By Federico Paterno
Carlos Vicente is a member of GRAIN, an international organization that supports peasant movements in their food systems. He is one of the most qualified people to understand what can happen with the seed law. ANCAP met with him in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Belgrano and explained to us all that it would mean for this law to be enacted by the National Congress. Patent seeds and patent life. The intellectual property of seeds. The role of the peasant movements and the Secretariat of Family Agriculture in the Kirchnerista administration and what happens today with “Let's change”. The risk of being part of the Pacific Alliance. The seed market and multinationals.
An interview that does not waste any of the answers, its length marks Vicente's detailed explanations about a seed law that has been pending since the previous administration and today it is a law of which no information is circulated about its detailed information.
Carlos Vicente, in addition to being a member of GRAIN, is part of the editorial board of biodiversity, sustenance and cultures. He is a member of the Argentine group Acción por la Biodiversidad and manages its website www.biodiversidadla.org
HOW IS THE MANAGEMENT OF THE SEED MARKET?
Seed laws are only one facet of the control of seeds by corporations and in concrete events in the last two decades two things have happened, on the one hand a great concentration of the market with which today six companies: Monsanto, Bayer , Syngenta, Dupont, Dow and Basf control 60% of the seed marking in the world.
The nearest future marks that of the six there will be three left because there are mergers, for example Syngenta was about to be bought by Monsanto but the purchase was rejected. ChemChina, from the big chemical companies of the Chinese state, bought Syngenta and Bayer is offering it more than 60 billion dollars to stay with Monsanto and they are in full negotiation.
In the twentieth century, humanity lost almost 75% of the agricultural seeds that we developed for ten thousand years. The seeds are all peasant.
Corn is a creation of the original peoples of Mesoamerica, there is no wild corn, it is not that they adapted it. The women of a pasture called Teocintle created corn. No seed produced by a multinational has an origin other than peasant, no company invented an agricultural seed, they took them and homogenized them and registered them. There is a context of corporate control and in few hands and intellectual property law plays a key role within this corporate domain.
HOW DO WE UNDERSTAND THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OF SEEDS?
In the ten thousand years of agriculture it never occurred to anyone to say this seed is my monopoly. Until the 1960s, family businesses produced the seeds, sold them and multiplied them. They sold what they produced.
About 60 years ago, the corporations in the hands of the green revolution and this process of industrialization of agriculture decided that peasant seeds are not very productive and they build a discourse around seeds and say that they are going to produce improved seeds and invent the right to breeder, as well as the copyright so that whoever registers a song or a book they create the breeder's right and give it shape through the seed laws that establish that someone who obtains the "improved" seeds is someone who obtained that seed, the ten thousand year history of that seed is unknown and because of a change that they introduce to make it different from the rest. By demonstrating that it is different, homogeneous and stable and that it has not been seen before, something that is relative because that seed was brought from some original people of the puna and that indigenous person surely did not register it, but those four characteristics that are: novelty, differentiation of the other homogeneity and stability the monopoly on the seed is granted by law. That person registers it as his own and begins to produce and anyone who wanted to use that seed would have to buy it exclusively from him and pay royalties for that seed.
The buyer of that seed cannot market it, share it, or deliver it to another because it was bought with a breeder's right. Based on the seed law that we have from 1973, we can save seeds, but we cannot give them to a neighbor because you are committing a crime based on the law of 73 that prevents the exchange, gift and sale of the seed. This is monstrous.
WHAT IS UPOV AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THIS LAW?
Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties that depends on the United Nations within the intellectual property institutions and that creates the norms to be applied in the countries. They first created a standard called UPOV 78 that is based more than anything on the breeder's right of Argentine law and gives a 15-year monopoly on that seed, it is not a patent. With pressure from corporations and the United States, the norms created by UPOV were increasingly restrictive, in 1991 UPOV 91 was created, which was much more restrictive, from there it is not allowed to save more seeds. If I buy corn seed and I want to sow it again to do it again, I have to ask for authorization from whoever sold it to me or pay their royalties.
The new seed laws were all based on UPOV 91, the draft coming shortly from the Minister of Agriculture Buryarle will surely be based on UPOV 91, UPOV's intention is to hand over complete control of seeds to corporations, two of the things that it indicates opens the doors for all our biodiversity to have a breeder's right, you buy the seed you discovered, you register it and you have a monopoly on that seed. In general, companies do. The other thing is the strong penalty, by breaking the law of giving corn to your neighbor, you can be criminally prosecuted. The neighbor can be killed by the company with private forces and the seeds are confiscated and even stopped, it is total madness.
In Spain there are currently nine farmers who plant wheat who are being prosecuted judicially and criminally because they are using wheat seeds that were certified
HOW IS SEED CONTROL IN ARGENTINA?
In Argentina we have the law of 73 and control is very difficult, here is an example such as the white bag which is the main illegal seed market with transgenic soybeans and this soy with Monsanto at the head allowed this to circulate for convenience own and illegally sold to Paraguay, from 1996 to 2003. The first seven years Monsanto left free movement. It is called a white bag because it has no label. The introduction of this illegal soybean in Brazil and Paraguay generated that Lula in Brazil, the introduction of mass planting was legalized in both countries and GMOs are legally grown and Monsanto appears there to collect royalties.
