Wetenschap - 26 mei 2011

Save plant breeders, stop the patents

Last week, Parliament discussed whether patents law or plant breeders' rights should apply to plants. Professor Rudy Rabbinge is satisfied with the outcome.

'Last week, Parliament discussed a new European directive that allows for the application of patent law to plants. Prior to that session, I explained in a viewpoint article in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper that this legislation would mean the end for Dutch vegetable breeders. I am pleased Parliament picked up my message.
Biotech companies develop better plant varieties by inserting genes with favourable properties into plants. If patent law applies, other plant breeders will no longer be able to use that gene or that property in further plant breeding, which will cause innovation to stagnate. Plant breeders' rights allow plant breeding companies to develop the variety further, although they do have to pay the first company money to do so. That is far better for the further development of new varieties.
Parliament has now declared that the starting point for plant breeding in the Netherlands is plant breeders' rights. That means an exemption must be made for plant breeders of agricultural crops in Dutch patent legislation. The main crops involved in the Netherlands are vegetable crops. There are around ten companies serving the global market for vegetable seeds, nearly all of them based in the Netherlands.
Furthermore, Minister Verhagen will have to lobby the European Union for an amendment to European patent legislation to allow an exemption for plant breeders. All he has to do for that is support Germany's proposal along those lines. An advisory committee in Germany already warned last year that a few multinationals were monopolizing plant genetics and thus excluding agriculture and horticulture from future plant breeding. That would be disastrous for world food production because all those companies want is to make profits for their shareholders. In contrast, plant breeders' rights lead to permanent competition between plant breeding companies and the development of new varieties at reasonable cost.
I already warned about this in 2004, when the European biopatent directive was implemented in Dutch legislation. Since then the situation has only become more worrying, with multinationals' patents blocking the development of new varieties. Fortunately, Parliament is now taking action.'

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