Dear Friends and Colleagues
Farmers’ Rights Threatened by New Suite of Laws
A new publication entitled “Seed laws that criminalise farmers – Resistance and fightback” tackles the issue of growing corporate control over farmers’ seeds through a variety of laws that constrain, control and at times, even make illegal seed saving and exchange, practices which have been the pillar of food production by peasant farmers for generations the world over.
The writers cite that ever since the establishment of the World Trade Organization, almost all countries have passed laws giving corporations ownership over life forms. Just 10 companies account for 55% of the global seed market. The laws are evolving and becoming more aggressive in response to bigger demands from the seed and biotechnology industry. These include seed marketing, intellectual property and plant variety protection laws, sometimes put in place via trade and investment agreements, that prevent farmers from saving seeds so that they buy corporate seeds on the market instead.
Farmers and social movements are, however, fighting back. Experience shows that when the counterforce to defend peasant seeds is strong, this can force the suspension of bad laws or at least, have them called into question. For example in Brazil, as a result of decades of farmers’ struggle, a National Policy for Agroecology and Organic Production was adopted in 2012 which explicitly recognises the role of peasants’ own ‘creole’ seeds. Given the immense power of the corporations, nonetheless, such successes are not easily achieved or sustained.
The publication calls for keeping control over seeds in peasants’ hands and protecting them from biopiracy in order to safeguard the food sovereignty of rural communities and urban populations.
The Introduction is reproduced below. The full publication is available at http://www.grain.org/article/entries/5142-seed-laws-that-criminalise-farmers-resistance-and-fightback
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SEED LAWS THAT CRIMINALISE FARMERS – RESISTANCE AND FIGHTBACK
by La Via Campesina and GRAIN
Seeds are one of the irreplaceable pillars of food production. Farmers all over the world have been acutely aware of this throughout the centuries. It is one of the most universal and basic understandings that all farmers share. Except in those cases where they have suffered external aggressions or extreme circumstances, almost all farming communities know how to save, store and share seeds. Millions of families and farming communities have worked to create hundreds of crops and thousands of varieties of these crops. The regular exchange of seeds among communities and peoples has allowed crops to adapt to different conditions, climates and topographies. This is what has allowed farming to spread and grow and feed the world with a diversified diet.
But seeds have also been the basis of productive, social and cultural processes that have given rural people the resolute ability to maintain some degree of autonomy and to refuse to be completely controlled by big business and big money. From the point of view of corporate interests that are striving to take control of land, farming, food and the huge market that these factors represent, this independence is an obstacle.
Ever since the Green Revolution, corporations have deployed a range of strategies to get this control: agricultural research and extension programmes, the development of global commodity chains, and the massive expansion of export agriculture and agribusiness. Most farmers and indigenous peoples have resisted and continue to resist this takeover in different ways. Today, the corporate sector is trying to stamp out this rebellion through a global legal offensive. Ever since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation, and almost without exception, all countries of the world have passed laws giving corporations ownership over life forms. Whether through patents or so-called plant breeders’ rights or plant variety protection laws, it is now possible to privatise microorganisms, genes, cells, plants, seeds and animals.
Social movements worldwide, especially peasant farmers organisations, have resisted and mobilised to prevent such laws being passed. In many parts of the world, the resistance continues and can even count some victories. To strengthen this movement, it is very important that as many people as possible, especially in the villages and rural communities that are most affected, understand these laws, their impacts and objectives, as well as the capacity of social movements to replace them with laws that protect peasants’ rights.
Today’s seed laws promoted by the industry are characterised by the following:
a. They are constantly evolving and becoming more aggressive. Through new waves of political and economic pressure - especially through so-called free trade agreements, bilateral investment
treaties and regional integration initiatives - all the ‘soft’ forms of ownership rights over seeds were hardened and continue to be made more restrictive at a faster pace. Seed laws and plant variety rights are being revised again and again to adapt to the new demands of the seed and biotechnology industry.
b. Laws that grant property rights over seeds have been reinforced by other regulations that are supposed to ensure seed quality, market transparency, prevention of counterfeits, etc. These regulations include seed certification, marketing and sanitary rules. By means of these regulations, it becomes mandatory, for instance, for farmers to purchase or use only commercial seeds tailored for industrial farming. Or the regulations make it a crime to give seeds to your son or exchange them with a neighbour. As a result, seed fairs and exchanges – a growing form of resistance to control over seeds - are becoming illegal in more and more countries.
c. In strengthening privatisation, these laws have been disregarding basic principles of justice and freedom and directly violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These seed laws have imposed the rule that anyone accused of not respecting property rights over seeds is assumed to be guilty, thus violating the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. In some cases, measures can be taken against accused wrongdoers without their being informed of the charges. These seed laws are even making it an obligation to report alleged transgressors; they are legalising searches and seizures of seeds on grounds of mere suspicion (even without a warrant) and allowing private agencies to conduct such checks.
d. These laws are being drafted in vague, incomprehensible and contradictory language, leaving much room for interpretation. In most cases, the laws are being moved through legislative chambers in secrecy or by means of international agreements that cannot be debated nationally or locally.
Experience shows that people do not want these laws, once the misinformation and secrecy used to push the laws through have been countered by information campaigns and mobilisation on the part of social organisations. Most people reject the idea that a company can take ownership of a plant variety and prohibit farmers from reproducing their seeds. They find it completely absurd.
People also generally do not agree that the work that farmers do to feed the world should suddenly become a crime. Wherever resistance has been strong enough, the legal plunder embodied in these laws has been stopped. Experience also shows that those who want to privatise, monopolise and control seeds on behalf of large transnational corporations have no limits. There is no possibility to negotiate, make concessions, or reach common agreements on this in a way that would allow the different interests to coexist peacefully. The corporate agenda is to make it impossible for farmers to save seeds and to make them dependent on purchased seeds.
Similarly, experience shows that it is possible to resist and dismantle these attacks. But doing so requires informative tools that can be widely shared, in order to blow away the smoke of false promises and nice words, so that people can see what really lies behind seed laws. This booklet aims to help to make this work possible.