International Plant Genetics Treaty Goes Into Effect

Treaty protects farmers' rights, U.S. yet to ratify


| July 1, 2004


Farmers in developing countries can now save seeds for next year's harvest and avoid a famine, without running abreast of the law. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which took effect on Tuesday, June 29, validates farmers' right to plan ahead, and opens up 'a multilateral system providing public access to seeds and germplasm for much of the world's food supply, as well as fair and equitable sharing of the benefits,' writes the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Yet the international treaty has not been ratified in Washington D.C., where biotech giants like Monsanto hold plenty of sway.

American 'biotech companies like Monsanto have filed hundreds of legal cases against farmers alleging that they saved the company's patented genetically engineered seeds from one growing season to the next,' writes the IATP. This groundbreaking treaty contradicts the powerful World Trade Organization's agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights, firmly backed by the current Bush administration, 'which sets international rules that protect intellectual property.' The American biotech industry still maintains that their seeds must be used in the year they are purchased, and even 'if the U.S. ratified the treaty, it would not give U.S. farmers the right to save seeds,' the IATP writes.

But the issue is critical to developing countries, where species of seeds -- rice, maize, wheat, and potatoes -- make up more than half of the food supply. Farmers around the world, particularly in developing countries, routinely save seeds and view the practice as critical to their survival. 'Many countries in Africa, Asia and South America are grappling with whether to accept genetically engineered cops,' says Kristin Dawkins, Vice President of International Programs at IATP. 'As these countries establish their regulatory systems, this treaty gives them legal standing to pass protections for their farmers when it comes to saving seeds.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

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