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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 343


Senator VIGOR(9.11) —The Plant Variety Rights Bill 1986 could be more appropriately named the plant patenting rights Bill or even the multinational plant racketeering Bill. This Bill seeks to enable plant patenting legislation in line with the UPOV Convention-that is, the International Union for Protection of Plant Variety Rights Convention. Seventeen countries are now full signatories of this Convention. Several more have legislation pending. Very few countries have in fact joined the UPOV Convention in the last 10 years, Hungary being one of them. Those countries that passed laws concerning PVR more than 10 years ago did so without public debate on any of the merits and did not consider the unintended consequences, even amongst the farming communities. In the last 10 years there have been strong moves in farming and political groups in those countries to call into question the original legislation.

As I see it, the debate over the PVR issue covers four main areas-namely, the benefits to plant breeders; the impact of plant variety rights on the seed industry; the effect of plant variety rights on farm crops, the varieties available and the genetic diversity in our community; and the costs and benefits to the community in general. While the Government bases its arguments for PVR mainly on the apparent increases in economic advantages available to Australian plant breeders and to Australian exporters of plant products, this argument cannot be proven. The history of PVR in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Europe runs completely counter to this particular proposition. In fact, no significant increase in plant breeding can be demonstrated in the United States of America or the United Kingdom to have resulted from plant patenting. There are some examples of recent increases by small New Zealand breeders but they have been operating only for a short time and the effect has not been fully proven. We do not know how many of these breeders will go broke.

While there have been a number of spectacular crop variety expansions, they have never been ascribable solely to the PVR legislation. One of the most cited examples of this is the almost coincidental increase in the soya bean varieties available in the United States of America with the introduction of plant variety rights in that country. What is often overlooked is the immediately preceding dramatic growth in exports of soya bean to the European Economic Community, which increased by eight times in one single year-1970. That was the year in which the United States Plant Variety Protection Act was passed.

PVR is not the only means of obtaining exclusivity in seed protection. Other methods, such as hybrid breeding, are a much more reliable means of ensuring that people are not able to breed from the seeds of the hybrid plants, as they do not breed true to type from the parent varieties. In fact, in the United States, PVR has had very little impact on the major crop species such as corn for which hybrid varieties are available since the added hybrid vigour confers an extra advantage on the seeds, which are not reproduceable. It is only for varieties such as wheat and barley, for which no satisfactory means of hybridisation has been discovered, that PVR confers any type of technical benefit. In the United States of America considerably more commercial breeding effort is being put into developing hybrid wheat and barley varieties than is going into breeding specific registerable varieties of these seeds for plant variety rights registrations.

Genetic engineering is still in its infancy, but is likely to offer more potential for hybridisation of these hitherto recalcitrant species than has been available in the past. We can expect that the commercial breeders will, if the opportunity presents itself, very quickly jump on to a new band wagon and take advantage of the very different breeding techniques which are available through biotechnology. In this case we are likely to see in the very near future a request to extend the plant variety patenting to cover exclusive rights to newly registered engineered species, which may even include symbionts to the species, such as wheat varieties which are capable of having nitrogen-fixing nodes on their roots.

The right to independent life of a species will, I believe, vanish in the near future. The moral implication of giving a person or enterprise royalty rights to all reproduction of a particular species is mind-boggling, especially if we consider patenting animal life, beyond plants, which is the next step if this trend continues-and maybe even human beings.

One of the main questions, which is usually ignored, is the statistics presented which appa-rently support the beneficial aspects of the plant variety rights legislation. These statistics do not take into account the long time spans which are needed to launch new breeding programs and to register the resultant new varieties. It takes at least seven years-commonly, 10, 12 or 15 years-to develop and prove a new variety. When looked at in this light, very little change can be shown at this stage because of the introduction of new breeding programs in any country since the PVR legislation was introduced. Where this can be demonstrated for particular crop species, other factors are usually seen as dominant. This is particularly obvious in the development of exotic ornamentals in the post-war period when increasing wealth led to increasing demand for such plants.

