Licences for farm-saved seed rejected

The notion of licences to save crop seeds looks to have been kicked into touch after recent discussions between plant breeders and the NFU.

Fears that farmers might need farm-saved seed licences, prompted by a government desire to simplify the rules, have been dispelled, according to comments from both sides. But ways to tweak the Fair Play system of better rewarding breeders for creating new varieties while making it as flexible as possible look set to continue.

The idea of licences, payable up-front when buying certified material, was aired under recent DEFRA-triggered EC consultations on better regulation, acknowledged the British Society of Plant Breeders chief executive Penny Maplestone.

The aim was to simplify and reduce costs, she said.

“Inevitably, if we were starting with a blank sheet of paper our preference would be for a system of licensing. I don’t believe it would be too complicated.”

The FP system, based on negotiation with the NFU, was working well, Dr Maplestone acknowledged.

“But it’s not perfect, and we do believe there are alternative ways of looking at royalty collection.”

However, in the recent meeting the NFU vigorously opposed licensing, said seeds adviser Ruth Digby.

“Licensing would be unnecessarily complicated and not cost-effective.”

Breeders recognised the strength of the current system, Miss Digby stressed. That they wanted more money for reinvestment was “understandable”. But there were alternatives to licensing, for example by economising on variety testing, to achieve that, she suggested.

DEFRA had been keen for the industry to explore new ways of compensating breeders, noted the AIC’s Paul Rooke, and licensing was merely one option for combating royalty evasion.

“We were more than happy to have the debate.”

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