Seed World

Thirteen Organizations Sign Historic Agreement to Fight Illegal Seed Practices

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 involved in this initiative include 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, the Seed Innovation Protection Alliance (SIPA), and the Seeds Innovation and Protection Initiative (SIPI).

Through this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), these organizations aim to enhance awareness of and promote the implementation of Legal Seed and Plant Practices globally. These practices support value creation in the agricultural and horticultural sectors and drive innovation for farmers and growers. Such innovation is vital for developing plant varieties that address the current and future needs of plant breeders, including adaptation to climate change and resistance to various 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.

“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,” said Michael Keller, Secretary General of ISF. “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, a recent survey by the International Seed Federation (ISF) indicates that these practices are widespread in many countries, affecting various crops, value chain actors, and consumers. Depending on the crop and region, illegal seeds can constitute up to 50% of the market, leading to devastating consequences for farmers, including severe crop failures and economic losses. Overall, these activities jeopardize the integrity of the seed sector and endanger farmers’ livelihoods, food production, and food security.

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,” said Antonio Villaroel, Managing Director of Gestión de Licencias Vegetales (GESLIVE). “We develop new varieties to, for example, fight climate change, produce more with fewer resources, or reduce food waste.”

“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,” said Mary Ann Sayoc, President of the Seeds Innovation and Protection Initiative (SIPI). “We cannot forget that the seed is the first link in the value chain.”