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Chile Derails "Monsanto Law" That Would Privatize Seeds

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Genetic Engineering Page and our Millions Against Monsanto Page.

SANTIAGO, Chile - This month, rural women, indigenous communities, and farmers in Chile found themselves on the winning end of a long-fought battle against a bill that had come to be known by many in this country as simply, the "Monsanto Law."

The bill, which would have given multinational agribusiness corporations the right to patent seeds they discover, develop or modify, was withdrawn by the Chilean government now controlled by newly elected members of the center-left coalition known as the New Majority, amid concerns that the law would bring harm to the country's small and mid-sized farmers.

In making the announcement on March 17, new Secretary General Ximena Rincón pledged that the Chilean government will "analyze all that is known in our country and internationally about this issue in order to protect the rights of agricultural communities, small and medium-sized farmers, and the heritage of seeds in our country."

Rincón has been a leading voice of opposition to the bill in the Chilean government, and part of a larger alliance of approximately fifteen organizations and elected officials across the country who have been lobbying and protesting its passage since the introduction of the bill four years ago.

"We reject this law because it is a threat to family farms and to biodiversity," said Lucía Sepúlveda from the Alliance for a Better Quality of Life/Pesticide Action Network of Chile (RAP-AL Chile). Last August, her organization and thousands of other Chileans took to the streets of cities across the country in mass protests against the law.

Sepúlveda explained that the Monsanto Law - derived from the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 Act -- would allow companies to register patents for the vast majority of seeds in Chile, and require small and medium producers to pay those companies for the right to use similar seeds. This, said Sepúlveda, would create a barrier for small and medium producers to use strains of seeds that have been developed and used by farmers and indigenous communities in Chile for generations. Producers would be faced with renewing their seed rights every year for a high price, or leaving agriculture all together.

"We're left without farmers and without production," said Sepúlveda.

The steady decline of small and medium-scale agriculture is a growing problem for Chile. While the country is one of the world's most prolific fruit exporters, many Chileans complain that the main importers of their agricultural goods such as Japan and the United States, have more access to quality produce than Chileans do. Large multinational companies generally produce solely for export, whereas small and medium producers produce for the domestic market, selling their goods at local markets or ferias.    


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