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What we do is so diverse that we decided to use these Frequently Asked Questions to explain some of the concepts involved in 'Our Work'.

Intellectual Property

No. The regulatory status for plant breeding innovations, and the resulting products and their patentability are unrelated and governed by separate legislations. These two distinct legal frameworks have different objectives. The objective of any safety assessment regulatory framework is to protect human and animal health and the environment, whereas the patent system is designed to stimulate innovation in all fields of technology. Whether or not a product falls under the regulatory framework for biotechnology should have no bearing on its patentability. Products resulting from the latest breeding methods can be protected under the patent system (depending on national law) regardless of their regulatory status if they meet the patentability criteria, such as novelty, inventive step, industrial applicability and enabling disclosure.

For example, if a product is exempt from biotechnology regulations it may still be patented, and vice versa. If a product falls under biotechnology regulation it may not meet the criteria to obtain a patent.

Worldwide, many of the patent holders are universities and research institutes. The patent landscape for gene editing is dynamic and rapidly-evolving in key countries and globally. Since the early days of CRISPR, the number of patents has increased.  These patents do not only originate from the United States and Europe, but also from Asia, particularly Korea and China. In contrast to CRISPR, other methods of gene editing, like zinc-finger nucleases and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN), have not seen an increase in patent filings and granted patents.

Since the patent landscape for CRISPR is rapidly changing, it is important to get updated information from the public patent databases such as the Worldwide Espacenet or Patentscope.

ISF and its members are committed to creating an environment that fosters innovation and supports the development of tools, such as the International Licensing Platform for vegetables, which serve this purpose. The emergence of plant breeding innovation will not change that. Depending on national patent laws, characteristics resulting from gene editing may or may not be eligible for patents. All patent rights are for a specific period of time and with geographical limitations, and while some countries permit breeding with plants containing patented characteristics, most do not. For more information, see the ISF View on Intellectual Property (2012)

Whether farmers will be allowed to save seeds of a variety which may be covered by a patent, regardless of whether gene editing was used, will depend entirely on the national legal framework. In some countries where the biological material may be protected by patents, farmers can save seed with or without an obligation to pay royalties. In jurisdictions where exemptions are not introduced, a farmer’s ability to save seed is restricted.

Plant Breeder’s Rights are intellectual property rights given to a person who has developed a variety. The variety must be:

  • new
  • clearly distinguishable from any other variety whose existence is a matter of common knowledge
  • sufficiently uniform in its relevant characteristics, and
  • stable

The duration of a right is always limited in time. Its scope and the duration are defined a minima in the various acts of the UPOV Convention. There are certain compulsory exceptions and Plant Breeder’s Rights don’t extend to acts done:

  • privately and for non-commercial purposes (subsistence farmers are not bound by Plant Breeder’s Rights)
  • for experimental purposes
  • for the purpose of breeding new varieties from the protected variety. The newly bred varieties, if not essentially derived from the initial one, may be freely commercialised by their developers

Given the above definition of Plant Breeders Rights, ISF does not consider it possible to protect mere discoveries from resources of common knowledge and a fortiori genetic resources deposited in genebanks, as they are not distinct. Neither does ISF consider Plant Breeders Rights to be an appropriation of the genome of a species.

A variety developed by a farmer is eligible to be protected by a Plant Breeders Right (PBR) if it meets the requirements of distinctness, uniformity, and stability. Eligibility will also be determined by the requirements of the national PBR Act and regulations in the country of application including provisions of prior sale and duration of rights.

Contrary to Farmers’ Rights with which it is frequently confused, Farmers’ Exemption (also called Farmers’ Privilege) is very well defined. It is a consequence of an exception to Plant Breederís Rights as per the UPOV Convention.

The 1978 Act of the UPOV Convention states that the production of seed of a protected variety for purposes of commercial marketing is restricted. That means a contrario that, except if national laws are more stringent than the UPOV Convention (a a minima convention) (see Plant Breeder’s Rights), farmers are allowed to produce seed of protected varieties for their own use.

