Parliament Distorts Opposition To Plant Breeders’ Bill!

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“Food Sovereignty appeared before our committee and we gave them the opportunity to prove that the bill is about GMO. They couldn’t. They actually apologized and withdrew. And yet the day after, they went and issued a statement. So, for me it is important that we clarify these things, rather than misleading various agencies for them to issue statements which are totally out of place.”

- Hon. Joe Osei Owusu
Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) is deeply concerned about utterances from the Chairman of the Appointments Committee, and First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Joseph Osei-Owusu, when the issue of the Plant Breeders’ Bill was raised during the vetting of Hon. Dr. Owusu Afiriyie Akoto as Minister-Designate for Agriculture. We are left with the distinct impression that Parliament is keen on passing the Plant Breeders’ Bill without addressing the fundamental questions raised by Ghanaians from all walks of life, which prompted the former Speaker to call for consultations with the public. FSG condemns the attempts at ignoring all other objections to the bill, with the refrain that it has “nothing to do with GMOs”! We consider them as indicative of the Parliament’s insensitive decision to ignore ALL other objections to the bill.

Giving the impression that all opposition to the Plant Breeders’ Bill is because of its connection with GMOs is completely dishonest. Indeed, Parliament is actually in possession of petitions against the Plant Breeders’ Bill that do not even mention GMOs! Equally misleading is the impression that FSG is the main body that stands in opposition to the UPOV model for the Plant Breeders’ Bill. It is not too difficult to understand the intentions behind such pronouncements against FSG, but it is difficult to understand why Parliament is not being transparent in reporting its consultations with civil society, faith-based organisations, and other entities on this important issue.

The right question we expect the media to ask our Parliamentarians is whether the only thing they see in the petitions on the Plant Breeders’ Bill is the linkage with GMOs? What about farmers’ rights? What about Clause 23? What about biopiracy? What about smuggling in UPOV under WTO TRIPPS rules which call for simply a “sui generis” Plant Variety Protection that can also adequately protect our local plant breeders?

Publish Report On Consultations…
FSG has been calling on Parliament for some time now, to come out with a report on their consultations with various organisations and entities over the Plant Breeders’ Bill. We have similarly called for the publication of the proceedings of our meeting with the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, as far back as Wednesday, 4th December, 2013. FSG believes this will be the best way to ensure transparency and assure the public that the right things are being done on their behalf by our Parliament, so far as the Plant Breeders’ Bill is concerned.

To date there is no public record of this encounter. This has allowed some MPs to provide distorted versions of what actually took place, whenever they please, without any challenge, as we saw in the false claims by the Chairman of the Appointments Committee, and First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Joseph Osei-Owusu before the Appointments Committee:

“Food Sovereignty appeared before our committee and we gave them the opportunity to prove that the bill is about GMO. They couldn’t. They actually apologized and withdrew. And yet the day after, they went and issued a statement. So, for me it is important that we clarify these things, rather than misleading various agencies for them to issue statements which are totally out of place.”

His statement is patently false and offensive. It is also mischievous as it seeks to create the impression that the only matter discussed was the link between the Plant Breeders’ Bill and GMOs! The statement is nonsensical and malicious because at the said meeting, the link between the Plant Breeders’ Bill and GMOs was indeed raised, but no apologies were given. There was disagreement on both sides until Professor Walter Sando Alhassan, the man the Committee had invited as one of their own experts on the subject, confirmed there was a definite link. That was how the matter ended. There was no need for apologies to be provided, no apology was called for, and none was given. The FSG account of what actually took place has been made public in a Communiqué since December 8, 2013. It was even published on the Parliament’s own website until it was redesigned! See: COMMUNIQUÉ: FSG Meets Parliament Over Plant Breeders’ Bill | Food Sovereignty Ghana, December 8, 2013: http://foodsovereigntyghana.org/communique-fsg-meets-parliament-over-plant-breeders-bill/

FSG finds it unacceptable, that there is no official record of our meeting with Parliament available, but MPs stand on official platforms to peddle misinformation. We have been here before. On November 19, 2014, FSG asked, “Why is his Committee refusing to make public the records of the proceedings of our meeting with them? Is he suggesting that our fundamental objection to the UPOV-compliant plant variety protection (PVP) regime was relaxed? ” See: Investigate Bagbin Over Plant Breeders’ Bill! | Food Sovereignty Ghana https://foodsovereigntyghana.org/744/

If we cannot even trust our own elected representatives to accurately report their encounters with civil society organisations, then there is something fundamentally wrong with our democracy. It remains our legitimate expectation that elected representatives of the people report accurately to Ghanaians about their meetings with civil society organisations. We therefore demand unqualified apologies from the chairman of the Appointments Committee, and a publication of the proceedings at the said meeting by Parliament.

