28 February 1997

Special claims must be heard

A SYSTEM similar to that used to approve silage additives may be the way to ensure UK producers can benefit from grass varieties which meet specific needs.

According to Roger Wilkins, of IGER North Wyke, there is a need to incorporate better approaches for considering special claims. This would become more important as precise manipulation of performance characteristics becomes possible through genetic engineering.

"We must ensure breeding innovation is not constrained by the requirements of national and recommended list testing. At the moment, listing on the recommended list is vital for variety success. Breeders wont produce varieties for specific purposes unless there is a specific system."

His view is that the national list system should remain as a hurdle for varieties to cross, but that recommended list testing should be replaced by a system of validating special claims.

"A committee of experts would draw up protocols or threshold values for performance. It would then be up to individual breeders to produce the data to substantiate their claims, and the prime responsibility for funding the system would lie with breeders," said Prof Wilkins.

"Doubtless there are better alternatives, but it will be increasingly important to grapple with these issues if we are to avoid stereotyping varieties because of the need to breed for the system."

Roger Wilkins: "We must ensure that breeding innovation is not constrained."