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Canada's evolving seed regime: relations of industry, state, and seed savers.


The world's agro-diversity is based on the traditional practices of growers saving and selecting seeds; however, a different understanding of the value of seeds and growers has taken hold within Canada's contemporary seed regime. The contemporary Canadian seed system is characterized by state-facilitated corporate control. In this evolving seed regime, saving seed becomes an anachronistic practice that limits production by using old (less valuable) seed varieties and techniques, and seeds are valued only as potential profit-making property. However, seeds and seed saving are valuable, if often overlooked, factors in efforts to re/build alternative food networks. This paper explores the context and practices of seed saving within Canada by examining governmental and industry proposals for changing the seed system and by outlining a few examples of how seed savers and their supporters are acting to challenge the existing regime while also creating an alternative.

La diversite agricole est fondee sur les pratiques ancestrales des cultivateurs qui recueillaient et selectionnaient les semences. Toutefois, une comprehension differente de la valeur des semences et des cultivateurs a maintenant cours au sein du regime actuel de semences du Canada. Le systeme de semences contemporain du Canada est caracterise par un controle par les societes, facilite par I'Etat. Dans ce regime de semences en pleine evolution, preserver les semences devient une pratique anachronique ou la production est limitee, par I'utilisation de varietes anciennes (et donc moins avantageuses) de semences et de techniques anciennes, et ou les semences ne sont valorisees qu'en tant que sources potentielles de profit. Toutefois, les semences et la preservation des semences sont des facteurs precieux, bien que souvent passes sous silence, dans les initiatives visant a (re)batir des reseaux alimentaires de remplacement. L'auteure de cet article explore le contexte et la pratique de la preservation des semences au Canada, en examinant les propositions du gouvernement et de I'industrie de modifier le systeme de semence et en mettant en lumiere quelques examples de la maniere dont agissent les personnes qui conservent les semences, et celles qui les appuient, pour remettre en question le regime existant tout en creant une solution de rechange.


Seed systems, seed saving, seed policy, corporate control


Humanity's survival, both biological and cultural, is intimately and inherently tied up with seeds. Seed saving is a short-hand term for a complex set of relations between growers and seeds. This set of relations includes the planting, tending, harvesting, storing, eating, and replanting of seeds as well as the attendant processes of exchanging (as gifts, trades, sales) and experiential knowledge-building. Growers in countries with dominantly industrial agri-food systems and developed commercial seed markets, like Canada, are not expected to continue saving seed; rather, as participants in "modern" agri-food systems, they are expected to purchase their seeds each year as inputs. However, studies of seed saving in global North contexts have begun to appear (see Vellve 1992; Nazarea 2005; Mascarenhas and Busch 2006) suggesting that seed saving practices are relevant to global North contexts as well, in ways both related to and distinct from those applicable in global South contexts. Although still neglected, seed issues are slowly gaining attention in Canada. Recent proposed changes to Canadian legislation regarding seeds, intensified industry lobbying and concentration, and concerns about food more generally have all contributed to a raised profile of seed issues.

Canada has experienced several different seed regimes, each leaving traces that carry through the next. Kuyek (2004) identifies four Canadian seed regimes: indigenous; European immigrant farm-based seed networks in the 19th century; state-sponsored public systems beginning in the late 19th century; and the emerging current regime. The latest seed regime began to emerge in the 1970s and is characterized by state-facilitation of corporate strategies to enclose the seed system (Kuyek 2004) through commercialization and privatization. During this period several initiatives have combined to ensure that the seed industry has been increasingly involved in policy formation, that a cultural change took place within the public sector such that marketability of research is prioritized, and that public-private partnerships are used for agri-food research (Moore 2002, 116). By 1990 the federal government was convinced that intellectual property rights (IPRs) for seeds were fundamental to ensuring a strong agri-food sector. The Canadian government seems to assume that corporate objectives are in the national interest, and with this assumption it continues to act to revise various regulations and policies as well as provide monetary and in-kind support to the seed industry. The multinational seed industry, for its part, plays an increasingly strong role in policy-making and in the control of seeds (and growers). The continuing shift within Canada toward a neo-liberal seed system is not an isolated incident; rather, it is part of international trends within seed systems.

