March 29, 2011
Plant breeders have a new weapon in the war against the illegal use of seeds and they intend stepping up their campaign against those who are stealing millions of dollars from breeders.
This new DNA technology can clearly identify seed lines with accuracy and certainty, which has significantly increased the likelihood of a successful prosecution against any unlawful sales of PVR protected plant varieties or patented technologies.
John Caradus (photo), chairman of the New Zealand Plant Breeding and Research Association, said that this new technology is fast and accurate and can effectively identify individual cultivars.
“Merchants, retailers and farmers take note. The owners of PVR protected plant varieties will be carrying out DNA testing on a wide range of ryegrasses now currently on the market to determine their true ownership.
“The misuse of proprietary cultivars is a serious problem. Seed growers who illegally produce proprietary seeds cannot continue to cheat plant breeders by not paying them the royalties that are legally theirs.
“Plant breeders invest considerable time and money into the development of new varieties and they expect a fair return on this investment. It is stealing and if we don’t make a stand it will continue to escalate. Even now we believe the loss of income to breeders could be in excess of $10 million,” he said.
The DNA technology is used as a diagnostic tool in to identify individual lines in much the same way as in criminal cases.
“Genetic markers have been identified that can easily identify the variety and the court has already used this information as corroborative evidence in a recent High Court action.
“We have the backing of the entire proprietary seed industry in this crackdown as it will protect the interests of not only the breeders and seed companies, but also honest growers, processers and end users.”
This technology supports the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987, which gives the holder of a plant variety right considerable powers, including the right to charge a royalty on varieties.
“The ultimate aim of the legislation is to improve the plant breeding industry by allowing breeders to own varieties and charge for their use. Ultimately, this ongoing investment from royalties received will result in better varieties through ongoing breeding.
“It is imperative that the breeders are able to collect their share of the benefit so that the breeding effort can continue and improved varieties are made available on a continuing basis.”
Farmers can save seed for their own use, but selling or buying it over the fence is totally different.
“ The buyer of seed from over the fence has no idea of exactly what the seed contains, nor can they be sure it will perform to expectations. Farmers also need to be aware that seed of patented varieties or technologies cannot be retained for their own use. For example, seed of grass varieties containing AR37 endophyte may not be saved for a farmer’s own use.
“Honest farmers need to be careful they are not caught up unintentionally in illegal activities. Ignorance of the law is not a sustainable defence. With the accuracy and speed of this new technology we will catch the offenders,” he said.