In 2012 Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the Council of the Americas reported that after an agreement with Monsanto they managed to get this company to invest in Argentina again and to build the Malvinas Argentinas plant. In August 2012 the approval of the new intact soybeans was announced. At the same time, a promise is also made to the multinational that the seed law would be modified before the end of the year. The intention was to have a penalty for own use and the persecution of soybean producers, opening the doors to control all the biodiversity of Argentina.
WHAT WAS THE ROLE OF THE PEASANT MOVEMENTS AND THE SECRETARY OF FAMILY AGRICULTURE IN THE MANAGEMENT OF KIRCHNERISM?
The first thing to bear in mind is that in the previous administration the same terror law was going to be enacted that they want to enact now or that they want to try. The Ministry of agriculture was always that of agribusiness. The Secretary of Family Agriculture, as was the Ministry of Agrarian Development in Brazil, is part of the struggles of peasant organizations to have recognition of their struggles and present support from the state. The government of the day is Kirchenerismo or Macrismo, there is a national state that has a responsibility.
One of the great mistakes of Persico (Secretary of Family Agriculture) was to say at that time that it was necessary to seek the compatibility of family agriculture with industrial monoculture. As an ideological position it is unreal, there is no way to make it compatible. The National Peasant Indigenous Movement (MNCI) continued its struggle in the territories, had deaths in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and continues to suffer the attacks of the Manaus company to this day. Every day in the countryside, farmers are expelled because of the advance of agribusiness. It was a very serious mistake not to raise things without stopping the advance of monoculture.
With the issue of the Persian seed law he marked his opposition to the law and this was an important factor. We did not stop the law only in the street, there were many public activities but there were also conflicts of interest within the Ministry of Agriculture so that the law does not go out. At present, in the Ministry of Agroindustry they are all in favor of this law.
HOW ARE THE PEASANT MOVEMENTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS ORGANIZED TODAY IN THE ADVANCE OF THE LAW?
We have to go all together against the law beyond political positions, maintaining the different spaces of articulation that something is necessary together and we managed to unite left parties, Big Country and peasant movements (MNCI and ASINA, Indigenous Peasant Assembly of Northern Argentina ).
As a first step, it is a proposal for the Ministry of Agriculture to make the law public before sending to Congress and put it to public debate, and it is not a debate with peasants and indigenous people, it is a matter for all citizens. Seed control is control of the food system.
There are many sectors of massismo, the Front for Victory and the PJ that will surely support the project. The massismo, the President of the agriculture commission, Alegre, presented a bill that repeats UPOP 91.
In the 90s, from the invention of transgenics, in addition to the technological control of transgenic seeds, it meant that companies began to request patents for these. It began to advance by the breeder's right and by the patents of the seeds. It is an interesting process, Monsanto in 1995 asked for the patent and the National Institute of Intellectual Property denied it. Monsanto appealed and in December of last year the patent request was rejected and once again Monsanto appealed and currently the request is in the Supreme Court of Justice that will decide whether or not Monsanto can have the patent for transgenic soybeans.
With the People of "Nature of Rights" with Fernando Cabaleiro we are working to present ourselves in court asking to be friends of the court (Amicus Curiae) in which we contribute with all the organizations that want arguments in favor of not granting the patent to Monsanto and it's historic if they allow it because we could prevent life from being patented.
There are cases like that of Emiliano Ezcurra from his fight in Greenpace became Vice President of National Parks of the macrismo, turning to the right, but without abrupt jumps. Juan Carlos Villalonga was the Political Director of Greenpace and today he is a PRO deputy. Juan Carlos was one of those who spoke of eco socialism and today with pragmatism it is something that sometimes kills.
Today there are corporations producing organic food and several of the world's seed companies have in many countries open the sale of organic seeds where they sell them. The approach of agroecology is precisely in many cases ahead of the organic is not only to produce without chemicals but also to produce in contact with the ecosystem in a fair trade market to recreate a different system of production and marketing. For example, the organization CLOC Via Campesina has adopted a policy for them of peasant-based agroecological production for many years. Based on the knowledge of the farmers themselves.
WHAT ROLE DO FREE TRADE TREATIES PLAY TODAY IN ARGENTINE POLITICS?
A group of organizations headed by ATTAC (The Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions and for Citizen Action) was organized and an assembly called Argentina Better without TLC (Free Trade Agreement) was formed to put on the table what they mean the TLC. After the defeat of the FTAA in 2005 these reappear.
In the last two months Argentina has joined as an observer of the Pacific Alliance made up of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. The Pacific Alliance defined last week an abbreviated patent procedure, which means that if a corporation has a patent in one country and does an expedited procedure in an office of the same, without too many procedures they are applied in the four countries. If Argentina joins the Pacific Alliance and Monsanto's soybeans are rejected as it is within the alliance and the patent is given in Mexico with only one procedure, we would be obliged to accept it.