While seed saving has certainly become less practiced in Canada as the contemporary seed regime has gained prominence, until the 1970s it was widely practiced. And, despite seed industry and governmental efforts to contain seed saving (in political and biological ways), some growers continue to save their seeds and work together to support their practices. Seed saving is undertaken by growers (gardeners as well as small and large-scale farmers) for various reasons including potential economic, food security, social, and ecological benefits. As seeds and seed saving practices are further enclosed by state-facilitated corporate control, these benefits (among others) are threatened. In this paper I outline some of the initiatives of government and industry to solidify the emerging neo-liberal seed regime, and then indicate some of the measures seed savers are taking to continue their own practices in the face of these threats.

State Facilitation of Corporate Control through Policy

Canada is a signatory to several international agreements dealing with seeds, and the saving of seed, each of which serve to order relations between people and seeds. The international agreements of which Canada is a negotiator and signatory are significant to the directions of domestic legislation. In general, Canada strongly argues, along with the U.S., against the inclusion of farmers' rights provisions in domestic and international agreements (Richards 2007; Whatmore 2002). The specifics of these international agreements, although important, are beyond the scope of this paper; herein I concentrate instead on domestic legislation, and particularly on the changes to seed policy that are being proposed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), an agency within the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food. In Canada seeds are governed by several federal legislative Acts and regulations, the most important of which are the Seeds Act and Regulations, which deals with the registration of seeds for commercial activities, and the Plant Breeders' Rights Act (PBR Act) and Patent Act, which offer ways of assigning intellectual property rights to seeds (or their component parts). In recent years the Canadian government has proposed several strategic changes to the seed regime in order to "modernize" the Canadian framework, making it more flexible and commerce-friendly. The proposed changes to the PBR Act and the Seeds Act and Regulations move toward stronger intellectual property protection and weaker seed approval criteria, and are limited in their involvement of the public. These changes and their consultation processes offer more opportunity to the powerful seed-related industry, and also reinforce a view of seeds as commercial, economic goods and seed saving as anachronistic, or in some extreme cases, criminal.

The first piece of legislation governing seeds in Canada was enacted in 1905 to set basic standards for seed quality. Over the years there have been several important additions to the Act, including the introduction of merit criteria and the need for detailed variety descriptions. Today's Seeds Act and Regulations are administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). These policies govern seed sales, including imports, and seed testing, inspection, and quality. (1) The latest policy proposals of the CFIA are aimed at modernizing the Seeds Act, and include a set of proposals dealing primarily with consultation and variety registration. Regarding consultation, the main proposal is that the already established National Forum on Seeds be formally recognized as the consultative body for policy-making on seed issues. Although there are some exceptions, such as the National Farmers' Union, primary membership of the Forum is made up of industry organizations and representatives. Although the CFIA (2006a: 17) recognizes that "agricultural producers are directly affected by seed policies and regulation" and that these policies "are no longer only of interest to agricultural producers and the major national associations of the seed industry," this does not seem to translate into changes in the practices of consultation. The second and third categories of the CFIA's proposals to change Canada's seed registration system relate specifically to variety registration. The CFIA proposes two primary changes to make the registration system faster and more flexible: first, a tiered system for variety registration; and second, an expanded and expedited approach to contract registration. In particular, the CFIA's recommendations include things like: expanding contract registration of varieties; removal of merit criteria for some crops and optional merit criteria for others; and, reliance of government upon third party data of assessment and of variety recommendation. While these proposals do not exactly reflect what industry has proposed, each substantially moves in the direction sought by the corporate seed sector (see CSTA 2006). Each of these suggestions (among others) indicates a further move of government out of seed governing, leaving industry increasingly to make decisions about Canada's seed sector and future.

The current PBR Act is based on the 1978 version of the International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV). The PBR Act prohibits seeds protected under the Act from being propagated for commercial purposes without permission from the rights assignee; however, non-commercial use of protected material is not covered in the Act. Therefore, seed saving is not prohibited, as long as it remains non-commercial. Domestically, the priority of both government and seed industry is to bring Canada's PBR Act into conformity with the UPOV 91. To this end, the most recent changes proposed by the CFIA in 2004 to alter the PBR Act included (among other things): extending plant breeders' rights to harvested material and "essentially derived varieties;" lengthening the protection time period; allowing one year of sales before a variety is protected; and the optional inclusion of a "farmers' privilege" clause (CFIA 2006b). While the CFIA is responsible for administering the Act, enforcement is left to holders of the rights. In order to enforce the Act more efficiently, the seed industry established the Canadian Plant Technology Agency in 1999. This agency uses private contractors, often retired police officers, to pursue cases of potential infringement, a strategy that some farmers consider purposefully intimidating and misleading when investigators identify themselves as ex-police (Schmeiser 2005).

