Bill C-18: Letter to the Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

7 May 2014

The Honourable Gerry Ritz
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
1341 Baseline Road, Ottawa
Ontario K1A 0C5


Check-out the signatories

Read the reply

RE:  C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act


Dear Minister Ritz,

I write to you on behalf of Food Secure Canada, a national membership-based network of organizations and individuals concerned with zero hunger, healthy and safe food, and sustainable food systems.

We wish to express our concerns regarding the underlying policy orientation of Bill C-18, the Agriculture Growth Act, an ambitious and complex piece of legislation that modifies several other laws.  While we applaud the measures to allow the removal of feed or fertilizers unlawfully imported into Canada, we believe that, overall, the proposed changes will further undermine the resilience of our farming sector and, ultimately, our national food sovereignty. We are particularly concerned with the proposed changes to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act. These changes, if passed, would result in a shift in our obligations under the International Convention for the Protection of new Varieties of Plants, from UPOV ‘78 to UPOV ‘911, which is not obligatory under our international trade agreements. Such a shift is unnecessary and will have a range of consequences that will be felt far beyond the farming sector:

  • For millennia, farmers have saved and exchanged seed, a practice that has produced the agricultural biodiversity upon which Canada and the world rely for our food. This practice is, under UPOV ‘91 and this Act, relegated to a “farmers’ privilege” clause that can be rescinded by the government of the day without due public process, and is further restricted by the practice and guidance of UPOV2.
  • The so-called farmers’ privilege is rendered almost meaningless by the fact that it only covers the ability to save and condition seed, not to stock it.
  • Removing the ability of farmers to exchange and store seeds will further undermine biodiversity and therefore our ability to adapt to climate change. Storing seeds for more than the next season’s planting needs has also protected farms and biodiversity against crop failures.
  • Instead of collecting royalties at point of sale of seed, the rights holder can, under UPOV 91, access them at multiple points from seed purchase to harvest and beyond. This will almost certainly mean higher costs for the farmer and greater profit for the rights holder. These costs will be passed along to the Canadian public through higher food prices and through the loss of farmers unable to absorb increased fees into their operations. Claims of cost neutrality for this Bill are likely specious, where the profit is generated for the seed sector and the loss borne by the farmers.

Developing policy and programming that supports Canadian farmers to make a dignified living through domestic and export markets should be a top priority of this government. A shift to UPOV ‘91 will unnecessarily further enshrine private plant breeders rights in law, and in so doing, unwittingly put at risk the dynamism and resilience of the fast growing market for local, organic, bio-diverse and sustainable agriculture. We note that the organic sector alone has tripled in size since 2006, a trend that shows no signs of abating and that warrants government supports3. It is disappointing that the Agricultural Growth Act has nothing of substance in it to support the fastest growing sector of Canadian agriculture. Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence that points to the need for a transition towards agro-ecology4.

Drawing on the Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada, Food Secure Canada urges the government to put in place national food and agricultural policy that provide:

  • Seed laws that recognize and protect the contributions that farmers have made for millennia to the development and conservation of plant genetic resources;
  • A commitment to not exceeding the requirements of UPOV ‘78;
  • The restoration of public research and of extension services to farmers, recognizing that innovation in plant and animal breeding and in management practices has long come from practitioners themselves, namely farmers, as well as through government investment in the public sector;
  • Local and regional economic development through the restoration of regional and national infrastructure and mechanisms such as processing, storage, transportation and access to markets;
  • Sustainable livelihoods for farmers for generations to come.

While agriculture is primarily a business, it is also inherently linked to the current and future wellbeing of Canadian citizens. As the world celebrates the International Year of Family Farming, there is widespread recognition of the vital role that a resilient agricultural sector plays in political stability, food security and a country’s food sovereignty5. This resilience lies in legislation that is enabling of farmers, not further restricting their rights, embedding additional uncertainty into their business operations, and undermining their wherewithal to be economically viable within the mechanisms of the marketplace, increasingly dominated by a few large players6.

Diana Bronson, Executive Director

Cc:     Malcolm Allen, Opposition Critic for Agriculture & Agri-Food
          Mark Eyking. Liberal Agriculture & Agri-Food Critic    
          André Bellavance, Member, Standing Committee of Agriculture and Agri-Food
          Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada

1. The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) was established by international convention in 1961. The Convention has undergone several revisions since then, the most recent being in 1991. It currently has 71 member states. Canada is also a signatory to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

2. See the UPOV, “Explanatory Notes on Exceptions to the Breeder’s Right under the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention”.

3. See The Canada Organic Trade Association’s November 2013 report: The National Organic Market: Growth, Trends & Opportunities, 2013.

4. See, for instance, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, September 2013 report “Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It Is Too Late, Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate.

5. See the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Final Report.

6. For example, in the seed sector, the top three seed companies already control over half of the global seed market. See the ETC Group's September 2013 Communiqué Cartel Before the Horse.

For more Information see the Article and Press Release. 