The 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention states that private acts for non-commercial purposes are not covered by Plant Breederís Rights. In addition, the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention provides for an optional exception to Plant Breederís Rights indicating that each contracting party may, within reasonable limits and subject to the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of the breeder, restrict the plant breeder’s right in relation to any variety. This is in order to permit farmers to use for propagating purposes on their own holdings, the product of the harvest, which they have obtained by planting on their own holdings, the protected variety. Most of the national laws and regional regulations allow such exceptions.

These exceptions provided for in the 1978 and the 1991 Acts of the UPOV Convention are known as “Farmers’ Exemption” and the seed so produced is known as “farm-saved seed”.
It must be noted that, in no case, the Farmers’ Exemption provided for in the UPOV Convention allows farm-saved seed of protected varieties to be sold. Of course, farmers continue to have the right to sell seed of non-protected varieties.

In ISF’s view Farmer’s Rights as defined by the International Treaty for PGRFA (see Farmer’s Rights) and Plant Breederís Rights as defined by UPOV (see Plant Breeder’s Rights) are compatible in the following cases:

Crop production

Farmers choose varieties, landraces or improved, best suited to their conditions and retain their right to choose varieties and crops. The incentive provided to plant breeders through rights (accorded by UPOV or other effective sui generis systems) makes available an increasing number of improved varieties to farmers, widening the choice at their disposal.

If a farmer chooses to buy seeds of a protected variety, the breeder receives the benefit through the plant breederís rights and allows him/her to continue breeding and providing farmers with improved varieties.

Plant Breeding

Both farmers and professional breeders have the right to do breeding. Assuming that a number of farmers are continuing to select at harvest or even crossing varieties for breeding purposes, there is no provision in the UPOV Convention that prevents farmers from doing so. On the contrary, even protected varieties can be used to do so. Nor are they prevented from freely using the new varieties they have created, except if they are considered to be essentially derived. If these new varieties are distinct, sufficiently homogeneous and stable (in order to recognize/identify them) they are protectable under UPOV or other effective sui generis systems.

Farm Saved Seed

As far as the poorest farmers in the least developed countries (i.e. subsistence farmers) are concerned, they benefit from the exception to Plant Breederís Rights for acts done privately and for non-commercial purposes. They can save seed produced on their farm for re-sowing on the same farm.As to farmers integrated in a commercial chain, each country may, according to its economic and social situation, take special dispositions authorizing the use of farm-saved seed on a case-by-case basis, under specific conditions, whilst safeguarding the legitimate interests of the breeder. The only absolute restriction is the prohibition of selling farm-saved seed of protected varieties.

Crop Biodiversity

As farmers can use both improved varieties and landraces, diversity in the material they use does not decrease. On the contrary it increases.There is no correlation between the possible decrease of crop diversity and Plant Breeder’s Rights. The fact that a variety is private or public has no influence whatsoever on biological diversity. Plant Breeder’s Rights favour diversity by:

  • better controlling dissemination of improved varieties
  • encouraging competition between breeders and thus making more varieties available
  • preventing commercialization of near identical varieties through the implementation of the concept of essentially derived varieties
  • encouraging evaluation of breeding material and use of greater genetic diversity

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that if legislations concerning Farmers’ Rights are aimed at establishing an international fund for improving the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, Farmersí Rights are not incompatible with Plant Breederís Rights.

The concept of essentially derived variety was introduced into the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention in order to avoid plagiarism and to fill the gap between Plant Breeder’s Rights and patents, a gap which was becoming important due to the increasing use of patented genetic traits in plant varieties introduced through genetic engineering.

An essentially derived variety is a variety, which is distinct and predominantly derived from a protected initial variety, while retaining the essential characteristics of that initial variety.

Essentially derived varieties may be obtained, for example by the selection of a natural or induced mutant, or of a somaclonal variant, the selection of a variant individual from plants of the initial variety, backcrossing, or transformation by genetic engineering.

The commercialization of an essentially derived variety needs the authorization of the owner of the rights vested in the initial variety.