Regardless of its level of effectiveness in achieving its stated goals and/or its enforcement, the PBR Act creates a legal framework for the enclosure of seed saving and public research. In particular, it begins criminalizing a set of practices that farmers have long accepted as legitimate (the saving of seed for sale to other farmers) and devaluing the common practice of saving seeds. The dominance of intellectual property rights and accompanying views of what constitutes legitimate breeding (i.e., laboratory science versus seed saving practices), is made clear by the fact that an exception ("farmers' privilege") is needed for growers to continue what has always been common practice, saving seed. In these scenarios, seeds become increasingly valued solely as ownable property and potential profit-makers, which ignores their importance in more complex ecological, economic, and social relations. In addition, when threatened with legal action most farmers settle out of court, paying corporations and signing non-disclosure agreements, rather than face the possible loss of their farm or crops through long-term court proceedings (Centre for Food Safety 2005; Schmeiser 2005). This fear of loss serves as another controlling mechanism for corporations (or other intellectual property rights-holders) that is not necessarily reflective of the actual guilt or innocence of those growers.

The consultation process used by government regarding these proposals, and the proposals themselves, demonstrate how industry suggestions and priorities are often readily incorporated into policy measures while broader public views are not necessarily engaged. Even within industry association publications, it is admitted that farmers indicate that plant breeders' rights are, on the whole, not benefiting them but rather are serving seed corporations by ensuring higher seed prices, less grower control, and limits on selling or purchasing saved seed (see CSGA 2005). Some plant breeders have also expressed concern that intellectual property rights, including PBRs, are limiting possible research through increased cost to establish "freedom to operate" (the rights to use plant genetic resources that are protected by intellectual property regimes in breeding research) and decreased availability of materials (even when allowed by legislation) (Kuyek 2004). In its own analysis of the public consultation on the Seeds Act changes, the CFIA indicates that there were public concerns about globalization, corporate control and profits, GE, and impacts of seed policies on the viability of organic production; however, "these particular concerns are rooted in much larger issues that for the most part go beyond the scope of the variety registration changes to address" (CFIA 2007). Through this statement, and the lack of any planned follow-up, the CFIA indicates a lack of willingness to hear and engage public concerns other than those dealing with implementation issues. The major decisions have already been made during policy-making, which involved industry representatives.

The approach of limited public consultation is understandable for a government agency interested in changing and implementing policy at a technical, functional level, and may simply be an effort to garner useful feedback in an efficient manner for a resource-constrained agency. And, to be fair, the consultation workbook made this intent of the CFIA clear; however, the public's concerns articulated through this consultation and other means should make it clear to government that broader discussion of seed policy is necessary, and yet, no forum is forthcoming. This situation would be less problematic if a broader discussion of the purposes and values that inform seed policies had occurred in the Canadian public and was reflected in policy proposals; however, that is not the case. The limited democratic character of this particular consultation is not an isolated example; it is rather, one example of a general approach of relying on industry information and involvement rather than engaging the public on seed-related issues.

Seed Industry: Context and Policy Options

Canada's current seed system is one in which multinational corporations, facilitated by governments, play increasingly important roles. In 2007 the international commercial seed market was valued at $26,700 million (US), with the top ten multinational corporations accounting for approximately 55% of that market (ETC Group 2008). As a comparison, in 1996 the top ten corporations accounted for approximately 37% of the world-wide commercial market and Monsanto, now listed as the top seed seller, was not even listed within the top ten corporations (ETC Group 2007). The Canadian Seed Trade Association is a seed industry organization that lobbies government for members such as Monsanto Canada, Syngenta Canada, and Bayer Crop Science (each of which are listed in the international top ten commercial seed corporations). This Association estimates that the Canadian seed industry generates $770 million (Cdn) in domestic and export sales, and from 2000 to 2003 their exports increased by 33% (CSTA 2004).

