Challenge for Europe

The NVC: An Instrument of Bio-Piracy

In 1961, the New Variety Certificate (NVC) was born, allowing industry to appropriate the exclusive right to the reproduction of “elite” authorized plants. Defined by the same homogeneous and stable morphological features as the catalogue, the NVC protects not just inventions but also discoveries without requiring any information on the origin of plants used. These plants were all taken freely from the “common heritage of mankind.” They are made up of farm seeds banned from commercialization and enclosed in collections under the term of plant genetic resources. This biopiracy-enabling legislation bans the sharing of economic advantages that come from the commercial use of these resources as promoted by the Biodiversity Convention. Contrary to the patent – which only protects inventions and includes a description of the invention and therefore the origin of the varieties and selction methods used – the NVC allows for commercialization of plants coming from genetic manipulations other than transgenesis without the need to inform consumers.

Enhanced seeds have become indispensable for industry since they alone can be legally sold on the market and accept the fertilizer sold by industry. Yet, in 1961 when the NVC was introduced, farmers still cultivated the farmers’ varieties which formed the origins of these enhanced varieties. At this time, the common practice was to replant a part of the preceding years’ crops each year – it was impossible to question this. The absence of research for adapting farmers’ varieties to modern harvest conditions, the obligatory catalogue and the evolution of agricultural policy made these practices disappear over the course of several years. By 1994, the dependence of European farmers on the seed industry had become almost complete and the use of farm seeds became forgery punishable thanks to genetic filing!

Farm seeds were henceforth considered as counterfeits and a European rule obliged their users to pay royalties to their patent-holders. But the patent-holders were held back by technical difficulties in proving that it was in fact their variety and not another that the farmer was using. This rendered the regulation relatively ineffective. It is in fact very difficult to distinguish varieties so close to one another with any degree of precision by judging solely on their morphological features because these evolve rapidly as soon as they are cultivated without targeted selection

The NVC is worse than the patent

Today, new techniques of genetic filing (molecular markers) can be used to prove that a farmer is reproducing a particular variety and demanding royalty payments. Thanks to the extension of NVC protection on “varieties essentially derived” from the protected variety, it also effectively cancels one of the patent-holder’s privileges by authorizing the use of a protected variety to create another. The only thing left to do is apply the rule from 1994 that allows for the registry of an NVC on the basis of genotype features such as molecular characteristics.

The registry of multiple patents on genes said to be “climatic,” meaning that they show a variety characteristics, directly threatens the multiple farmers’ varieties that naturally contain or are contaminated by these genes. Even though they reclaimed and obtained legal recognition of patents on genes in Europe in 1998, the seed industry claims today to be opposed to patents on plant varieties. They present the NVC as the only acceptable alternative. The NVC has become even worse than the patent: like the patent, it allows for banning the use of or taking of royalties on the use of farm seeds where a protected variety is used to breed another and it also legalizes biopiracy. This is true as long as there is no evaluation or consumer information on the new genetic manipulations being employed aside from transgenesis.

Proposals

  • Make it mandatory for all commercialization of seeds require the indication of the origin of varieties used for the selection along with the place where they were multiplied in order to fight against biopiracy and fraud and protect against eventual genetic contamination
  • Authorize the use of farm seeds by farmers without restrictions
  • Ban all patents on life including on patents on genes and all forms of intellectual property protection based on genetic filing (molecular markers or gene sequences)
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