The concept of essentially derived variety does not at all abolish the Breeder’s Exemption, as free access to protected plant varieties for breeding purposes is maintained. It is not a threat to biodiversity. On the contrary, it favors biodiversity, encouraging breeders to develop and market new varieties.

When a variety has fulfilled the criteria for Plant Breeder’s Rights (novelty, distinctness, sufficient homogeneity, stability), it is listed in a national register or catalogue. Such registers/catalogues have no purpose other than to make publicly known that the variety is protected. They exist in every country that has a plant variety protection scheme in place.

These registers/catalogues should not be confused with the national lists/catalogues developed by some countries on which varieties must be listed before they receive the authorization to be placed on the market. The criteria for being listed on such catalogues are also distinctness, sufficient homogeneity and stability and some crops, mainly field crops, must also meet the set criteria for cultural use, known as VCU (Value for Cultivation and Use).

VCU registers/catalogues may have a negative impact on the diversity of material available to farmers.

A Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is a contractual agreement signed between the supplier and the recipient of a resource and sets out the rights and obligations of both parties. As any contract, it is binding on the parties and in the case of a dispute subject to contract laws.

An MTA for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) should define:

  • activities allowed with the accessed germplasm (e.g. breeding and research)
  • what is protectable by intellectual property rights and the limits to these rights (e.g. material that is the result of a breeding or development process)
  • how benefits arising from the use of the accessed germplasm will be shared (e.g. access to characterization and evaluation data, access to improved germplasm, sharing of some commercial benefits)

An MTA may be agreed upon on a multilateral basis, such as in the framework of the International Treaty on PGRFA, or bilaterally on the basis of mutually agreed terms between the supplier and the recipient of the PGRFA. (See also the ISF position paper on MTAs for the Multilateral System of FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture).

Article 12.3.d of the recently adopted international treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture states that ëRecipients [of PGRFA accessed from the Multilateral System] shall not claim any intellectual property or other rights that limit the facilitated access to the PGRFA, or their genetic parts or components, in the form received from the Multilateral System.

ISF interprets this article, in particular the term ëin the form receivedí as follows:

  • it is not possible to claim any intellectual property or other rights that limit the facilitated access to the PGRFA, or their genetic parts or components, in the form it was received from the Multilateral System.
  • it is possible to claim intellectual property or other rights that limit access to the genetic parts or components isolated or derived from the material received provided that the patentability criteria are fulfilled, in particular the one dealing with utility. However, the rights granted should not limit access to the initial genetic material. A genetic sequence without any proven research or developmental step should not be eligible for patent protection.

The concept of equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources has gained official recognition with the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It has several components depending on the type of genetic resources. The main components are:

  • exchange of information, transfer of technology and capacity building (non-monetary benefits)
  • sharing of commercial benefits (monetary benefits)

The most important aspects for suppliers of genetic resources, in particular for those based in developing countries, are access to information and technology and capacity building. If well used, non-monetary benefits ñ access to information and technology, and capacity building ñ may be more useful than monetary benefits as they have far reaching impacts for the future. In addition, ISF considers that the provision provided under UPOV whereby commercially released varieties are available without authorisation of the owner as germplasm for further breeding or research purposes is in itself a benefit.

According to a survey carried out in 2001 among ISF (then ASSINSEL) members, many breeding companies have developed collaborative activities with national and/or international programs. About two thirds of the respondents assist national programs, also in developing countries/countries with economies in transition, in maintaining evaluating and characterising PGRFA, either technically or financially, and one third provide assistance to international programs.

Technology transfer, as it relates to the maintenance of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), is also an important commitment for many ISF members. While some members are based in developing countries, others have breeding programs there and some also conduct training and collaborative research programs for subsistence crops beyond their commercial portfolios. More than 40% of ISF members grant licenses free of charge to developing countries. Some companies also participate in international programs for technology transfer.

