21 July 1995

Union anger as plant breeders settle for 70%

By Liz Mason

PLANT breeders have set the royalty rate for farm-saved seed at 70% of the certified rate.

The move has angered the NFU, who dismissed the rate, which will be discounted to 50% this year, as "absurd".

John Malcolm, NFU head of cereals, warned that court action could be taken if there are no further talks between farming unions and the British Society of Plant Breeders.

"In the last resort this may lead to a case which could eventually go before the European Court. I am anxious to avoid that because it would be costly for both sides to pursue," he said.

He accused the BSPB of "deliberately misleading" growers by claiming it had set a phased rate after several discussions with farming unions.

"The clear implication of what they are saying is that we have either agreed with or acquiesced in their decision to seek a 70% rate, and that is simply not true. We do not agree that the rate is 70%. We do not agree that the rate is 50%," said Mr Malcolm.

The NFU claims the British rate does not comply with European implementing regulations which say it should be "sensibly lower" than that for C2 seed. The regulations also say that regard must be paid to the balance between the use of farm-saved seed and certified seed.

The European Parliaments agriculture committee has said the initial rate should be about 30% or about one third of the C2 rate. To argue that the UK, which has a much below average use of farm-saved seed, should have double that rate was absurd, said Mr Malcolm.

The NFU was not in a position to advise growers not to pay the rate because it would be in breach of restrictive trade practice rules. "I hope that even at this late stage the breeders will come to their senses and will see that they ought to try and collect the royalty in the cheapest way possible, not the most expensive way," he added.

Private right

In a statement, BSPB said the European regulation granted breeders a private right allowing them to set royalty rates. It claimed the European Commission also recognised that it had no right to set a finite rate.

"Neither COPA nor the ECs agriculture committee have any right to seek to impose a royalty level on varieties, any more than breeders have a right to offer views on the price at which farmers sell grain. Both are set by the market," BSPB said.