Breeders Trust demands breeders’ licence fees for 11.000 tonnes of Belgian seed potatoes

Brussels, 25 May 2011 – Breeders Trust has written to more than 130 Belgian arable farmers on the basis of crop data obtained by way of a court order against the Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC). It has been revealed that over the past four growing years more than 11,000 tonnes of seed potatoes of the Fontane, Asterix and Felsina varieties alone have been illegitimately used on farms right across Belgium. “This more than confirms our suspicion that farmers are using their own seed potatoes on a large scale without paying the licence fees,” says Geert Staring, general director of Brussels-based Breeders Trust.

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 miss out on the licence fees they are entitled to, the market is spoilt and seed-potato trading companies suffer damage due to the loss of exclusivity and their compromised situation. Breeders Trust was established by the eight largest seed-potato trading companies in northern Europe for the specific purpose of putting an end to this illegitimate use of new potato varieties.

Via a special attachment procedure provided for in Belgian law, the Brussels court earlier this month granted some Breeders Trust members permission to invoke their plant breeders’ rights to obtain information about three varieties from the FASFC. This information would enable them to ascertain which farmers and what acreages were involved and claim compensation from the farmers concerned. In order to control quarantine organisms and enable phytosanitary inspections to be performed, the farmers concerned have for several years been providing the FASFC with details of how many seed potatoes of which variety they have been using.

The information from the FASFC reveals that over the past four years more than 130 Belgian arable farmers have illegitimately used more than 11,000 tonnes of seed potatoes of the Fontane, Asterix and Felsina varieties. Breeders Trust is now offering the farmers concerned the opportunity to pay the license fees. If they do so promptly, Breeders Trust will take no further legal steps. Geert Staring: “We are aware that in the past the agricultural organisations have turned a blind eye to individual farmers when it comes to paying licence fees for potato varieties protected by plant breeders’ rights. We have therefore decided to ask for no more than 50% of the usual licence fee as a one-off gesture this year. In the Netherlands and other countries the fees are higher because effective arrangements were put in place with the agricultural organisations there many years ago.” Under EU plant breeders’ rights legislation, growers are entitled to fair remuneration of at least 50% from farmers who use seed potatoes on their own farms.

Under Belgian plant breeder’s legislation there are a number of varieties to which this “fair remuneration” for the use of seed potatoes does not apply at all, such as Felsina and Asterix. In this case the breeder is actually entitled to demand the entire licence fee. Breeders Trust does not want to go that far this year with farmers who meet their licence obligations promptly. Where growers choose not to accept this gesture, the appropriate legal steps will be taken to safeguard the variety breeders’ rights. In this case the breeders also intend to claim damages that are substantially higher than the amount currently being claimed. However, for the time being Breeders Trust is assuming that it will not be necessary to take this step with the majority of the farmers. “What we are currently doing is essentially offering people who have jumped on a train without a ticket the opportunity to pay the same amount as someone who did the right thing and bought a ticket at the ticket office before they got on,” says Geert Staring.