ISF has been proactive in the matter of commercial benefit sharing. The spirit of a position paper adopted in 1998 by ASSINSEL forms the basis of Article 13.2.d(ii) of the International Treaty on PGRFA. It is important to mention that commercial products arising from the use of PGRFA after the CBD came into force are still in the developmental stages and therefore, sharing from the benefits thereof is limited to date

Any genetic material of plant origin that is of potential value for creating improved germplasm is a plant genetic resource. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are, in general, sub-divided in the following five categories:

  • wild and weed species that are closely related to cultivated species
  • landraces
  • special genetic stocks including elite and current breeders’ lines
  • cultivated varieties
  • obsolete varieties

The two first categories are often termed exotic germplasm by plant breeders, since such materials require long-term pre-breeding programmes in order to gradually transfer their attractive characteristics into an improved and adapted genetic background that can be used in variety breeding.

Today due to genetic engineering, genes from unrelated species are also considered as plant genetic resources. Examples of such genetic resources include Arabidopsis from which genes of interest are being introduced into pea and legumes whose ability to form nodules is a characteristic of interest in tomato.

Not all genetic resources have the same immediate utility. Much depends on the crop and the trait of interest. Wild relatives of cultivated species, for instance, require extensive adaptation and pre-breeding before they can be used in breeding of cultivated varieties. Public or private breeders use mostly germplasm from adapted and productive commercial varieties in the creation of new varieties.

Plant Breeding Innovation

Put simply, plant breeding improves plants in order to grow better crops with desired characteristics.  We’ve been improving plants for thousands of years – long before breeding existed as a formal discipline. Plant breeding is based on this long history of experience, and the tools that help to achieve these improvements continue to evolve as we learn more about plant biology and genetics.

Plant breeders specialise in the development of new plant varieties with improved characteristics. Their goal is to combine as many useful characteristics as possible in one plant. For farmers, these characteristics may be disease resistance or drought tolerance. For consumers, they may include nutritional quality, flavour or appearance. For food manufacturers and retailers, they may be baking quality or shelf life.

Plant breeders make use of genetic diversity in plants to select and crossbreed those plants that combine the best characteristics. By doing, this plant breeders create ever more genetic diversity.

Today’s plant breeders integrate knowledge from a range of scientific disciplines, such as plant biology, genetics, physiology, statistics and molecular biology. Breeding programmes are often managed by teams of scientists from many different fields of expertise. To develop new varieties, plant breeders use a variety of tools ranging from cross-breeding to gene editing, as illustrated in the ISF ‘Milestones’ infographic, which is available in English, French, Spanish and Dutch, in the ISF Resource Bank.

Other resources include various short films produced by the European Seed Association (ESA) and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), which are available on their You Tube channels:

Plant scientists and breeders have a track record of developing high quality and safe products. A defining feature of modern plant breeding is the extensive and rigorous testing to ensure results that meet breeding objectives for better quality and taste, agronomic performance, climate resilience or harvestability and processing.

Most new plant varieties are derived by selection after iteratively crossing existing varieties to create new genetic combinations. Importantly, these existing varieties are derived from varieties with a long history of safe use. Testing continues throughout the development of a new variety until the final product is commercially available.

Plant breeders test for a range of characteristics to meet consumer needs like taste, colour and texture. They also test for characteristics that are less obvious to consumers like yield, pest resistance and consistency of performance in diverse environments and conditions.

Because the environment can influence the expression of certain characteristics, plant breeders typically evaluate pre-commercial varieties in multiple environments over several years/generations to ensure consistency of performance. The scrutiny that plant breeders routinely apply to the development of new varieties is the foundation for a food supply that is safe, nutritious and diverse.

For millennia, we’ve been changing plants to suit our needs. Over time, we’ve implemented our accumulated knowledge of plant biology to develop more precise and efficient plant breeding methods. Initially, we changed weeds and wild plants into crops, and adapted crops to local cultivation and farming conditions through selection. Among the scientific breakthroughs, the following three had a significant impact on plant breeding, and formed the basis of plant breeders’ learning from nature to improve plants.

