Breeders Trust commences legal proceedings against Belgian government

Brussels, 7 April 2011. Breeders Trust is taking the Belgian Federaal Agentschap voor de Veiligheid van de Voedselketen (FAVV; Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain) to court. Breeders Trust wants it to be made clear that it is entitled to be informed by the agency about the use of seed potatoes by Belgian farmers, in particular seed potatoes that farmers grow themselves and then store for planting at their own farm the next year. “That information makes it easier for us to collect breeder’s licence fees and maintain licences in an efficient way in Belgium,” explains Geert Staring, director of Breeders Trust in Brussels.

The use of new varieties protected by plant breeder’s rights for which no licence fees are paid has for many years been a source of great annoyance to potato breeders. Breeders Trust was established by the seven largest seed-potato trading companies in northern Europe for the specific purpose of putting an end to this illegitimate use of new potato varieties. Breeders Trust has for several years now been organising meetings on an international scale to inform potato growers and agricultural organisations about the risks involved in using non-certified seed potatoes. The organisation is also active at agricultural fairs, where it provides information on growers’ rights and obligations in relation to Plant Breeder’s Rights.

Since 2009 Breeders Trust has repeatedly asked the Belgian government agency FAVV to provide information on a grower’s level about the potato varieties used by Belgian growers. In this context Breeders Trust appeals to Plant Breeder’s Rights, according to which breeders are entitled to demand that information so as to be able to efficiently maintain the relevant licences and collect the licence fees. The trust’s prime concern is the seed potatoes that farmers grow themselves and then store for planting at their own farm the next year. Farmers are required to pay the breeders contributions for this ‘farmer’s privilege’. Breeders invest millions of euros in developing new varieties that offer potato growers added value in terms of yields, health or quality. Every new variety that is included in the official list of varieties is protected by plant breeder’s rights for thirty years. The breeders can use the licence fees to recoup their high investments and continue to perform research to find ways of further improving varieties.

Every year the FAVV asks all Belgian farmers what varieties they grow and what acreage of seed potatoes. This is important information with respect to the control of quarantine organisms and the phytosanitary inspections for the presence of those organisms. Breeders Trust goes to a lot of effort to obtain this information to ensure that the licence fees are paid as required. ”It’s a matter of principle for us,” says Geert Staring.

Some varieties, such as Asterix, are covered by the old Belgische kwekerswet (Belgian breeder’s rights). In its summons, the trust appeals to the Belgian Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuursdocumenten (a law granting everyone the right to consult administrative documents) with the aim of obtaining information on those varieties from the FAVV. The summons has been submitted to the court having jurisdiction in this matter (Rechtbank van Eerste Aanleg) in Brussels. The varieties that have been included in the official list more recently are covered by ’Community Plant Breeder’s Rights’. An example of those varieties is Fontane. The summons relating to these varieties has been submitted to a different court specialising in commercial issues (Rechtbank van Koophandel), also in Brussels.

In addition to the aforementioned actions Breeders Trust last week also issued a summons against four Belgian breeders and a storage manager. Breeders Trust has evidence proving that in the past few years no licence fees have been paid for large quantities of the aforementioned seed potatoes used at farms. “The parties concerned may expect substantial claims for damages from Breeders Trust for their failure to pay the licence fees, but also for spoiling the market. And on top of that also for the damages suffered by the seed-potato trading companies due to loss of exclusiveness and their compromised reputation,” explains Geert Staring.