Read more in this letter that was sent on August 18, 2020
To Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, <Marie-Claude.Bibeau@parl.gc.ca>
cc Mark Gerretsen, MP for Kingston and the Islands, <Mark.Gerretsen@parl.gc.ca>
Scott Reid, MP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, <Scott.Reid@parl.gc.ca>
Derek Sloan, MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington, <Derek.Sloan@parl.gc.ca>
Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food,
I am writing on behalf of the Kingston Area Seed System Initiative (KASSI), a non-profit organization that was founded by local farmers, backyard and market gardeners, and concerned community members. Our objectives are to increase seed sovereignty, and thereby, food sovereignty and food system resilience, for the Kingston region. We promote healthy, local food and seed production by
- growing out the locally adapted, open-pollinated seeds from the KASSI Living Seed Commons to save and share with farmers, market gardeners, schools and every other grower and seed saver in our region
- building a community of skilled seed savers, and
- supporting the development of a vibrant sustainable network of local ecological growers producing local food and local seeds that can be legally grown, saved and shared.
We are very concerned about the proposal to amalgamate five seed organizations in Canada into one organization, Seeds Canada, and the consequences of this amalgamation for the seed system in Canada.
We share the urgent concerns expressed in an analysis published by the National Farmers Union in July 2020.
From the NFU analysis:
“Canada’s agriculture is seed-based, and farmers are greatly concerned about the proposed changes.
No one can deny the importance of seed – not only to farmers and agriculture, but also to food security and society at large. The Seed Synergy groups are positioning themselves to not only influence, but replace the public regulator. The implications of our seed system being controlled by agri-business corporations are serious. If Seed Synergy’s amalgamation plans succeed, the independent seed grower will soon be a thing of the past, and democratically accountable public regulation process will be turned inside out, with self-interested corporations regulating farmers instead.”
An examination of the proposed board structure for Seeds Canada sets off alarm bells about the eventual loss of influence of seed growers in the organization.
Again from the NFU analysis:
“The amalgamation proposal will transfer regulatory powers to Seeds Canada. For decades, the CSGA (Canadian Seed Growers Association) has been responsible for enforcing government regulations for pedigreed seed production under the Seeds Act, Canada’s original consumer protection legislation, which was designed to protect farmers from unscrupulous seed sellers. The proposed Seeds Canada structure would give the seed corporations on its Board legal authority over delivery and enforcement of these and other seed-related regulations. The choice of name, Seeds Canada, appears intended to enhance its legitimacy by encouraging the assumption that it is a government agency like Health Canada. Seeds Canada’s proposed bylaws outline the new organization’s membership types, voting rights and board composition. Its structure would sideline seed growers nationally and provincially while promoting seed industry corporations. Seed growers and grain farmers would suffer the most if this comes to pass.”
The proposal calls for changes that will, over time, increase control within Seeds Canada by seed trade members other than farmers — companies that make money from seed at any point in the system — a sector that is dominated by enormous transnational, multi-commodity corporations like Bayer, Cargill, BASF, Limagrain and Syngenta.
We fear that creation of Seeds Canada will lead to seed growers becoming indentured workers, tied to contracts set by the corporations, but being the ones taking all the environmental and financial risks such as weather and insects. (We are reminded of the way that many American chicken farmers are tied to contracts that bind them to corporations that sell them the chicks, feed and other inputs, and then buy the finished chickens, leaving the farmers with a very narrow margin. This situation is not at all sustainable.)
Corporate-influenced seed regulations in the European Union led to the demise of small seed companies in Europe. When regulations were proposed to make illegal the practice of backyard gardeners trading seeds with each other, Europeans realized seed industry regulation had gone too far. KASSI wants Canadians to wake up before we reach that stage here.
We realize that the vote on the Seeds Canada proposal underway this month is outside the control of the federal government.
However, we call on you, as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, to be vigilant and prudent in your department’s dealings with the seed trade, guided by what is best for Canadian eaters and farmers, not corporation shareholders.
Whoever controls seeds controls food. We want control of seeds to be in the hands of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, through seed companies of all sizes and through individuals with their own stash of saved seeds. We also want the federal government to lead in restoring a robust network of public seeds research.
Such a dispersed system of seed stewardship increases the resilience and self-sufficiency of the Canadian food system — a critical responsibility of the federal government.
We saw this spring how large numbers of Canadians responded to the uncertainty of the pandemic by wanting to plant gardens — only to find that the demand for seeds outstripped the supply. That shortage reminds us that we need to keep the seed supply in the hands of individual Canadians and farmers, through many, many seed suppliers, and supported by publicly-owned seed research.
We welcome discussing our concerns further with you or your staff.
Cathy Christie, Chair
Kingston Area Seed System Initiative