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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 September 6 - 12  > Farmers deepen concern over growing control by multinationals of seed market
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2017 September 6 - 12 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Farmers deepen concern over growing control by multinationals of seed market

September 12, 2017
With the Abe government backing off from its responsibility to ensure a stable supply of seeds of Japan’s main crops, farmers are growingly concerned about the possibility that multinational agribusinesses may increase their presence in Japan’s seed market.

The Abe government cited the need to make more use of the private sector in the seed supply by proposing a bill to abolish the current act which obliges the national and prefectural governments to help farmers obtain high-quality seeds of rice, wheat, and other main crops at reasonable prices. The bill was enacted in April and will take effect in April 2018. The ruling Liberal Democratic and Komei parties voted for and the Japanese Communist Party and three other opposition parties voted against the bill. After the seed act is repealed, the national government will no longer be required to help finance public seed banks and facilities nationwide.

In May this year, another government-proposed bill to improve competitiveness in the farming industry was passed in the Diet. The law, which became effective in August, seeks to promote transfer of scientific knowledge about seed breeding from public research centers to agribusiness corporations. After seed companies develop a new variety with the use of transferred information, the variety will be protected by patent. Accordingly, farmers will have to pay for the patented seeds.

Farmers in Aomori Prefecture are especially worried about the negative outcome that the law revisions would bring about. Aomori is the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s main island and breeders of local agricultural research centers have developed varieties of rice that are resistant to cold weather. A man who grows rice and soybeans in Aomori said, “Seeds are everything for farmers. If companies like Monsanto seize total control of the seed market, it will be a disaster.” Monsanto is a multinational that sells seeds of genetically-modified crops.

So far, the Aomori prefectural government maintains that it will continue seed development efforts in prefectural institutes even after the seed act is abolished. At a prefectural assembly meeting in June, JCP member Suwa Masuichi pointed to the possibility that agribusinesses may seek to acquire intellectual property rights of prefecture-developed seeds. In response, prefectural officials said that the prefectural government will keep financing its agricultural experiment stations so that it can maintain control of locally-developed seeds.

Narumi Kiyohiko, who heads a liaison council of farmers’ lobbying bodies in Aomori, criticized the Abe government for abolishing the seed act to meet the demands of agribusinesses in Japan and the U.S. He said, “The government should stop abandoning its responsibility to secure food sovereignty for the nation and victimizing farmers.”
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