Mexican farmers block Monsanto law to privatize seeds and plants
Progressive small farmer organizations in Mexico scored a victory over transnational corporations that seek to monopolize seed and food patents. When the corporations pushed their bill to modify the Federal Law on Plant Varieties through the Committee on Agriculture and Livestock of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies on March 14, organizations of farmers from across the country sounded the alarm. By organizing quickly, they joined together to pressure legislators and achieved an agreement with the legislative committee to remove the bill from the floor.
What’s at stake is free and open access to plant biodiversity in agriculture. The proposed modifications promote a privatizing model that uses patents and “Plant Breeders’ Rights” (PBR) to deprive farmers of the labor of centuries in developing seed. The small farmers who worked to create this foundation of modern agriculture never charged royalties for its use.
Although the current law, in effect since 1996, pays little heed to the rights of small farmers, the new law would be far worse. Present law tends to benefit private-sector plant breeders, allowing monopolies to obtain exclusive profits from the sale of seeds and other plant material for up to 15 years, or 18 in the case of perennial ornamental, forest, or orchard plants–even when the plants they used to develop the new varieties are in the public domain.
The legislative reform would extend exclusive rights from the sale of reproductive material to 25 years. Further, it seeks to restrict the rights of farmers to store or use for their own consumption any part of the harvest obtained from seeds or breeding material purchased from holders of PBRs.
The proposed law would also include genetically modified organisms (GMOs) among the plant varieties covered, converging with the so-called Monsanto Law (Law of Biosecurity and Genetically Modified Organisms). This is an absurd inclusion, since GMOs are created by introducing genetic material from non-plant species.
GMOs cannot be considered a distinct variety, because they do not result from the genetic variability that underlies natural selection. They are the result of manipulation through biotechnology that crosses the boundaries between species and realms. Another absurdity is the private appropriation of genetic information from live organisms, even those altered with genes of other species.
The proposed law would create a “Monsanto Police,” by giving the National Service for the Inspection and Certification of Seeds the authority to order and conduct inspection visits, demand information, investigate suspected administrative infractions, order and carry out measures to prevent or stop violations of PBR, and impose administrative sanctions, which are increased by the proposal. It would have a government agency promote PBRs held by individuals or corporations.
Holders of PBRs already gain exclusive rights to exploit plant varieties and material for their propagation. The bill under consideration would extend those rights over the products resulting from use of monopolized plant varieties so that, for example, a special license would have to be obtained to use the variety in foods for human consumption or industrial uses.
Farmers Win a Battle, but the Offensive Continues
Now that the regular session has been concluded and the bill wasn’t presented, it will have to wait for a new session. Withdrawal of the bill was a victory for the social organizations over the transnational beneficiaries of the bill, particularly Monsanto.
The battle was won, but the bill is still pending as Monsanto and other large corporations wait for a better time. With Mexican elections just months away, they’re waiting for a time when the political cost of these measures that harm producers’ rights won’t have immediate electoral repercussions.