One strong surge in breeding activity has been the development of fast growing forest trees. This has not occurred in countries with PVR- I point this out to the supporters of PVR-but in developing countries that are seeking solutions to the increasing rate of deforestation in their countries. Given economic incentive, PVR is not necessary to stimulate the search for new and improved varieties. In fact, the economic advantage of having those species is important. To demonstrate this, I seek leave to incorporate some tables in Hansard concerning soy bean, pea and wheat varieties which cover the period before and after PVR inspired programs could have got off the ground.

Leave granted.

The tables read as follows-

SOYBEAN BREEDING PROGRAMMES

SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS FOR SOYBEANS IN THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS

Institute

71 72 73 74 75 76

77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84

PAT

Cokers KWS '76

10

Northrup King Sand '76

29

Soybean Res. Found

31

Teweles GPC '73

4

Purdue Univ

10

Bellati

2

Pioneer

35

Burpee ITT '78

1

FFR Co-Op.

8

Mississippi AFES

3

Florida Foundation

2

Ring Around 2 OXY '78

17

Syler

1

Agripro Shell '74

7

Bryco

1

Ferry Morse Limargrain '81

2

Lynnville Lubrizol '85

5

Minnesota AES

6

V.R. Seeds Lybrizol '85

7

Delaware

1

Voris

1

Americana

1

Asgrow Upjohn '68

25

Funk Ciba-Geigy '74

1

Napb Shell '73

31

Terral-Morril

2

Gold Kist

1

Jacques Lubrizol '85

7

Iowa AG.

15

Land O Lakes

10

Kansas AES

5

Callahan

7

Nixon

1

Helena Bayer

3

Mississippi AG.

1

Schultz

1

Delta Pine Southwide '78

6

Hartz Monsanto '83

8

Nebraska AES

1

Ohio ARDC

6

Scientific Seed

1

Dairyland

11

Milburn

1

Zoecon OXY

2

Illinois Found.

2

Midwest Oils

4

Missouri Univ.

1

Nebraska Univ.

1

Stanford

2

Annual Applications

8 9 14 16 11 13

22 20 35 36 49 60 29 18

340

PEA BREEDING PROGRAMMES

SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS FOR PEAS IN THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS

Institute

71 72 73 74 75 76

77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84

PAT

Agway

1

Asgrow Upjohn '68

42

Brotherton

8

Morrison

6

Stubbs

1

Unilever

1

Rogers Sandoz '75

14

Gallatin Sandoz '75

11

Pure Line

7

Western Valley

3

Canners

11

Crites-Moscow

10

Gustafson

9

General Foods

1

Wilbur-Ellis Pillsbury

6

Cebeco-Handelsraad

1

Green Giant Pillsbury

2

HGCT

2

Musser

3

Agrigenetics Lubrizol '85

1

Wisc. Cia

3

Annual Applications

4 5 6 7 16 7

16 10 10 15 8 16 19 1

140

SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS FOR WHEAT IN THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS

Institute

71 72 73 74 75 76

77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84

PAT

Dekalb Dekalb-Pfizer

5

Cokers KWS '78

7

Funk Ciba-Geigy '74

2

Nebraska AES

14

Oklahoma AES

4

North Carolina ARS

4

Purdue Univ.

20

Northrup King Sandoz '76

17

World

9

Ohio ARDC

4

Cargill

1

NAPB Shell '73

11

Seed Res.

13

Shallow Water

1

Eklund

1

Pioneer

16

Germains

2

Greenbush

2

Colorado SES

2

Vita Grain

1

Harpool

2

Jacquot

2

Kansas AES

2

South Dakota AES

4

Wisconsin AES

2

King

3

Western PL

0


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. Significant pressures have been placed on the public sector research and plant breeding institutions in the countries mentioned in these tables. Private sector seed merchants have accrued considerable benefits from the exclusive monopolies which have been conferred upon them by plant variety rights. The ability to spend vast sums on advertising these varieties has given them considerable advantage over the public sector and over other small local enterprises. In the United Kingdom pressure from international firms, especially Imperial Chemical Industries and Shell, has led to a government decision to sell the foremost cereal breeding facility, the Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge University, to the private sector because of the pressure put on it by private competitors. This will, of course, please the Opposition. We can expect similar pressures to close down public breeding facilities in Australia should PVR be introduced. We are possibly spelling the doom of some of the excellent facilities that exist within the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table showing the leading 10 genetic supply enterprises, which comes from a thesis that is being done on this subject in Manitoba, Canada.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

LEADING INTERNATIONAL GENETICS SUPPLY ENTERPRISES

Parent

Enterprise

Nationality

Industry

Seed

Sales

(US$ mil.)

