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Green April

The agenda of last yearâ??s World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle was mostly about agriculture and "intellectual property rights" (euphemism for patents on genetically engineered seeds.

The agenda of last year’s World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle was mostly about agriculture and "intellectual property rights" (euphemism for patents on genetically engineered seeds).

Plant breeders’ rights were established in 1990 in a "Canadian law" that safeguards the investment of international companies when altering the DNA of plant species. It ensures these companies "long-term stable funding," according to SeCan, a Manitoba-based internationally-owned seed company.

Farmers who sell seed without authorization by the seed companies or farmers who sell their own seed can be and are being prosecuted. Varieties protected by plant breeders’ rights can only be bought or sold as certified seed.

Ministers from 135 participating countries met in Seattle, Washington from November 30, 1999 to December 3, 1999 to hammer out such agricultural and trade issues. Their decisions could have forever tied farmers to international rules on what crops they can grow, and where and when they sell them. Smaller countries-dependent on their own agricultural seed and regional expertise--were hard to convince and fortunately, the talks failed.

Internal disagreement and public protest halted what WTO officials had hoped would be a rubber stamping of a 32-page draft document that would legalize a new deal for the new millennium and put both farmers and their crops in the corporate pockets of international business interests.

The failure was a coup for protesters in both the First World and the Third World. It also raised serious questions about the organizational methods and the "intellectual" capabilities of the WTO officials. "Top-grade" officials claimed they were ill-prepared for the negotiations and that the failure of the talks was the result of poor planning and lack of organization. (Manitoba Co-operator, Dec 9, 1999)

If this international group of global experts can’t get basic trade talks together once every three years, how can we trust it with our farming future? Canada and the US are together in pushing forward biotechnology and breaking down European, Asian and Third World barriers to our genetically engineered grain, seeds, legumes and livestock. The WTO strategies are all economic and the big stick of sanctions is the weapon waved at dissenting countries.
-R. Lake

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