After watching the throne speech yesterday I quickly remembered back to a conversation that I had with Gerry Ritz back in January at Farmtech regarding Canada implementing UPOV 91. (Canada’s plant breeder’s rights system is currently based on the 1978 convention). On several occasions Minister Ritz was very confident Canada would conform to the UPOV 91 convention by the end of 2013, end of story. Well, it’s October and the clock and calendar are really starting to tick away. In the throne speech, UPOV 91 was not mentioned at all which has many speculating that it has fallen down the priority list.
What does this mean for Canada? Changes to Canadian Plant Breeders Rights is important to not just Canadian breeders, but also plant breeders around the world. The ability for plant breeders to protect their investments is a key piece in whether or not breeders will invest in Canada in the future.
In a nutshell, if Canada does not conform to UPOV 91 or show a desire to do so, private wheat breeding in Canada — which has enjoyed significant attention and investment since the CWB monopoly was abolished — will very quickly disappear. This isn’t really news, as wheat breeding companies have made this clear for some time, and companies would likely dial down or stop investing here if UPOV 91 is not conformed to in Canada. Canada is the last major country holdout, and the rest of the world is wondering why.
Withdrawing or cutting wheat breeding investment earmarked for Canada is not an idle threat, even as organizations like the NFU refuse to acknowledge this risk. Other major farming organizations know that the threats are real and the loss to Canadian farmers in the long-term will be substantial.
Some industry insiders are wondering if Gerry Ritz’s political clout with the Prime Minister has waned, or if the ‘to-do’ list is essentially considered done, now that the CWB monopoly is gone and KVD has been done away with.
Minister Ritz has been able to make several key changes to Canadian agriculture, and some of his key supporters are also pushing for the UPOV 91 change. The job is far from done, I’d argue. Canada is a country that says that it believes in innovation but if we do not conform to UPOV 91 shortly the rest of the world will tend to disagree.