  • Camerarius proved in 1696 that – similar to animals and humans – plants have sex organs. This knowledge led to cross breeding, which gave rise to greater diversity from which to select desirable plants. It took, however, until the 19th century before this knowledge was applied to major field crops.
  • Mendel’s Laws of Heredity (1865) described the principles governing inheritance in plants. This turned plant breeding into a science because the outcome of a cross could now be predicted quantitatively. This allows for more efficient selection methods.
  • Watson & Crick (1953) described the structure of DNA which later became the basis of various applications of molecular biology in plant breeding, such as use of molecular markers, which greatly increase efficiency in selection; and gene editing which allows for targeted mutagenesis.

As a result of  their increased understanding of plant biology and genetics, plant breeders have been able to develop more efficient breeding methods, and to identify, study and utilise positive characteristics available within the plant, such as disease resistance, drought tolerance or product qualities. These discoveries enable the continuous development of new plant varieties that are better adapted to meet the challenges facing agriculture and society today and in the future.

See the ISF ‘Milestones’ infographic which charts the evolution of plant breeding from crop domestication to gene editing – available in English, French, Spanish and Dutch, in the ISF Resource Bank.

‘Plant breeding innovation’ is the term used by the International Seed Federation (ISF) and plant scientists worldwide to describe the continuous evolution of plant breeding methods.

Today’s innovations in plant breeding are developed using sophisticated methods, including cell biology, genome and proteome research, gene mapping and marker-assisted breeding, which have led to the development of effective methods like gene editing. Although these innovations are still sometimes referred to as new breeding techniques (NBTs), ISF prefers the term ‘plant breeding innovation’ which is not limited to a particular group of methods or defined by them, but rather reflects the continuum of innovation in plant breeding.

 

 

  1. a) Farmer benefits
  • As a result of innovations in plant breeding, we can improve efficiency and effectiveness of delivering the products of plant breeding innovations to farmers and subsequently, consumers, by reducing the development time of new varieties; by rapidly adapting crops and plant varieties to a changing climate, as well as increasing options for weed, disease and pest management
  1. b) Environmental benefits
  • Plant breeding innovation results in improved seed that can increase yields while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing environmental impact. By creating improved plant varieties that are better able to withstand attacks from pests and diseases, we can reduce and optimize the applications of crop inputs.
  • Improved plant varieties increase yield per acre. This means that more flora and fauna can remain untouched by agricultural production needs, thus preserving natural habitats.
  • Plant breeding has been integral to improving and developing new energy crops for the biofuels industry.
  1. c) Consumer benefits
  • Plant breeding innovation enables us to meet consumer expectations with improved plants that provide longer-lasting, fresh, nutritious and affordable food, as well as fuel, feed and fibre.
  • Plant breeding innovation contributes to the health and well-being of consumers, for example, low-gluten cereal varieties and crops with improved nutritional value. Additionally, it has the potential to improve quality of life through the development of flowers, trees and turf for sustainable green spaces.
  • Plant breeding innovation protects crops such as banana, orange, coffee and cocoa that are in danger of being wiped out by diseases for which there is no current treatment, and ensures they remain plentiful and affordable.

For additional information, please see the ‘Global Challenges’ infographic in ISF’s online Resource Bank.

In general, the latest plant breeding tools are available to all plant breeders, including academia and public research institutes, and companies of all sizes, from multinationals to small and medium-sized enterprises.

However, whether companies or institutes can actually use them in research and product development depends on their individual management of intellectual property rights, as well as the applicable policy choices with regard to product regulation in the respective country/region. If undue regulatory requirements are imposed on using these latest methods for products of plant breeding innovations that are no different from conventional varieties, then only companies and institutes with large legal and financial resources will be able to use the tools.

Licenses may be required. Most patent holders have established out-licensing policies and processes. Early developers and institutions have created partnerships with newly-formed companies, or established industry players, to apply and out-license gene editing technologies for medical, agricultural, and industrial applications.  In the case of CRISPR, certain primary patent holders provide free licenses for academic and not-for-profit research. They also provide non-exclusive, royalty-bearing licenses to breeding companies that want to use CRISPR for commercial purposes.

Gene editing is a method that enables plant breeders to make precise changes to the plant’s genetic material, which can improve their productivity and sustainability. This often mirrors changes that could occur in nature or through traditional breeding.