If one examines proprietary seed, or those seeds under intellectual property rights protection, corporate control becomes even starker. The commercial seed market is approximately 82% proprietary seed ($22 billion US), and 67% of the proprietary seed is controlled by corporations and Monsanto alone controls 23% (ETC Group 2008). In 2006 there were 70,649 varieties protected by either patents or plant variety protection worldwide (UPOV 2007). In Canada, there were 1558 varieties with plant protection rights assigned to them, representing an almost 67% increase since 2002 (UPOV 2007). The latest proprietary seed move by multinationals is to get patents on hundreds of "climate-ready" seed traits (Weiss 2008) to be used in genetic engineering projects relating to conditions expected during climate change (drought, flooding, higher temperatures, etc.).

Increased corporate concentration (vertical and horizontal) and intellectual property rights (particularly patents) have allowed multinationals to increase their profits. For example, Monsanto's annual reports indicate that its net income increased 104% from 2007 to 2008, based in large part on proprietary seed sales (Monsanto Company 2008). The multinational corporation has recently acquired another major vegetable seed corporation, De Ruiter Seeds (Monsanto Company 2008). This acquisition serves to expand the corporation's control of the vegetable seed market initiated with their purchase of Seminis Seeds in 2005, which accounted for 30% of the North American vegetable seed market at the time as well as substantial control of various vegetable seed worldwide (Gillam 2008a). Monsanto has also recently announced that it will be increasing the prices of various seeds, with some corn prices rising by as much as 35% (Gillam 2008b).

Seeds offer the opportunity for profit-making on other inputs as well. For example, the yield gains offered by commercial hybrid varieties are substantial, but are limited not only by the need to repurchase the seeds to avoid reversion, but by the inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, irrigation, etc.) that sustain the yield increases (Fowler and Mooney 1990). Saved seeds, on the other hand, generally adjust to the farm by being grown year-after-year and being selected by their growers for particular abilities. Bred and (often) sold as part of packages with inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, etc. hybrid and genetically engineered seeds carry with them a reliance on corporations' seeds and petro-chemical inputs; such reliance provides profit-making opportunity for corporations. The case of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) seeds provides another case in point. Before the expiration of the patent Monsanto held on glyphosate, the corporation extended its profit-making by genetically engineering seeds (such as canola, soybeans, etc.) to be glyphosate-tolerant and protecting these seeds (and/or genetic sequences) with patents. This way, patented GE seeds and glyphosate work together to continue profit-making through seed sales, herbicide sales, and cost reduction for corporations (developing GE seeds versus a new herbicide is less expensive overall). Not surprisingly given the profit-motivation, the dominant traits of GE crops continue to be herbicide tolerance and insect resistance (James 2007; McKeown 2008), rather than, for example, improved nutrient-content.

Industry argues that commercial seeds, especially GE in recent years, are adopted because they offer growers a better choice (Bell 2001). However, while it is true that growers do make choices to which we should pay attention, it also needs to be noted that these choices are not unconstrained. For example, the shift toward GE canola in Canada has come with costs and limits of choice for both organic and conventional growers. In Canada is it estimated that 82% of the canola grown is GE (Brookes and Barfoot 2006). Most farmers have given up on growing organic canola due to the levels of GE contamination through the seed system (Friesen et al. 2003; Van Acker 2005) and conventional growers have difficulty sourcing non-GE seed (Schmeiser 2005). Under these conditions, growers either switch crops or grow GE canola, which represents a particular kind of constrained choice. The choice of corporations to breed and/or offer one seed over another is not a neutral decision; what is considered useful in the corporate profit sense is not necessarily the same as what is considered useful for local consumption or growing, for agro-biodiversity, or for rural livelihoods.

The non-availability of some seeds, resulting in difficulty sourcing particular seeds, is often the result of corporate concentration within the seed industry. When a company is overtaken by a larger corporation, efforts to streamline production result in catalogues that offer seeds that have world-wide markets and high profitability. For example, Monsanto purchased Seminis Inc. in 2005 and in the next year reduced the Seminis catalogue by 60 percent to concentrate on the "25 most profitable and most [economically] sustainable crops" (Monsanto Company 2006). As the corporations that control seed grow, the choice of differentiated seed shrinks; in other words, corporate concentration breeds catalogue concentration (Fowler and Mooney 1990, 124). Lammerts et al. (1999) discuss the needs of organic growers in particular, stipulating that organic growers should not continue to rely upon the commercial breeding system for two primary reasons: first, industrial varieties do not have the characteristics necessary for organic production (e.g., high mineral efficiency, weed suppression, stress tolerance); and second, commercial breeding is increasingly pursuing breeding methods (e.g., genetic engineering) that are not allowed in organics. In this context, seed saving offers not only particular choices to growers, but likely better ones, especially for organics, a sector with growth rates around 25% in Canada (MacRae et al. 2006).