GMOs And The Plant Breeders’ Bill…

We also find it strange that the chairman of the Appointments Committee even deviated from the issue of GMOs to discuss the Plant Breeders’ Bill, when we had not even mentioned the Bill even once in our memorandum to the Appointments Committee. See: Memorandum Calling for the Rejection of Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Minister-designate for Food and Agriculture | Food Sovereignty Ghanahttp://foodsovereigntyghana.org/memorandum-calling-for-the-rejection-of-dr-owusu-afriyie-akoto-minister-designate-for-food-and-agriculture/

Indeed our actual petition to Parliament on the Plant Breeders’ Bill bears eloquent witness to the fact that it is patently false and mischievous to create the dishonest impression that our fundamental concern with the Plant Breeders’ Bill is because of GMOs! See: PETITION TO PARLIAMENT ON THE PLANT BREEDERS’ BILL, 2013. | Food Sovereignty Ghana, November 24, 2013 http://foodsovereigntyghana.org/petition-to-parliament-on-the-plant-breeders-bill-2013/

On the contrary, as a summary of our opposition to the Plant Breeders’ Bill states in our last call on Parliament to publish the report on “consultations” over the Plant Breeder’s Bill, dated here Mar 31, 2016, there is not even a single mention of GMOs! To date, there has been no response.Parliament appears to be deliberately diverting attention away from what we have always considered to be the fundamental flaws in the Bill. Our MPs appear to have conveniently developed a mantra to drown out any opposition to the Bill, irrespective of what it is about, with the refrain, “the Plant Breeders’ Bill has nothing to do with GMOs”! Never mind the burning issues concerning biopiracy, or the criminalisation of farmers! Why are these other issues not being addressed by our MPs?

For clarity and emphasis, we reproduce the relevant part of the statement, Publish report on “consultations” over Plant Breeder’s Bill!’ |Food Sovereignty Ghana, Mar 31, 2016, Pambazuka News. https://www.pambazuka.org/food-health/publish-report-consultations-over-plant-breeders-bill, here:

“On Tuesday, November 11, 2014, the last time the Bill came up on the floor of the House at the Consideration Stage, the Speaker ruled: “I would urge for further consultation”, he said to Hon. Alban Bagbin, Majority Leader and then Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. This call for “further consultation” was key to the unprecedented suspension of a Bill that was already at the Consideration Stage. The reason the Speaker gave for this unprecedented move was: “This is because it is important to inform the people of Ghana”. http://www.parliament.gh/publications/30/906

It therefore behoves the Committee to produce an official report detailing the “consultations” they claim to have done for all to know why Parliament still refuses to heed the demands of Ghanaian civil society groups and faith-based organisations that have formally petitioned them. The minimum courtesy one expects is at least a report detailing why their objections have not been taken into consideration. We particularly demand responses to these fundamental objections to the Plant Breeders’ Bill. All of these objections apply equally to the ARIPO Arusha PVP Protocol, a treaty version of the exact same Bill.

1. Ghana can protect plant breeder rights without necessarily opting for UPOV 91. The Bill is modelled on the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants of 1991 (UPOV 1991) which is a rigid and an inflexible regime for plant variety protection (PVP). It is worth noting that today out of the 71 UPOV members, only a fraction – about 22 developing countries are members of UPOV. Most of these developing countries (e.g. Brazil, China, Argentina, South Africa) and even some developed countries (e.g. Norway) are not members of UPOV 1991 but rather UPOV 1978, which is a far more flexible regime.

Ghana has full flexibility under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to develop an effective “sui generis” system for plant variety protection, i.e. to develop a unique system that suits its needs. In view of this, it is truly unfortunate and even irrational that instead of designing a PVP regime that reflects the agricultural framework and realities of Ghana as some other countries have done (e.g. India, Thailand, Ethiopia), Ghana is choosing to adopt and be bound by UPOV 1991 without any concrete evidence or impact assessment of the necessity and impacts of adopting such a regime.