When a plant breeder edits a plant’s DNA it is similar to editing text on a word processor with two functions: find and delete. Sequences of DNA are like sentences/words that can be deleted, replaced or added, and result in a change in ‘meaning’. The new plant will display desired characteristics such as drought tolerance or disease resistance. The editing tool acts within the plant cell’s DNA and no foreign DNA is inserted into the plant. Therefore, gene editing develops plants similar to those that could have been created through traditional breeding methods.

Scientists are working on a rudimentary paste function, allowing CRISPR, for example, to insert appropriate DNA code to repair mutations.  CRISPR-Cas9 is one of the most well-known and commonly used methods of gene editing. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

To see how gene editing and CRISPR work, you can find short films on You Tube:

Plant scientists and breeders are working on CRISPR-edited versions of commodity crops, such as corn, soybeans, canola, rice and wheat, with improved characteristics like drought or pest resistance and higher yields – all critical features for farmers trying to deal with a changing climate and the fact that the world population is growing faster than our food supply.

No. Plant breeding innovation is a continuum based on accumulated knowledge and experience over hundreds of years. Gene editing is an additional tool in the plant breeder’s toolbox that is used to address global challenges such as climate change. For more information, see the ISF infographic ‘Plant breeders’ response to global challenges’ in the ISF Resource Bank.

This toolbox will expand with the development of plant biology and genetics and the resulting new breeding methods.

Unintended effects are changes in a plant’s DNA that occur outside where they are supposed to. These changes are the basis of genetic diversity and occur in nature as well as with all kind of breeding tools. Unlike earlier plant breeding methods, the precision of gene editing allows us to make targeted changes to the plant’s DNA with few unintended changes.

Historically, through multi-year field testing in different locations, plant breeders have dealt with unintended effects by eliminating new characteristics that are not beneficial to the plant’s performance. Plant breeders have long-standing quality management practices in place, which have played a part in plant breeding’s long history of safe use.

The prospect of introducing products of plant breeding innovation into global markets has raised the question of how these products should be regulated. For example, questions have included whether or not some of these products should be assessed and managed under current GMO regulations or whether products produced using plant breeding innovations should be regulated in the same way conventional crops are regulated today.

The International Seed Federation promotes innovation in plant breeding, and advocates government policies that are based on sound scientific principles. Consistent science-based policies regarding products of plant breeding are necessary to ensure that farmers and consumers around the world can have full and timely access to the benefits of products developed through the latest breeding methods.

Inconsistent criteria, standards, and categorisation applied by some governments to products of gene editing will impede investment and innovation in agriculture, limiting the realisation of societal and environmental benefits. Lack of consistent criteria between governments – especially trading nations – also risks disrupting trade.

When regulating the products of the latest plant breeding methods, ISF advocates the application of consistent criteria based on the following principle:
‘Plant varieties developed through the latest breeding methods should not be differentially regulated if they are similar or indistinguishable from varieties that could have been produced through earlier breeding methods.’

No. The regulatory status for plant breeding innovations, and the resulting products and their patentability are unrelated and governed by separate legislations. These two distinct legal frameworks have different objectives. The objective of any safety assessment regulatory framework is to protect human and animal health and the environment, whereas the patent system is designed to stimulate innovation in all fields of technology. Whether or not a product falls under the regulatory framework for biotechnology should have no bearing on its patentability. Products resulting from the latest breeding methods can be protected under the patent system (depending on national law) regardless of their regulatory status if they meet the patentability criteria, such as novelty, inventive step, industrial applicability and enabling disclosure.

For example, if a product is exempt from biotechnology regulations it may still be patented, and vice versa. If a product falls under biotechnology regulation it may not meet the criteria to obtain a patent.

Worldwide, many of the patent holders are universities and research institutes. The patent landscape for gene editing is dynamic and rapidly-evolving in key countries and globally. Since the early days of CRISPR, the number of patents has increased.  These patents do not only originate from the United States and Europe, but also from Asia, particularly Korea and China. In contrast to CRISPR, other methods of gene editing, like zinc-finger nucleases and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN), have not seen an increase in patent filings and granted patents.