Seed

Companies

Controlled

Pioneer Hi-Bred ...

American

Seed

716

38

Sandoz ...

Swiss

Chemicals

281

36

Royal Dutch/Shell ...

Anglo-Dutch

Petro-chem

200

70

Volvo ...

Swedish

Auto

205

47

Dekalb-Pfizer ...

American

Petro-chem

199

34

Upjohn ...

American

Chemicals

140

15

Ciba-Geigy ...

Swiss

Chemicals

185

31

Lubrizol ...

American

Chemicals

110

16

Suiker Unie ...

Dutch

Agribusiness

100

28

Cargill...

American

Agribusiness

100

29

10 Firms Total ...

2,246

326

In US$ millions in mid-eighties based on company annual reports and investment analysts includes mergers, takeovers, equity interest and newly-created enterprises involved in some aspects of the genetics supply industry.


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. The effect on the seed merchandising industry has been to reduce the number of local seed companies and to pass increasing business over to a few multinational corporations. In the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Europe traditional seed firms are disappearing at an accelerating rate and the new enterprises are becoming increasingly linked with large chemical concerns which provide special chemicals and total packages for their seeds.

There has been general growth in the number of internationally active seed enterprises in the last decade. This increase has not been only in countries with PVR legislation. In fact, the growth has been similar for states with and without PVR. However, whatever the cause of increasing internationalisation of seed merchandisers one thing is sure: The extra monopoly rights and the sole trading rights provided by PVR legislation give extra clout to the large organisations with large capital reserves for buying out the multiplicity of small enterprises and the multiplicity of small developed varieties. These organisations can sit on varieties and not do anything with them. Senator Mason will move an amendment which will endeavour to protect this area if this Bill actually manages to get through. It is unlikely that these international trading enterprises will exhibit more responsibility in marketing their plant varieties under the monopoly rights given by PVR than such enterprises have shown in the past in their treatment of unwary, developing and poorer countries.

Seed industry sources themselves estimate that no more than 10 to 20 multinational corporations will control the world industry by the end of the century. The difficulty facing national governments and this Government is who will control the transnational corporations. The move by crop chemical companies in to this area is a major environmental concern. It is cheaper, faster and less risky to adapt plants to chemicals than to develop disease resistant plants which do not need chemicals. Farmers are likely in the future to pay more for more vulnerable seeds and to pay much more for chemicals to treat the crops which these seeds produce. The deleterious effect on health and the environment from the increasing use of chemicals and residues from these chemicals may prove to be disastrous to the development of our country. Australia already has vast tracts of previously highly productive land, such as in the Tweed Valley, which have been declared unsuitable for agriculture as a result of overdoses of pesticides and herbicides.

While it is argued that many more varieties are now available to farmers in the United States of America as a result of PVR protection, it must be pointed out that the apparent diversity of variety names does not mean any real genetic diversity. In fact, as with cars and breakfast cereals, the real differences are in advertising-in the image-and not in the quality of the product. These advertising costs are passed on to the farmers without any real benefit in the form of improved varieties. Another problem is that some buyers will buy only produce for which they provide the seed. This puts a farmer into a pincer movement between two arms of the same multinational corporation.

It is expected that Australia will become a net exporter of seed varieties. We have an enormous genetic pool of new plants in Australia. We do not need plant variety rights to protect them. We can produce new plants, using our biotechnology facilities, from the great pool of natural resources which has been undeveloped in Australia. But without merit testing, local farmers will be in no position to evaluate the real or illusory merits of commercial seed varieties on the market and their suitability to our climate and conditions. Merit testing is costly and will be done at the expense of the public or the farmer, if at all, which means that farmers will again be disadvantaged by this particular legislation.

