmeiser

Category Tags: Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Court decisions, Farmers' rights

(Show related quotes)

Speaking at the tenth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA), held in Bangkok, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser criticizes his government’s backing (see February 7, 2005) of terminator technology. “The Canadian government has acted shamefully. It is supporting a dangerous, anti-farmer technology that aims to eliminate the rights of farmers to save and re-use harvested seed,” he says. “Instead of representing the good will of the Canadian people or attending to the best interests of the Biodiversity Treaty, the Canadian government is fronting for the multinational gene giants who stand to win enormous profits from the release of terminator seeds around the world.” [ETC Group, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Percy Schmeiser, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Farmers' rights

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace announces that it is joining the Council of Canadians in a campaign against the patenting of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Roger Dubois, the organization’s president, says one of the reasons the group opposes seed patenting is because it undermines food security and the rights of farmers, especially in the Third World. “Food security for the world’s hungry requires decentralizing control, yet biopatenting centralizes control,” says Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais. The group says that many farmers have stopped using traditional seeds as a result of government programs providing free patented seeds or advertisements promising higher yields. Once hooked, the farmers are prohibited from seed saving, a practice that is thousands of years old, unless they agree to a contract and pay a special fee. Moreover, they are required to use expensive pesticides and fertilizers. Their adoption of GM crops results in the contamination of non-GM plants, thus leading to the loss of traditional seed varieties. The organization is also opposed to the development of genetically modified seeds because it threatens biodiversity and is known to cause adverse environmental consequences. It notes that GM plants that produce their own pesticides harm beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies and that herbicide resistant varieties of plants can pass their traits to their wild cousins, thus creating “superweeds.” [Canadian Press, 10/3/2002; Canada NewsWire, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Council of Canadians, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace

Timeline Tags: Food Safety

Category Tags: Resistance, Farmers' rights, Food security, Biodiversity, Environment

Between January and August 2006, an estimated 1,920 Bt cotton farmers in Vidarbha, Maharashtra (India) commit suicide because of rising debts. And between June and August, the suicide rate reaches one suicide every eight hours. The higher cultivation costs associated with genetically modified Bt cotton (see, e.g., 2005 ) has made it more difficult for farmers to pay back their loans. Roughly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers in the Maharashtra province are currently in default. More than 50 percent of the farmers who commit suicide are between the ages of 20 and 45. [DNA India, 8/26/2006] The epidemic of farmer suicides began in 1994 when India liberalized its economy and devalued the rupee. [DNA India, 8/26/2006]

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, India, Farmers' rights, Cotton, India

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