* Reform push meets opposition within govt, farm lobby
* Current law allows seeds to be reused for free
* Advocates of overhaul say would spur food production
By Maximilian Heath
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 21 A drive to overhaul
Argentina's seed regulations to boost food output is meeting
fierce resistance from within government ranks and from farmers
opposed to paying royalties when they reuse seeds gathered at
Eager to take advantage of strong global demand for the
country's multi-billion-dollar grains exports, Argentina's
government has led a push to replace current regulations that do
not oblige farmers to pay royalties to seed companies.
The seed industry and large-scale grains farmers say
Argentina - the world's third-biggest soy exporter and the No. 2
corn supplier - risks falling behind competitors such as Brazil
because the regulatory framework discourages companies from
introducing advanced new seeds.
"The current legislation doesn't foster investment in
development or the distribution of new technologies because
there isn't sufficient protection for intellectual property,"
said Alfredo Paseyro of the ASA seed industry association.
After a series of meetings earlier this year, government
officials and industry leaders agreed a draft bill that proposed
royalty payments by the country's biggest grains producers and
exemptions for the smallest-scale growers.
However, opposition to the bill from sectors within the
center-left government and among some farm groups has prevented
it from reaching Congress this year and raised doubts about its
chances of ever becoming law.
"The seed law isn't on the government's agenda," Emilio
Persico, the left-wing government official who represents
peasant farmers at the Agriculture Ministry, was quoted as
telling La Nacion newspaper last month.
Persico could not be reached to comment, but an Agriculture
Ministry source who asked not to be identified said discussions
on the reform would be resumed next year.
"ESSENCE OF AGRICULTURE"
Passing a law that forced growers to pay royalties to seed
producers would mark a break with past policy by Argentina's
government, which backed farmers during an almost decade-long
dispute with U.S. biotech giant Monsanto over royalties.
The payment of royalties for new seed technology is
well-established in neighboring Brazil and industry analysts say
that has encouraged seed companies to introduce a wider variety
of genetically modified crop strains.
In Paraguay, farmers pay $4 per tonne of soybeans produced
to use Monsanto's Roundup Ready variety. An association of soy
farmers has started lobbying for the royalty to be scrapped,
emboldened by an October court ruling in Brazil that ordered
Monsanto to stop charging royalties on Roundup Ready.
Argentina's farmers, who have a tense relationship with the
administration of President Cristina Fernandez, are divided over
the seed industry reform.
Small- and medium-scale farmers belonging to the Argentine
Agrarian Federation (FAA) refused to take part in the
government's consultative meetings.
"The right to use your own seeds is the very essence of
agriculture," said Juan Carlos Herrero, coordination secretary
at the FAA. "If I sow a seed, why shouldn't I be able to use it
afterwards? This is an issue of sovereignty."
Meanwhile, the Argentine Rural Society (SRA), which tends to
represent the biggest grains producers and ranchers, accepts
royalties but says payments should not be made every time a seed
"We agree that technology has to be paid for," said SRA
president Luis Etchevehere, suggesting royalties should be due
once every five years.