List of signatories: 

Name Organization 
Aaron Vansintjan  
Adeline Cohen B  
Adrienne Levay University of British Columbia
Alastaire Henderson  
Alex Thumm  
Alexis Reichert  
Alia Karim  
Aliesha Desjarlais  
Alison Rothwell  
Amanda Comeau Many Feathers
Amy Collins  
Andrea Puric  
Andrea Zittlau  
Andrea-Jane Cornell  
Andrew Hewson  
Andrew Pollock  
Angela Brown  
Angela Heffernan  
Angela Plant  
Angele Gamble  
Anita Carr  
Anita Green  
Anna Savelyeva Centre for Food Policy, City University London
Anna Weier  
Anne Catherine Kennedy  
anne-marie comeau  
Ashley Schram  
Ashlin Miranda Parks Canada
Audrey-Maud P Tardif  
Beau Frigault  
Bob Shorten  
Brenda Leet  
Bryan Dale  
Caileigh McKnight  
Caili Steel  
Cameron Bell  
Carla Bitz  
carol hutchinson  
carol lucas  
Carole Saint-Pierre  
Carrie Nicols  
Cassie Wever  
Catherine Drolet  
Catherine O'Brien  
Chantal Lajoie  
Charles  Cousineau La Table ronde de Saint-Léonard
Charles-Eugène Bergeron  
Charlie Nixon National Farmer's Union
Charlotte Uhrich  
Chelsea Papineau  
Cherry Marshall  
Cheryl Thomas  
Chris Hooymans  
Christie  Young FarmStart 
Christine McKague  
Clarence-Adolphe Turcotte  
Colleen  Cameron  
Danielle Collins  
Danielle Perreault York University
David  Kirkwood  
David Carson  
Dean Harder  
Debbie Hubbard  
Debbie Martin  
Debby Murtagh  
Denis Erpicum  
Denis Lemieux Coopérative de solidarité Hélios
Diane  Arsenijevic  
Diane Martin  
Dilya Niezova  
Dominique Bernier AmiEs de la Terre de Québec
Don Ruzicka  
Donald Kerr  
Edward Cooke  
Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert Action Communiterre
Élisabeth LeBlanc  
Elizabeth Howard  
Elizabeth Laval  
Emanuelle Jubinville  
Emily rees  
Emily Tracewicz  
Erika Malich  
Esther Bourgault  
Fleur Esteron  
Geoff Smith  
Geoff Whitlock  
Georgina Hnatiuk Health Tree Healing Centre
Georgina Markov  
Germaine Coo  
Glen Casey  
Harriet Friedmann  
Helena Hnetka  
Ildiko Kovacs  
Imran Hamdad  
Indra Noyes  
Ira Heidemann  
Isobel Mailloux  
Jacqueline Wolfe  
Jamie Unwin Canadian Institute of Planners 
Jan Crawford  
jane allin  
Janice Klym  
Jayne Finn Sustainable Cobourg
Jeff Godfrey  
Jen McGowan  
Jen McMullen  
Jennifer  Gosley  
Jennifer Geniole  
Jessica Rainville  
Jo-Anne Christie  
Joanne Butler  
Joanne Laferriere  
Jodi Koberinski Organic Council of Ontario
Joel Aitken  
John Callahan  
John Cowin  
Johnathon Stewart CHEP Good Food Inc.
Jordan MacPhee  
Joseph Kennedy  
Judy Adamson  
Julia Russell  
Julie Basque  
Julie Blais  
Julie Landry  
Julie Landry-Godin Réseau d'inclusion communautaire de la Péninsule acadienne Inc.
Julie Lapointe  
Julie Yang  
June  Kelegher  
Justin Cantafio Ecology Action Centre
Kate Stenson  
kathryn rawlings  
Kathy Mason  
Kelee Haggarty  
Kim  Fellows Pollination Canada
Kira Kastner Houselink Community Homes
Kira Kotilla  
Kristen Smith  
Ksenia Kay  
kyla johnson  
Lara Geinoz  
Lara Marjerrison  
Lesia Kinach  
Lesley Loasby  
Linda Moore  
Linda Peers  
Lisa  Ohberg  
Lisa B  
Lise Gauvreau  
lise huppler  
Louise Capelleburny  
Luce Beaulieu  
lysa dubord  
Lysanne Pinto  
Magdalena Wasilewska  
marc campbell  
Marcia Neumann  
Mariana  Frandsen  
Marie Josée Lemay  
Mariel Gauthier-Grégoire  
Masuda Barak  
Maude Rioux  
Maude Robinson  
Melissa Basque  
Melissa Ouellet  
Monica Lacey  
Nathalie Theriault  
nathan demeester  
Nelson Tardif  
Nicholas McHale  
Nicole Brooker  
Nikki Zawadzki  
Norma MacKellar  
Patricia Andrew  
Patricia Renfer  
Paula Sobie  
Peter Gallant  
Pierre Pharand  
Pierre Vignau  
Rachel Désilets  
Raphaele Piche  
Rebecca Wehner  
René Audet  
Richard Brown  
Ricole Fedyna  
Robert Moquin  
Roger Woo  
Ronald Brown  
Rosanne Blanchet  
Salman Banisadr Concordia University
Sandy Wallin  
Sara Binns  
Sarah Dennis  
Sarah Goldbaum  
Sepideh Anvar  
Shane Hartman  
Shannon Kamins  
Shannon O'Connor  
Stacey Hannem  
Stefan Kovacs  
Stella Lord Community Socieety to End Poverty-Nova Scotia
Stella Tzintzis  
Steven Gellman  
Sue Marshall  
sylain boucher  
Tannis Scerbo  
tara hollas  
tera demeester  
Teresa Doyle Bedlam Records
Thomas Cairnes  
Tiffany Mayer  
tom marcantonio Imagine a Garden In Every School
Tonya Hutt  
Tricia Boonstra  
Victoria Ho  
Violet Umanetz  
Virginia Hutchinson  
Virginie Lavallée-Picard Wind Whipped Farm
wes kmet  
Yvonne  Macor  
Zsofia Zambo