Biotechnology Advisory Committee Report:
Farmers should be able to save GE seed
ALEX BINKLEY / Manitoba Co-Operator 13jun02
Ottawa – The Patent Act should be amended to permit farmers to save and plant seeds from patented plants such as genetically engineered crops, says a report from the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee.
It also says that farmers who end up with GE plants growing in their fields through "the adventitious spreading of patented seed or patented genetic material or the insemination of an animal by a patented animal" should be considered as innocent bystanders and not be liable for prosecution.
The report wrestles with the intellectual property rights of those who seek patents on genetic breakthroughs they have made with plants and animals. "While other forms of intellectual property (such as trade secrets and plant breeders' rights) do exist, a patent is the most common form of intellectual property protection sought for biotechnology innovations." A patent conveys a sense of novelty, non-obviousness and utility, the report notes.
While biotechnology developments are patentable, the holder doesn't have "the right to market or even use the invention. This is because some applications of the technology may pose risks to human or animal health or to the environment, challenge the capacity of current approaches to protecting health and the environment and or raise other serious social and ethical questions that must be addressed."
The report contends that "Amending the Patent Act to include the right of farmers to collect and reuse seeds harvested from patented plants and to reproduce patented animals for their own use would codify the current farmers' privilege with regard to plants and extend it to animals. This would also protect individuals who have accidentally had their crops or animals fertilized or inseminated by a patented plant or animal (for example, if a patented seed blows on to a neighbor's land producing a crop)."
The report suggests that the farmer be allowed to use the seed of a GE crop or the offspring of a GE animal for his or her own use but not for commercial purposes. An advisory committee spokesman told a media briefing that these rights would not override any contract rights between the seller and purchaser of the seed. "Any licence agreement would still be binding." That could include provisions for not reusing the seed. . Developers should not be allowed to have patent rights on plants and animals because they would "threaten to undermine the economic viability of industries that rely on plants and animals. Many of these industries are economically more important to Canada than is the biotechnology industry."
Clarifying patent rights on plants and animals would enable Canada to "both encourage its biotechnology industry while maintaining food security and the robustness of Canadian agriculture. One component of this strategy is the introduction of a farmer's privilege into patent law.
At the same time, a careful examination is needed of the relationship among the Patent Act, the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act and the Animal Pedigree Act.” It is possible that a farmer’s privilege for plants would be different for livestock.
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