U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, has introduced a bill to allow farmers the right to save and replant patented seed.
Kaptur's Seed Availability and Competition Act of 2004 would decriminalize the act of saving patented seed as long as a producer reports the quantity and type of seed retained, and pays a technology fee to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The secretary of agriculture will then compensate the appropriate patent holders.
"If farmers are looking for a level playing field regarding agricultural exports, they can thank Rep. Kaptur for this well conceived bill," comments Joe Logan, Ohio Farmers Union president. The group has long championed laws to return to the farmer the write to seed ownership. "This legislation could generate millions of additional dollars for patent holders to be used to support future research, thus keeping the U.S. on the cutting edge of technology."
Kaptur's proposed legislation would assess tariffs on imported products from countries that do not levy comparable technology fees. This provision would resolve a competitive disadvantage U.S. farmers have with farmers from countries where technology fees are not applied. "Everybody talks about fair trade, but nobody ever does anything about it - until now," says Logan.
"Toledo is a seaport town, so Rep. Kaptur understands how essential trade is to farmers," continued Logan. "Yet she is also aware that current trade rules can put Ohio's farmers at a disadvantage."
This legislation was driven by grassroots efforts in several states across the nation. Ohio Farmers Union has championed state bills SB 252 and HB 513 by Ohio state Sen. Marc Dann and Rep. L. George Distel that would address the seed-saving issue at the state level.
Eighty one percent of all soybeans planted in the U.S. are genetically modified, so this legislation affects a large number of producers across the country. "Farmers are very appreciative of patented seeds because they simplify their agricultural operations. What they don't appreciate is that access to that seed comes only through a single source," says Logan. "What we are hoping this legislation will do is to break the stranglehold that a single corporation has on the access to seedstock that farmers need so desperately.
"For years, our foreign competitors have maintained the false notion that they do not use Round-Up Ready technology," says Logan, "but I have been told by Monsanto management representatives that more than half of the soybeans exported from Brazil and Argentina are raised using this pirated technology."