By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A Canadian bill thatwould give seed companies more control of the crops they developshould also encourage them to invest in the domestic productionof new grain varieties, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritzsaid on Monday.
But the Agricultural Growth Act, being introduced by thecountry's Conservative government, is controversial among somefarm groups, which say farmers will end up paying higher costsand ceding too much power to the companies.
The bill, if passed, would adopt the 1991 convention of theInternational Union for the Protection of New Varieties ofPlants, an intergovernmental organization known by its Frenchacronym, UPOV. Canada currently abides by a version of the UPOVplant breeders' rights convention that was drafted in 1978.
Updating Canadian legislation on plant breeders' rightswould allow seed companies to charge royalties based on farmers'production and hold authority over farmers' storage and cleaningof seed they plan to reuse, among other changes.
"Our proposed changes will encourage increasedplant-breeding investment here in Canada and encourage foreignbreeders to sell their varieties to our farmers," Ritz said inWinnipeg. "Farmers will benefit from improved access toinnovative new varieties."
Ritz said the bill, which also includes proposed changes forfertilizer and animal feed producers, could take effect inAugust 2014.
The bill is strongly supported by the Canadian Seed TradeAssociation, whose members include BASF SE,Richardson International Limited, Monsanto Co andSyngenta AG among others.
But the National Farmers Union (NFU) opposes the bill,saying seed companies will gain the upper hand on farmers. Itwill restrict farmers' ability to save seed from each crop forreplanting and allow seed companies to collect royalties basedon harvests while controlling crops through more stages of thesupply chain, according to the NFU.
"This gives tremendous control of the food system over to afew rather large seed companies operating throughout the world,"said Saskatchewan farmer Terry Boehm, past-president of the NFU,in an interview. "This system is not about facilitatinginnovation, it's about creating new tools that can extract morerevenues from farmers."
Ritz said farmers would still be allowed to save seed forreplanting but would have to pay a intellectual property fee ora royalty to seed companies.
The Grain Growers of Canada, an umbrella group of Canadianfarm organizations, supports the change, saying it is needed todevelop new seed varieties.