Brussels, 20 April 2011 – On Monday morning 18 April, Breeders Trust N.V. impounded part of the administrative records of the Belgian ’Federaal Agentschap voor de veiligheid van de voedselketen’ (FAVV Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain). The documents were seized in the government offices with the permission of the Chairman of the Commercial Court in Brussels. In the presence of a technical expert and a bailiff, information concerning a number of potato growers was claimed and removed for further investigation. Breeders Trust has evidence to suggest that a number of Belgian farmers have been avoiding paying the licences fees due for the use of varieties protected by plant breeder’s right on a significant scale.
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 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.
It was announced last week that Breeders Trust and a number of shareholders have commenced legal proceedings against the FAVV. This step has been taken in order to confirm that according to Plant Breeders’ Rights they are entitled to request the agency to supply information about the use of seed potatoes by Belgian farmers. This will allow Breeders Trust to efficiently maintain their rights. However, these legal proceedings will take some time, and the decision can only be expected in the long term.
“In the meantime we have no other choice than to take each individual case to court. This will happen as soon as we have evidence that a grower is refusing to pay the legally due licence fees. Via a special attachment procedure, as provided for in Belgian law, we then have to obtain the necessary evidence. That is a time consuming matter, but we have no other option”, says Geert Staring, General Director of Breeders Trust in Brussels.
In compliance with the procedure described by Staring, the judge in Brussels recently permitted a number of shareholders of Breeders Trust to apply their entitlement to request information based on their rights under Plants Breeders’ Rights, even though the information required in this case is in the possession of the government. 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 The government agency, which in itself is not suspected of any infringement of plant breeder’s rights legislation, therefore has the necessary information about the use by farmers of protected varieties.
This question is all about 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”, says Geert Staring.