In order to advance their position within Canada, the seed industry recently undertook a review of existing seed policies. In May of 2004 the Report of the Seed Sector Advisory Committee, known as the Seed Sector Review (SSR), was released by the Canadian Seed Alliance (CSA), an industry consortium comprised of the main seed industry organizations in Canada (the Canadian Seed Growers' Association, the Canadian Seed Trade Association, the Canadian Seed Institute, and the Grain Growers of Canada). The report is a summary of a year-long industry process, in part government-sponsored, to review and propose revisions to Canada's seed regulations. The SSR includes proposals to achieve four goals: regulatory flexibility and timeliness; a supportive environment for science and innovation; profitability in the sector; and, consumer acceptance and confidence (CSA 2004). In addition to recommending that the PBR Act be brought into compliance with UPOV 1991, the Canadian Seed Alliance argues for (among other items): a permanent industry-led organization to advise and pursue seed policy changes; restructuring of the Seeds Act and Regulations to remove merit criteria and expedite approval of some varieties (including "low-risk" GE crops); use of identity-preservation systems rather than existing grain quality standards; the harmonization of Canada's seed approval processes with those of major trading partners; maintenance of the current scientific and risk approach in the approval process; a government-sponsored public relations campaign to convey the usefulness and safety of GE (i.e., innovative traits); and, creation of "a level playing field" between certified and saved seed. The parallels between this report and government proposals for policy revision (as already outlined) are not difficult to see. The first five suggestions listed are already underway in various forms within the CFIA's proposals, as is the demand for the PBR Act to be brought into compliance with UPOV 91. The last two suggestions - a government-sponsored campaign and leveling the field between certified and saved seed - have yet to be addressed by government in policy; however, industry has taken some of this work on themselves.

It is not suggested in the Seed Sector Review that the use of certified seed be made mandatory; however, several options to increase certified seed use are listed including things like instituting lower crop insurance premiums for those farmers using certified seed and increasing the perceived value of certified seed. According to industry, to address the undervaluation of certified seed, and therefore increase sales and market size, measures need to be taken to: educate growers about the value of certified seed; revalue saved seed by raising its costs; publicize saved seed as lower in quality; and, to structure seed systems properly (CSA 2004; Fehr 2005). Unfortunately for industry, certified seed is not necessarily more pure compared to saved seed; as long as a grower properly selects, cleans, and stores the seeds, saved seed is just as good as certified seed in relation to purity (Shirtliffe 2007), and offers several other benefits in addition such as local adaptation. In large part, farmers seem to agree that saved seed is at least as good as certified seed (Leahy 2005). In one industry publication it is noted that:
 [f]ully half or 50 percent of farmers think weed-free common [saved]
 seed is equal to Certified seed. ... Are farmers purchasing Certified
 seed because they think it offers great value for the money? No.
 Almost 20 per cent of those purchasing Certified seed report they did
 so because common seed was not available. (CSGA 2005: 4).

This indicates that industry recognizes how important it is to limit growers' choices to save seed. It also suggests that farmers already understand the differences between certified and saved seed more clearly than industry indicates.

Measures to convince (or cajole) farmers into "choosing" certified seed over saved seed are ill-advised when the quality of seed is similar and costs for farmers are significantly lower. If only these purity and economic factors are considered, and if the multiple other reasons seed savers provide for saving seed are ignored, industry's recommendations and government's policies still need to be re-evaluated. If policy is to help meet farmers' seed demands, improve farmers' livelihoods, and ensure the quality and quantity of foods and forages, then options that must be considered are to increase (rather than decrease) the use of saved seed (given it is both economical and quality seed), to educate farmers about how to save seed properly (rather than about the supposed value of certified seed), and to ensure that policies regarding public breeding, seed supply, and growing ecologically are in place to support these initiatives. Unfortunately, the option of increasing saved seed does not seem to make it to the policy roundtable. Instead of considering policy and agro-food system alternatives, it seems that industry's assessment that "[n]ew ideas for innovation and a friendly regulatory system are needed to keep Canada on the road to agricultural progress" (Fehr 2005, 8) is also considered the only viable option by government policy-makers.