Experience overseas shows that farmers tend to succumb to advertising dreams rather than face the cold realities of supporting the local public breeders who develop varieties suitable to the climate, soil conditions and other local conditions which are specific to that farmer. Diversion of public breeding energies towards merit testing of commercial varieties will add to the pressure on our public research institutions. They will stop doing research work and end up testing commercial varieties. This is quite unsatisfactory.

The likelihood is that Australia will suffer the same fate in plant patenting as it did in the manufacturing industry. We will pass our locally developed products to multinational corporations for development and marketing, and pay royalties for restricted rights to market these overseas products in Australia. This has happened to us in the manufacturing industry through patenting laws and is liable to happen to us in this area.

Our balance of payments will suffer even more than it is now. We will increasingly face restrictive marketing arrangements for the sale of our produce overseas in competition with that of the corporation's country of origin where it is not Australia. These restrictive arrangements have been a feature of overseas developments, where small breeders have been effectively kept out of the market by cross-licensing techniques within international agribusiness. I believe we cannot afford to leave ourselves open to this type of pressure.

The Industrial Property Advisory Committee report on patents, innovation and competition in Australia is generally scathing on the impact of patenting on the Australian industry. It concludes that if Australia had no patent system there would be no justification at all for introducing one today. It also concludes that we are lumbered with an international patent agreement which we cannot afford to get out of, and recommends changes to minimise the damage we are currently suffering from that patent system.

In particular, the report recommends removing exclusive rights under a patent. It considers this to be one of the most destructive aspects of the Australian patents system. However, Government is now planning to put this type of protection into the plant variety rights area, almost the same type of patent system, and to continue the practice of exclusive patent rights which has conferred such monopoly privileges on the large international corporations in Australia. One wonders who sets up the Government's policy. In this sense, the implications of the Bill for Australia are horrific. It will continue the branch office syndrome because the development of plants under PVR will be an expensive process which will end up having to be financed by large corporations which will own the plants and end up licensing them back to us.

Why should we sell our genetic heritage in this way? We are embarking on yet another patenting sellout of local innovation and enterprises. We are increasing the costs to farmers and primary producers, as has been experienced in Europe and the United States of America. We are decreasing market outlets for crop varieties adapted to Australian conditions. As food processors buy into the seed marketing business at increasing rates they will say: `We will only buy the products from the seeds that we supply'. We will experience decreasing pest and disease resistance and lose the adaptation of seeds for local conditions. If we have plant variety rights over the whole local area better adapted seeds will not be available. Seeds will be aimed at the mass market rather than at local needs, better production and the specialised need of people in a local area. We are moving into mass production.

There will be opportunities for transfer pricing and taxation shuffles when vertical integration in international corporations dealing with food and chemical areas happens as a result of our becoming integrated and plugged into the international seed agribusiness system.

Implications of PVR world-wide are even more devastating. We will be promoting yet further loss of plant genetic diversity. We would be promoting further world monopoly of trade in seed and primary produce as we offer monopoly control and, hence, higher profits to the corporations which own the seeds. We will be concentrating the remaining genetic reserves of common food species into vulnerable gene banks controlled by commercial interests and unavailable for public use. We may even end up with the problem of people destroying seeds so that others cannot get access to them and use them so as to protect their particular variety. That is the type of thing that happens in times of disruption.

Diversion of profits from and access to natural gene resources from countries of origin to multinational monopoly enterprises will continue to distort the world's economic system and leave us with terrible problems in that area. However, the most serious problem world-wide is the long term accelerated loss of genetic diversity caused by the pressures associated with PVR and similar activities. This is an irreversible loss, a throwing away by our present generation of diversity built up over aeons, from the origins of life to the current time.

The expanding human population since the Industrial Revolution has already had a devastating effect on our available resources. In particular we have seen firstly an expanding demand for food, living space and resources such as timber and minerals. Secondly, we have seen that an increasing pollution of the environment is affecting wilderness regions and also regions which are beyond populated areas. Acid rain is changing the ecological balance and killing off vast numbers of plants. PVR will complete this process.

