Plants have been bred from time immemorial. Since the introduction of agriculture people have been searching for the best plants. Plants that are less susceptible to diseases or that generate higher yields. Scientific research and better technological options have led to new breeding methods. Hybrids and marker-assisted selection are good examples of the progress made.
The past few years have seen the development of a few new techniques – what are known as the ‘New Breeding Techniques’ (NBTs).
These new techniques enable us to develop vegetable varieties even faster and more efficiently. Varieties that thrive in our changing climate and that need less water, for example. Varieties which, being more resistant to pests and diseases, also have a lower need for crop protection products during their cultivation.
The European Parliament formulates regulations to protect European consumers and the world around us from potential risks. Besides general regulations for plant breeding, Europe also has specific regulations for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A debated issue since 2008 is whether products developed using NBTs are to be governed by plant-breeding regulations or the regulations relating to GMOs. It is up to the European Parliament to decide on this matter. The decision will have major socioeconomic consequences for our entire sector, from breeding companies to growers, and from traders to consumers. So it is to be hoped that this matter will soon be resolved. In our opinion, new breeding techniques in which no species-foreign DNA sequences are introduced into a plant’s genome should not be subject to GMO regulations. Enza Zaden will comply with all the statutory requirements and regulations relating to NBT on both a national and an international level.
Enza Zaden’s present range contains no vegetable varieties developed on the basis of GMO technology. See also our Non-GMO statement.
On 12 October 2014 the Nagoya protocol came into force in the European Union. What does this protocol entail? There are huge numbers of plants in nature with numerous characteristics that are interesting for many applications – also for breeding. In developing new varieties, breeding companies work with ‘wild’ plants having certain desired characteristics, such as resistances to diseases. The Nagoya protocol is an international protocol about how we handle these natural genetic resources worldwide. Countries can use this protocol to formulate laws for securing their genetic starting material and for ensuring that the benefits resulting from the utilisation of these genetic resources are fairly shared.
Enza Zaden has taken every step necessary to ensure compliance with the Nagoya protocol and conforms to all the (inter)national statutory requirements ensuing from the Nagoya protocol. However, we are of the opinion that bureaucratic processes should be minimised, and that all countries should implement the protocol in the same way. Such processes should not restrict or prevent access to important genetic plant material.
Plant-breeding programmes can only be successful if the breeding companies have access to genetic variation, and if that access is regulated according to approved criteria. Enza Zaden is a great supporter of the Plant Breeders’ Rights system (PBR) for the protection of new vegetable varieties in Europe. PBR grants companies the right to exclusively exploit a vegetable variety for a certain period, enabling the companies to recoup their investments in the new variety. During this period, other breeding companies may use the propagating material of the new variety concerned to develop new varieties. This is what’s known as ‘Breeders’ Exemption’. It forms an integral part of PBR.
Enza Zaden is not in favour of patents claiming natural processes or products, i.e. discoveries. However, we do believe that patents should be granted to techniques and products in plants developed by human ingenuity, i.e. inventions. Limited Breeders’ Exemption holds for such patents. This means that other breeding companies have access to commercial vegetable varieties for further breeding without the need for a licence from the patent holder. If such breeding efforts should lead to vegetable varieties that are commercialised, the aforementioned patents must be respected with a licence. Enza Zaden is a member of the International Licensing Platform (ILP). This platform ensures a transparent, accessible system of patented plant characteristics for the entire sector, with suitable rewards for the characteristics’ developers.