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Seed-saving legislation in under consideration at federal, state levels

(Wednesday, June 30, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- OsterDowJones, 06/29/04: CHICAGO -- A bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, that would allow farmers to save and replant patented seeds is now before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

The Seed and Availability and Competition Act of 2004, which was introduced to the Agriculture subcommittee of Appropriations on Thursday, will decriminalize the act of saving patented seed as the farmer reports the quantity of seed retained and pays an appropriate technology fee to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will then compensate the companies that hold patents on the respective seeds, the Missouri Farmers Union said in a press release.

National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson said traditionally farmers have kept a portion of their seed to replant the next year, according to the release. However, now with the ability to patent life forms, farmers have lost control of their seed stock and are forced to buy seed year after year, he said.

Kaptur's Chief of Staff Roger Szemraj said, "This is just a matter of keeping options available."

Szemraj said Kaptur's office did not have contact with any of the companies. "(This bill) was more of a matter of dealing with the farmers," he said.

Lisa Dry, communications director for Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents the patent companies, said they would not support this bill.

"These farmers choose to buy biocrop seeds ... clearly farmers want access to these seeds," she said citing that 80% of soy, 70% of cotton and 30- 40% of corn is planted with patented seeds.

Dry said the statistics show farmers presently prefer to pay for the patented seed over the non-patented. Tom DeGregori, an economics professor at the University of Houston, said he could see why the businesses would be against this bill.

"They charge a considerable premium (for patented seeds)," he said. "They can because farmers can pay the premium and still more (earnings)."

Missouri state Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, who began introducing seed-saving legislation with the support of Missouri Farmers Union, began introducing a similar bill three years ago, the release said. This year, the bill was killed when Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, refused to send it to committee, the release said.

Kaptur's bill includes legislation that would assess tariffs on imported products from countries that do not levy a comparable technology fee, the release said.

Szemraj said whether the process of seed saving and paying the fee is cheaper than purchasing new patented seeds every year is unknown. It depends on the market, Szemraj said. However, with this bill, farmers would have a choice between the two.

Shoemyer said Kaptur's legislation would also help businesses keep money in their community by cleaning the seed locally.

Similar companion bills were introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives by Rep. George Distel, D-Columbus, and the Ohio Senate by State Sen. Marc Dann, D-Columbus, on Friday, according to the Mount Vernon News.

That story follows.

Ohio farmers may gain right to save patented seed

(Wednesday, June 30, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- John Boyce, Mount Vernon (OHIO) News, 06/25/04:
MOUNT VERNON — If companion bills introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate just prior to summer recess are enacted into law later this year, farmers will have the right to save patented seed at harvest time for replanting.

The two identical bills, introduced in the General Assembly by Rep. George Distel, Democrat, 99th District, as House Bill 513, and by State Sen. Marc Dann, Democrat, 32nd District, as Senate Bill 252, have as their identically stated purpose:

“To enact section 907.50 of the Revised Code to require a farmer who plants patented seed and seeks to retain seed from the harvest for replanting purposes to register with and pay a fee to the Department of Agriculture, and to establish a qualified immunity from liability for a farmer who plants patented seed.”

This proposed legislation will allow farmers who plant patented seeds to retain seed at harvest time for replanting purposes. The farmers will be required to register with the Department of Agriculture on an as yet-to-be-determined form, and specify the type and amount of seed being retained. When the form is filed it will be accompanied by a proposed fee of $7 per bushel of seed being retained for planting purposes.

Under the proposed legislation, of the $7 per bushel fee, $6 will be forwarded by the Department of Agriculture on a quarterly basis to the patent holder; $1 will be retained to defray the department’s administrative expenses.

“Ohio’s farmers have plenty of challenges in the marketplace,” Jospeh Logan, president, Ohio Farmers Union, said. “This bill offers farmers a long overdue chance to supply their own seed, saving money and breaking the grip of a single patent holder’s control of the supplies they need.”

Over the past years, farmers have paid “tech fees” to companies, such as Monsanto, who hold the patents on the various genetically-modified seed. These “tech fees” were included in the price of the patented seed.

“Farmers appreciate Monsanto’s research investment, and are willing to pay a premium for the product because it simplifies the management of their modern farming systems,” Logan said. “However, farmers do not appreciate having to reinvest in the technology fee each year when they acquire the seeds they need for the upcoming growing season.”

Local farmer Allen Stockberger agrees the proposed legislation should help the farmer save on seed costs.

“If the legislation works as proposed, once you consider the prices of patented seed, the tech fees, and any offsetting processing costs of recovering seed at harvest, a farmer could still expect to save on seed costs,” Stockberger said.

According to Todd Didinger, Didinger & Son Inc., Danville, there are a lot of variables when one tries to figure exact savings because the prices vary quite a bit. For example, a 50-pound bag of soybean seed sells for anywhere from $11 to $12 per bag for Ohio Public Seed-types up to $23 to $28 per bag for the patented “Round-Up Ready” type of seed.

Didinger provided a specific list price comparison of AsGrow Soybean Seed as an example. It is $21 per 50-pound bag for the conventional, nonherbicide resistant variety, while the “Round-Up Ready” variety is $28.80.

The other feature of the proposed legislation has to do with liability. The proposals state, in part:

“A farmer who plants patented seed is immune from liability in a civil suit for any death or injury or loss to person or property that is related to any health, safety, or environmental impacts of the patented seed unless the farmer purposely or negligently fails substantially to follow the patent holder’s and manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines for planting the seed.”

Whether or not HB 513 and SB 252 come to fruition when the General Assembly reconvenes this fall remains to be seen. While it appears there could be some good news on the horizon for farmers, Didinger is pessimistic on the matter.

“It would surprise me if it passes, but it would be good for the American farmer if it did,” Didinger said.

Source: http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/062604/farmers.html