Since the patent landscape for CRISPR is rapidly changing, it is important to get updated information from the public patent databases such as the Worldwide Espacenet or Patentscope.

ISF and its members are committed to creating an environment that fosters innovation and supports the development of tools, such as the International Licensing Platform for vegetables, which serve this purpose. The emergence of plant breeding innovation will not change that. Depending on national patent laws, characteristics resulting from gene editing may or may not be eligible for patents. All patent rights are for a specific period of time and with geographical limitations, and while some countries permit breeding with plants containing patented characteristics, most do not. For more information, see the ISF View on Intellectual Property (2012)

Whether farmers will be allowed to save seeds of a variety which may be covered by a patent, regardless of whether gene editing was used, will depend entirely on the national legal framework. In some countries where the biological material may be protected by patents, farmers can save seed with or without an obligation to pay royalties. In jurisdictions where exemptions are not introduced, a farmer’s ability to save seed is restricted.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.í From this definition, food security can be said to have three components: food quantity, food quality and food safety, each of which is necessary to improve a population’s health. Plant breeders and the seed industry have an important role to play in improving global access to quality food through the production of varieties:

  • with improved yields and better ability to resist biotic and abiotic stresses
  • with improved nutritional value (e.g. fatty acid balance, iron and vitamin A content)
  • that limit the development of fungi producing toxins (e.g. mycotoxins on Bt maize)

These contributions from the private sector, complemented by strong public investments in additional agriculture research, institutional capacity, market incentives, effective intellectual property protection, and infrastructure, are helping to meet the full challenge of food security around the world.

ISF considers the definition used in the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention to be the most appropriate. It reads as follows:

Variety means a plant grouping within a single botanical taxon of the lowest known rank, which grouping, irrespective of whether the conditions for the grant of a breederís right are fully met, can be:

  • defined by the expression of the characteristics resulting from a given genotype or combination of genotypes,
  • distinguished from any other plant grouping by the expression of at least one of the said characteristics and
  • considered as a unit with regard to its suitability for being propagated unchanged

Any genetic material of plant origin that is of potential value for creating improved germplasm is a plant genetic resource. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are, in general, sub-divided in the following five categories:

  • wild and weed species that are closely related to cultivated species
  • landraces
  • special genetic stocks including elite and current breeders’ lines
  • cultivated varieties
  • obsolete varieties

The two first categories are often termed exotic germplasm by plant breeders, since such materials require long-term pre-breeding programmes in order to gradually transfer their attractive characteristics into an improved and adapted genetic background that can be used in variety breeding.

Today due to genetic engineering, genes from unrelated species are also considered as plant genetic resources. Examples of such genetic resources include Arabidopsis from which genes of interest are being introduced into pea and legumes whose ability to form nodules is a characteristic of interest in tomato.

Not all genetic resources have the same immediate utility. Much depends on the crop and the trait of interest. Wild relatives of cultivated species, for instance, require extensive adaptation and pre-breeding before they can be used in breeding of cultivated varieties. Public or private breeders use mostly germplasm from adapted and productive commercial varieties in the creation of new varieties.

Sustainable Agriculture

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.í From this definition, food security can be said to have three components: food quantity, food quality and food safety, each of which is necessary to improve a population’s health. Plant breeders and the seed industry have an important role to play in improving global access to quality food through the production of varieties:

  • with improved yields and better ability to resist biotic and abiotic stresses
  • with improved nutritional value (e.g. fatty acid balance, iron and vitamin A content)
  • that limit the development of fungi producing toxins (e.g. mycotoxins on Bt maize)

These contributions from the private sector, complemented by strong public investments in additional agriculture research, institutional capacity, market incentives, effective intellectual property protection, and infrastructure, are helping to meet the full challenge of food security around the world.

