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Bill that threatens seed saving under fire

Valley farmers and gardeners are gathering Saturday, March 29 at 1:30 p.m. at Glenora Hall to protest a federal law that would stop them from saving home-grown seed.

An information session on Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act, will feature speakers from the National Farmers Union "The main thing is losing our seed sovereignty," said Jan Slomp, president of the National Farmers Union from his Alberta farm.

He will be joined at the session by NFU director Peter Eggers.

Dan Ferguson, a Glenora farmer and NFU member, said Tuesday that he was happy to see such a high-level presentation coming to the Cowichan Valley.

"It's pretty bad news. People on the Prairies are really going to be hammered by this. We won't see the results as much here because the government won't be able to easily go after backyard gardeners but the age old farmer rights of collecting your own seeds are being fairly heavily eroded there," he said Slomp said his group is greatly concerned about changes in seed legislation, in variety registration and royalty collection and how the legislative changes will open more doors to big corporations and foreign ownership of Canadian farmland.

Not being able to use the seed from this year's harvest for next year's planting is going to hit many farmers right in the wallet, while boosting "an international community of usually large chemical corporations," he said.

"This [C-18] is facilitating a royalty regime that will give them extensive power to collect royalties and farmers will lose out. And, our public plant breeding is being systematically under-funded and that vacuum calls for this legislation.

"Farmers are paying more in levies for public plant breeding and on top of that they pay more in royalties for these private varieties."

The result is while farmers feel the pinch, the public still pays significantly towards variety development but "that revenue is clearly going to an international structure of corporations," he said. Meanwhile "our government is moving forward with legislation

that further impedes the ability to deal with climate change from a farmer perspective as it sacrifices the public sector that has a crucial role to play in food security."

Stromp also pointed out that C-18 includes border controls that will allow chemicals, additives and drugs into the country for agriculture "without having scientific assessments by our regulatory bodies taking place. The foreign regulatory regime will be automatically deemed sufficient for importation into Canada."

He called it "draconian, cutting costs while undermining democracy."

In addition, the NFU president will address the subject of multiple-year advance payments for farmers for agricultural enterprises.

"It's red-tape cutting: farmers can apply once and qualify every year as long as they are still farming but the danger is here that we open the door farther for foreign corporations owning Canadian land. And Canada financing that development itself with advance payments," he concluded.