The end result of increasing efficiency of food production through traditional monoculture and the rapid decrease in wilderness and natural habitats has meant a consequent increasing loss of genetic diversity in animals, plants and micro organisms. The world is becoming a much narrower place and this type of legislation is helping that trend. Plant patenting accelerates the trend towards monoculture and consequently accelerates the resultant decrease in crop varieties. It means that an industry can be virtually flattened overnight by pests or disease. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the effects on plant varieties of monoculture in the Netherlands which comes from their seed protection campaign.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

GENETIC EROSION AND GENETIC VULNERABILITY IN THE NETHERLANDS: PLANT BREEDERS' RIGHTS CAUSE GENETIC WIPE OUT AND DOMINANCE OF JUST A FEW VARIETIES

VARIETY DOMINANCE IN SPECIFIC CROPS (NETHERLANDS, 1985)

Winter Wheat, 2 varieties occupy 75% of cultivated winter wheat area

Spring Wheat, 2 varieties occupy 74% of cultivated spring wheat area

Spring Barley, 2 varieties occupy 78% of cultivated spring barley area

Winter Barley, 3 varieties occupy 76% of cultivated winter barley area

Oats, 2 varieties occupy 86% of cultivated oats area

Rye, 3 varieties occupy 93% of cultivated rye area

Peas, 1 variety occupies 51% of cultivated peas area

Potatoes, 2 varieties occupy 50% of cultivated potatoes area

Fodder maize, 4 varieties occupy 69% of cultivated fodder maize area

Sugar Beet, 3 varieties occupy 91% of cultivated sugar beet area

Apart from genetic uniformity within the different crops, Dutch agriculture is heavily specialized on just four crops that occupy 80% of the total Dutch crop area: Winter Wheat, Potatoes, Fodder Maize and Sugar Beet. This results in only 11 varieties (of these 4 crops) occupying 50% of the total Dutch crop agricultural area.

In specific regions, the genetic uniformity is even much higher. In the most important agricultural region (``Polders'') only 6 varieties (of three crops) occupy 60% of the total agricultural area of that region.

Source: ICDA Seeds Campaign 1987, on the basis of data from the Dutch Agriculture Ministry.


Senator VIGOR —Plant patenting also accelerates the demand for the discovery of new varieties related to economically valuable species. New varieties gain their different properties through breeding in new characteristics which come from wild or relatively unrelated species. This type of process will mean that there will be a world-wide search for plants by large organisations trying to net or to own certain genetic characteristics. I believe the next stage beyond this legislation will in fact be the patenting of particular gene characteristics in plants rather than the patenting of seeds. This will have an enormous effect on genetic diversity and will mean that more and more of our species will be liable to be wiped out by chance diseases. As wild and different species become scarcer there will be an increasing incentive to restrict free access to these plants because they will be a resource, like diamonds, which people will try to keep scarce by various means, and that may involve destroying them. The value will be much enhanced by restricting these plants. This legislation introduces an incentive for people to act in an unreasonable way.

Plant patenting, I believe, contributes to a general decrease in the genetic pool. It is absolutely unacceptable as a means of protecting the interests of breeders. If breeders have a good product they will be able to make commercial use of it; they are now. Many Australian companies, such as Kimberley Seeds Pty Ltd, are collecting our native plants and crossing native species with conventional food crops and developing them. They are using normal commercial channels, confidentiality and the necessary lead times to carry out the work concerned as a protection in Australia. They are quite successful in doing this type of work. I do not think these people will benefit in any way from PVR activity. All that will happen is that the large companies will come in, take them over and sell our genetic heritage to the rest of the world to our disadvantage.

The European Parliament is currently considering plant variety rights. The debate in Europe is an ongoing one and it is by no means accepted that all European farmers and people in the European community-or in Canada, where consideration is now being given to plant variety rights-are convinced that PVR is a good thing. In fact, there is a very strong movement from people to oppose it. Although the Australian Democrats are in a minority in this Parliament, I believe there is a large number of people out in the community who are beginning to see the problems that we are talking about. I thank the Senate.