Ghana is a member of the World Trade Organization and the rights and obligations concerning intellectual property are governed by the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). According to Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement, Ghana has to provide protection of plant varieties by an “effective sui generis” system. Sui generis means “unique” system of protection. This provision allows Ghana maximum flexibility in the design of plant variety protection (PVP). This is what many developing countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, India have done. The African Union Ministers have also recommended a unique Model Law for Plant Variety Protection. See: Ghana’s Plant Breeders Bill Lacks Legitimacy! It Must Be Revised! | http://foodsovereigntyghana.org/ghanas-plant-breeders-bill-lacks-legitim…

The public has a right to know why our Parliament is insisting on the UPOV-91 model for Ghana!

2. As a member of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA) we expect Ghana to take steps to realise farmers’ rights to use, sell, save and exchange farm-saved seeds, to protect their traditional knowledge and to allow their participation in national decision-making.

It is thus extremely disappointing to see that the Bill is heavily tilted in favour of commercial breeders and undermines farmers’ rights. The Bill does not allow farmers to sell and exchange seeds. A farmer’s use of farm-saved seeds on his own holdings is limited to “personal use” and regulation by the Minister and may be subject to payment of royalties.

3. The Bill also contains a “presumption” whereby a plant breeder is considered to be entitled to intellectual property protection in the absence of proof to the contrary. Usually the onus is on the applicant to prove that he or she has complied with the necessary requirements and is thus entitled to protection. But in this case there is a presumption in favour of the plant breeder. This “presumption” provision and the lack of an explicit provision that calls for the disclosure of origin of the genetic material used in the development of the variety including information of any contribution made by any Ghanaian farmer or community in the development of the variety creates opportunities for breeders to misappropriate Ghana’s genetic resources using the PVP system and to exploit smallholder farmers. Ghana’s farmers must not be criminalized by Ghana’s laws for practising traditional farming.

It is important to note that Ghana is a member of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Convention on Biological Diversity and both these instruments champion fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. Including a disclosure of origin provision in the Bill is critical as it is widely recognized as an important tool to safeguard against biopiracy. Several countries have included such a provision in their PVP legislation and there is no reason why Ghana should not do the same.

4. The Bill also lacks provisions that will ensure that intellectual property protection will not be granted to varieties that adversely affect public interests.

5. Amend or repeal Clause 23! The offending clause reads: “23. Measures regulating commerce. A plant breeder’s right shall be independent of any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material.”

FSG’s position on this is that it is important for the Bill to be coherent with Ghana’s sovereignty plus other legislation and national interests such as the protection of the environment, health, prevention of misappropriation of genetic resources etc.https://www.modernghana.com/news/507270/food-sovereignty-ghana-meets-par

The inclusion of Clause 23 hinders the ability to achieve such coherence as it views the grant of PBR as being independent from all other regulations. In certain cases it may be important to refuse to grant PBR over a variety, particularly where national interests are at stake. Such situations include not granting PBR on varieties that are injurious to public health, environment etc., or where the application does not disclose the origin of the genetic material.

There is a huge difference between “plant breeder right shall be INDEPENDENT OF any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing…” and “plant breeder right shall be SUBJECT TO any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material”! The language must be amended to: plant breeder right shall be SUBJECT TO any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material.

6. Any PVP law in Ghana must protect Ghana from biopiracy. We recommend language such that: any entity or individual who provides germplasm resources to any foreign entity, organisation or individual in cooperation to conduct research, shall make an application and submit a national benefit-sharing plan”.

It is amazing that, apart from our “Honourable Member” the rest of the world can see that none of these six points enumerated above even makes mention of GMOs! Is this probably because Parliament has no reasonable response to these questions? In that case, what is preventing them from heeding to these calls? Above all, we call for a full transparency regarding the consultations with various organisations and entities consulted so far by Parliament, the specific objections raised and the response of the committee to these objections. Is that too much to ask over a controversial issue where some observers including MPs even suspect money must have changed hands? See: MPs take bribes Bagbin confirms in Koforidua What Bagbin said (text and audio) – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUb2N7Nb7eo

FSG is totally in support of the recent call by the Ghana Integrity Initiative to have an independent probe into the bribery allegations in Parilament and we shall be repeating our call for investigations, this time, at a press conference to be organized soon.

For Life, the Environment, and Social Justice!
Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour
Communications Directorate, FSG
Contact FSG Communications:
Tel: +233 207973808
E-mail : [email protected]

Website: http://foodsovereigntyghana.org/

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Cc
Rt. Hon Speaker, Parliament of Ghana
First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Joseph Osei Owusu,

Clerk To Parliament
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