Public Initiatives for Seed Saving

Despite the maneuvering by government and the seed industry, some Canadians insist on the value of seed saving. The benefits of seed saving involve economics (through reduced input costs and increased income generation diversity), food security (through controlling your local sources and having the next season's inputs already in hand at the beginning of the season), communities (through maintaining local food cultures and knowledges, as well as forming relations with other community members), and ecologies (through increased biodiversity, resilience, and local adaptation). World-wide an estimated 75% of farmers depend upon saved seed, and despite proprietary protections, small farmers have cultivated and continue to use millions of seed varieties (largely for food crops) (ETC Group 2008). Based on seeded acreage and commercial sales data collected by Statistics Canada it is estimated that in the 1970s approximately 70-80% of seed was saved (Kuyek 2004). Unfortunately, there is no data today indicating how widespread seed saving is overall (i.e., including the activities of small-scale growers and/or gardeners); however, industry estimates that of commercial crops produced by large-scale growers approximately 8% of canola, 83% of wheat, 79% of barley, and 86% of peas is saved seed (LeBuanec 2005).

The form of people's efforts to continue seed saving practices varies considerably from individuals practicing seed saving in their yards and on their farms to networks of people attempting to figure out and propose alternatives to seed policies. Each of these efforts contributes to a larger, broader effort to maintain and expand seed saving. The most important way that people continue to promote seed saving in the face of an emerging corporate controlled seed system is that they continue to save seeds, share knowledge, and exchange their seeds and knowledge with others. Without the continuation and expansion of these individual and collective practices, other initiatives lose their base. There are also more structured ways that seed savers and their supporters are taking action. I discuss only a few of the initiatives which relate to supporting Canadian seed saving practices and policies below, including the work of organizations such as Seeds of Diversity and the National Farmers' Union but also work being done by communities to organize seed swaps and collective seed production networks.

In the 1970s and 80s, when the contemporary seed regime was emerging in Canada, growers began to notice that a number of their preferred varieties were no longer appearing in the market. It was this local experience that gave rise to the formation in 1984 of the Heritage Seed Programme as part of the Canadian Organic Growers association. In 1987 the Heritage Seed Programme described its mandate as "to search out, preserve, share and celebrate our agricultural and horticultural heritage" (quoted in Martin 2000: 144). This organization has since become Seeds of Diversity Canada (SoDC), and currently has a membership of approximately 1,200 people (primarily gardeners, but farmers and other supporters as well). Each year, in addition to its other operations, SoDC sends its members a seed exchange directory which lists approximately 1,900 varieties that members are willing to share with others from their own collections. In 2007, SoDC assessed that its membership offered 187 varieties not available through the national genebanking system and sent accessions of these seeds for backup in the genebanking system (SoDC 2007). SoDC also works with the national genebanking system; occasionally members help with re-growing genebanked varieties when the genebank is unable to deal with the need for maintaining the viability of the collection on its own (due to space or resource restrictions) (Richards 2007; SoDC 2007). In these situations, growers return re-grown collections to the genebank and are permitted to keep some seeds to re-circulate in seed saving networks. Most recently, SoDC has been attempting to establish a permanent collection and growing space as a back-up to its members' activities. In this way, varieties continue to evolve and be accessible even if there is a loss in one part of the network. SoDC is not the only effort of this kind in Canada. The Seed and Plant Sanctuary (SPS) on Salt Spring Island and the Heritage Seed Programme (HSP) in Kingston are two exceptional examples of seed collections and networking seed savers that attempt to maintain and celebrate collective "living gene banks," culinary and growing traditions, and seed saving practices.

