sábado, febrero 17, 2007

GRAIN | Briefings | 2007 | The end of farm-saved seed?

Industry’s wish list for the next revision of UPOV


The big players in the world seed industry are grumbling about loopholes in the plant variety protection system, which was the alternative to patenting that they set up in the 1960s. The Europeans want to get rid of farmers’ limited entitlement to save seed. The Americans want to restrict the exemption by which breeders have the free use of each other’s commercial varieties for research purposes. In both cases, the point is to reduce competition and boost profits. In the short term, the victims will be farmers, who will probably end up paying the seed giants an additional US$7 billion each year. But in the long run, we will all lose from the growing corporate stranglehold over our food systems. This briefing traces the recent discussions within the seed industry and explores what will happen if a plant variety right becomes virtually indistinguishable from a patent.


No more farm-saved seed and no more free access to protected varieties for breeding. In other words, remove the two main differences between plant variety protection and industrial patents. That’s the beginning of the seed industry’s wish list for a new revision of the UPOV convention. [1]

When plant variety protection (PVP) was first standardised by the UPOV convention in the 1960s, it was a mostly copyright-like form of intellectual property. The variety owner had a monopoly on the commercial propagation and marketing of the variety, but little control over other uses. Farmers were free to multiply seed for their own use for as long as they wished. Other breeders could freely use protected varieties to develop their own material.

This changed dramatically with the 1991 revision of UPOV. Based on successful lobbying from the global seed industry, the revision turned PVP into something very close to a patent. Farm-saved seed was allowed only as an optional exception, restrictions were put on further breeding, and monopoly rights were extended all the way to harvest products. This is the version of UPOV which is now being rapidly rolled out across developing countries as a result of the WTO TRIPS [2] agreement.

The industry, however, is still not content. Over the past few years, it has started gearing up its lobby machine for a final attack on the remaining “loopholes” in the PVP system. If it succeeds, it will certainly spell the end of farm-saved seed, probably the end of free access to PVP-protected material for plant breeding, and a general tightening of the ropes with longer terms, stricter enforcement and wider scope of monopoly rights.

This GRAIN briefing traces the recent internal discussions of the seed industry and tries to visualise what will happen if a plant variety right becomes a patent. Will UPOV become superfluous and slowly disappear? Not necessarily. The seed industry is promiscuous in its use of intellectual property rights (IPR). It likes to have many options. Judging from developments in the USA, the future lies not in opting for one form of IPR over another, but in combining two, three or more layers of legal monopoly on top of each other.