Alexandria, Virginia, USA
August 13, 2009
American Seed Trade Association
Significant progress and alignment
was achieved by the 27 representatives from the research
community and the seed industry who met on June 30, 2009, in
Ames, Iowa, to discuss research on commercial, patent-protected
seed products and opportunities to improve the process overall.
Agricultural biotechnology has brought tremendous innovation to
the seed industry. A system of regulatory oversight and
mechanisms to protect intellectual property has evolved along
with the development and commercialization of patent-protected
seed products. For this reason, commercial purchases of biotech
seed, such as by farmers, requires an accompanying agreement to
meet environmental stewardship needs and regulations.
Agronomic studies by public sector scientists on commercially
available seed have been and are routinely being conducted, and
biotechnology companies provide researchers with access to this
seed. Although companies support hundreds of research studies
annually, procedures to enable this work have not always been as
clear or straight forward as possible and can vary from company
to company. Further, these processes are not always transparent
within the university systems themselves, often creating an
additional layer of challenges for the scientists in meeting
their research goals.
As a result, earlier this year, some public sector researchers
voiced the challenges they face in conducting research on
commercially available seed with patent-protected traits. When
these concerns were brought to the attention of two trade
associations representing the seed industry and the agricultural
biotechnology industry, the
American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the
Biotechnology Industry Organization
(BIO), a meeting was proposed with the research community to
better understand, discuss and address the points raised by the
The June 30 meeting brought together the appropriate industry
representatives and members of the public sector research
community around the same table to work toward a more harmonized
and transparent approach to collaboration. Through this
dialogue, both sides were able to gain insight into the others'
concerns, address some misunderstandings and bring a sense of
clarity and direction for public sector research with
commercial, patent-protected seed products. The dialogue
identified opportunities that will help improve the overall
The key to this significant progress was the seed industry's
commitment to a set of principles supporting public sector
research on commercially available, patent-protected seed
products. The goal of the principles is to enable the public
sector research community to conduct independent research on
commercially available seed products for the purpose of
understanding the technology, education, extension and the safe
and effective use of these products. The principles also
recognize that the public sector research community is free to
design robust, scientifically sound experimental protocols and
methodologies, as well as to derive independent conclusions.
Companies will facilitate these institutions' access to
commercial, licensed technologies in a way that continues to
assure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, respect
for intellectual property and use of comprehensive stewardship
programs that promote the responsible and safe management of
these commercially available products.
In addition, the principles commit to a regular and ongoing
dialogue between the seed industry and the public sector
researchers and institutions.
A final version of the principles will be presented at the
ASTA's Executive Committee of the Board of Directors on Sept. 17
and at BIO's Food and Agriculture Section Governing Board Sept.
10 for approval and adoption. Although every company must
determine independently the terms under which it will implement
these principles, they demonstrate the commitment of the seed
and biotechnology industries to public sector research.
"Although the 'devil is in the details,' we'll have to see how
each company implements the principles. However, it was
reassuring to see that the seed industry is taking public
researchers' concerns seriously and has made tremendous progress
in developing consensus on a set of principles in support of
public research," said Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the
University of Minnesota.
The collaborative group is exploring plans for the next meeting
to foster an ongoing dialogue and fulfill the mission to support
the public good through broad-based laboratory and field
research programs, educational outreach, continued pursuit of
knowledge using controlled and rigorous experiments, and
publication in scientific and popular literature.
"I went into the meeting hopeful, but also somewhat skeptical.
Although I'm still a little wary, the seed companies represented
at the meeting seem committed to solving the problems we
discussed. They certainly can be solved, and I'm cautiously
optimistic they will be," said one researcher in attendance of
the Ames meeting. "In the end, we had a substantive discussion.
If the draft principles we saw are adopted and acted on in the
spirit in which they were presented, they will definitely take
us in the right direction. Anticipated agreements based on the
principles should functionally provide us with the freedom to
conduct independent research on commercially available seed and
to report our findings, whatever they may be, without
"The seed industry continues to be strongly committed to
supporting research by public sector scientists," responded ASTA
President and CEO Andy LaVigne. "This research ensures
agricultural technologies are used responsibly in the
environment, deliver value to growers, and provide food, feed,
fiber and fuel for a growing world."