The long-standing practice of seed sharing and exchange has inspired the annual Seedy Saturdays that now happen across Canada, usually in the period between January and April. Any group of people interested in having a Seedy Saturday in a particular area do the organizing, and SoDC and other organizations promote the events through websites and listservs. Although many Seedy Saturdays include similar activities such as workshops, seed swapping, small companies which sell seeds and plants, children's activities, etc., each Seedy Saturday has its own flavor and changing identity based in its community. Seedy Saturdays are growing in number each year, and it is only through the seed saving efforts, including informal networking, of seed savers that they continue to occur. These events most commonly involve gardeners and smaller scale seed growers, the latter usually as vendors or workshop facilitators. Large-scale farmers are less likely to participate. One of the likely reasons is that the local seed companies are often limited in the amount of seed they can offer, which means that the amounts of quality seed necessary for larger than garden-scale activities may not be available. Of course, it is also reflective of different social and economic networking. Farmers (small and large-scale) have, over the years, established their own organizations and seed relations. This limitation of Seedy Saturdays highlights why various initiatives are important in addressing seed issues in Canada.

Seed saving, and seed-related issues, are also getting more attention in organizations, such as the National Farmers' Union (NFU), that are made up more of farmers than gardeners. As an example, the NFU led a Seed Saver Campaign in 2004 when the proposed changes to the PBR Act threatened the ability of growers to save seed of PBR-protected varieties. The campaign involved creating and circulating factsheets on the issues to their membership and the broader public, circulating and presenting to government a petition demanding the protection of the right to save seeds (among other things), holding various public talks and workshops, lobbying government, etc. The campaign was a success in that the changes to the PBR Act were postponed, in large part due to the public responses to efforts of the NFU in publicizing the proposed changes and their potential implications. The NFU continues to engage in seed issues through its various activities and publications. Recently, for example, the Ontario chapter of the NFU held a Seed Summit in Kingston and the National AGM included presentations on seed initiatives and policies.

As mentioned, the needs of local farmers for bulk seed, especially organic, have not been well met by local seed companies as compared to those of local gardeners. However, this need has been recognized and local, small seed companies are investigating ways of addressing it. First, some small seed companies are simply attempting to expand the amount available of some varieties. This is particularly evident in the case of those seeds used as cover crops but also includes some other cultivars. Second, some small seed companies involve other trusted growers in their operations. Having another person grow, for example, a carrot variety, helps small companies deal with necessary isolation distances and limited resources, and can build both the diversity of varieties that can be offered as well as the amounts available. Some local companies express reservations about relying too heavily upon this method because of the needs for seed quality assurance, which means they must determine the ability of additional growers to deliver quality seeds in appropriate amounts; however, there are companies in Canada that already employ this method and others that are attempting to build collective efforts and assure quality (Steiner 2008). Steiner (2008) recommends learning from examples in the U.S. such as FedCo. and Siskiyou Sustainable Co-operative, which have developed models for collective efforts of growing and marketing high quality seed in sufficient quantities for local farmers. Interestingly, local seed companies encourage growers (whether gardeners or farmers) to continue to save the seed that they sell, which seems to run counter to "good business" logic. In this way, however, seed growing and saving as a collective activity becomes part of farming ecologies, economies, and communities in ways that reinforce seeds as communal resources and responsibilities (Steiner 2008).

These are just a few of the examples of what seed savers and their supporters, are doing to engage in seed-related debates and to foster seed systems that support their communities and beliefs. These initiatives, among others, disrupt the logics and practices of the contemporary seed regime in Canada. Neoliberal processes of commercialization and privatization, combined with corporate concentration, are each challenged in turn by seed saving, which perhaps suggests why the seed industry (aided by governments) is increasingly dedicated to enclosing seeds and seed saving practices. Seeds' abilities to reproduce, and seed savers encouragement of this ability, allow escape from efforts to control and profit from seeds. Seed savers who relate to seeds as beings in their own right, as cultural traditions, and sources of food security, suggest that seeds are valuable for more than just profit-making, disrupting commercial prioritization. The proposed policy changes of the CFIA and the seed industry do not serve these interests well; nor does the existing consultation process for these policy changes. Saving seed offers individuals and collectives opportunities to build local self-reliance and food security, senses of empowerment and control, while also challenging the state-facilitated corporate control of seeds and related practices. The case of Canada is no exception, though I have attempted to show it has its own context and particularities.


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Catherine Phillips currently teaches environmental studies and geography at Bishop's University. Her recent research revolves around food and seed systems, global governance, and social resistance movements. She can be reached at

(1) If a crop is to be consumed by people, Health Canada is responsible for its approval based on considerations of nutrition, toxicity, allergenicity, and chemical contamination.
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