13 organizations sign historic agreement to fight illegal seed practices

Rotterdam, the Netherlands — The International Seed Federation (ISF) joined forces with 12 organizations representing and defending the interests of plant breeders worldwide to collaborate in the fight against illegal seed practices (ISP) through a historic memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed today at the ISF World Seed Congress 2024.

The organizations participating are ISF, the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), the Asia and Pacific Seed Alliance (APSA), Euroseeds, the Seed Association of the Americas (SAA), the Anti-Infringement Bureau for Intellectual Property Rights on Plant Material (AIB), the Breeders Trust, CIOPORA (International Community of Breeders of Asexually Reproduced Horticultural Plants), CropLife International, Gestión de Licencias Vegetales (GESLIVE), SICASOV, Seed Innovation Protection Alliance (SIPA), and Seeds Innovation and Protection Initiative (SIPI).

With this MoU, the organizations aim to increase awareness about and implement Legal Seed and Plant Practices worldwide. These practices promote value creation in the agricultural and horticultural sectors and foster innovation for farmers and growers. Such innovation is crucial to the development of plant varieties that meet the current and future needs of plant breeders, including adaptation to the impacts of climate change and resistance to different pests and diseases.

“It is time that we act together to raise awareness about not only the magnitude but also the serious consequences that illegal activities in seeds may have not only economically to seed companies and farmers but also to consumers,” said Marco van Leeuwen, President of ISF.

Michael Keller, Secretary General of ISF shared: “The MoU was signed here today at our centennial congress to send a clear message: events like the ISF World Seed Congress must not become a platform for infringers to trade in illegal seeds. In fact, ISF has put in place a procedure to exclude entities and individuals who are proven to commit illegal seed practices from future congresses.”

ISP as “Illicit Trade in Food and Food Fraud”

Illegal seed practices may cover activities including counterfeit seeds, fraudulent labelling, intellectual property infringements, regulatory offences, trademark infringements, and thefts of proprietary material.

Although there is no hard data about the prevalence of illegal seed practices around the world, according to a recent survey conducted by ISF, they are widespread in many countries, affecting many crops, value chain actors and even consumers. Depending on the crops and geographies, illegal seeds may account for up to 50% of the market and have devastating consequences for farmers, who may face severe crop failures and economic losses. As a whole, these activities threaten the integrity of the seed sector and put farmers’ livelihoods, food production, and food security at risk.

As part of awareness-raising efforts, ISF has written a chapter on the implications of illegal seed practices in a publication of the World Trade Organization (WTO) entitled “Illicit Trade in Food and Food Fraud,” which was released today.

In this publication, WTO’s Doaa Abdel-Motaal, Senior Counsellor, WTO Agriculture and Commodities Division, stated: ““Illicit trade and fraud in the agri-food sector has a wide range of impacts on various stakeholders, including consumers, farmers, agri-businesses, regulators and other operators within the food industry. Although the global cost of fraud to the food industry is difficult to determine given the clandestine nature of the activity, annual estimates are in the range of US$ 30-50 billion (which does not include losses associated with illicit trade in alcoholic beverages).”

“We must remember that plant breeders are those who, thanks to research in plant improvement, work every day to provide solutions from the farmer to the consumer. We develop new varieties to, for example, fight climate change, produce more with fewer resources, or reduce food waste,” said Antonio Villaroel, Managing Director of Gestión de Licencias Vegetales (GESLIVE).

“We are clear that together we can work harder and better, and reach more people with our messages, which support the fight against illegal seed practices and ensure that the work we do every day is valued. We cannot forget that the seed is the first link in the value chain,” said Mary Ann Sayoc, President of the Seeds Innovation and Protection Initiative (SIPI).

By Airah Cadiogan