Any genetic material of plant origin that is of potential value for creating improved germplasm is a plant genetic resource. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are, in general, sub-divided in the following five categories:

  • wild and weed species that are closely related to cultivated species
  • landraces
  • special genetic stocks including elite and current breeders’ lines
  • cultivated varieties
  • obsolete varieties

The two first categories are often termed exotic germplasm by plant breeders, since such materials require long-term pre-breeding programmes in order to gradually transfer their attractive characteristics into an improved and adapted genetic background that can be used in variety breeding.

Today due to genetic engineering, genes from unrelated species are also considered as plant genetic resources. Examples of such genetic resources include Arabidopsis from which genes of interest are being introduced into pea and legumes whose ability to form nodules is a characteristic of interest in tomato.

Not all genetic resources have the same immediate utility. Much depends on the crop and the trait of interest. Wild relatives of cultivated species, for instance, require extensive adaptation and pre-breeding before they can be used in breeding of cultivated varieties. Public or private breeders use mostly germplasm from adapted and productive commercial varieties in the creation of new varieties.

ISF understands sustainable agriculture as the evolving management and conservation of the natural resource base in any given region, and the global orientation of technical and institutional change, in such a manner as to ensure the steady attainment and continued, safe satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations.

A sustainable agriculture must attempt to sustain all biodiversity through a blending of innovation and traditional local knowledge.

A balanced diversity of sustainable systems must be encouraged which share the objectives of reasonable environmental management, conservation of land, water, air, plant, animal and energy resources, technical appropriateness, economic feasibility and social acceptability.

Organic seed has different meanings and, depending on people, may refer to:

  • Seed of any variety produced organically, i.e., according to organic production standards
  • Seed of varieties specially adapted to organic agriculture and developed through any breeding techniques, except recombinant DNA, available to plant breeders
  • Seed of so-called ëorganic varietiesí bred using methods that donít ìbreak the continuity between the soil and the plantî. This definition of breeding methods prohibits all in-vitro techniques (see also ISFís position paper on Plant Breeding for Organic Farming)

Recently many countries have passed legislations that call for the compulsory use of seed that has been organically produced (category a. above) (see European Union and US legislations) for crops to be certified as having been produced organically.

During the international Organic Seed Conference held in Rome in July 2004 several speakers reported that the production of organic seed in sufficient quantity, quality and varietal diversity is challenging for several reasons: lower yields/ha, seed quality concerns such as germination and vigour, seed health and physical purity. Nevertheless, production in most cases is possible although in many cases more expensive.

In response to the demand from the organic sector, companies of ISF members have been supplying organic seed. However, they have incurred additional investment (e.g. start-up and inventory) and faced regulatory and market uncertainties. Inconsistency in the enforcement of regulatory requirements has been a particularly difficult issue. Reducing uncertainties through a consistent enforcement of regulations and producing organic seed under contract would encourage companies to increase the availability and range of organic seed.

The term monoculture is used in the two following contexts:

  • agricultural system(s) where the same crop is grown over several seasons on the same field, without crop rotation. An extreme example is some forms of paddy rice cultivation where rice has been grown over several centuries on the same field. Monoculture has developed in parallel with the industrial revolution in countries with fewer and fewer farmers and an increasing urban population to feed. Uniformity of crop is generally sought to facilitate mechanization and improve the quality of the harvested product
  • in opposition to ëassociated cultureí, mainly in tropical countries, where a single crop is grown in a field, regardless of crop rotation. According to some views, associated culture would better exploit soil, water and incident sunlight resources. However, it makes agriculture mechanization very difficult, if not impossible

Both monoculture and ëassociated cultureí can be extensive or intensive, and have the same level of sustainability. The choice does not depend on sustainability factors, rather on socio-economic ones.

Sensu stricto, ìorganic agricultureî is an agricultural management system without any input resulting from a synthesis process. More recently, various regulatory definitions have been given to organic agriculture, mainly based on restrictive use of off-farm inputs.

Organic agriculture, sensu stricto or sensu lato, may or may not be sustainable according to the way it is implemented, and to socio-economical environment in which it is developed. For instance in many parts of the world where population is growing at a high rate, and seen from the perspective of food security and environmental protection organic agriculture is probably not going to be a sustainable solution.

ISF Members

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