Breeding 25 October 2014

Breeders Trust: protector of breeders’ rights

Without innovation, no future. But innovation requires a lot of money. The development of a new potato breed for instance, takes at least 10 years and costs up to 3 million euros! And what if someone else then runs off with it? Fortunately, this is where Breeders Trust comes in.

Breeder’s Trust was founded in 2008 out of dissatisfaction with the fact that around the world seed was reproduced and marketed illegally and breeders’ rights were violated. Initiators were nine leading seed potato breeding and trading companies, including HZPC. Together they count for over 80% of the newly developed potato varieties within the EU. Breeders Trust Ltd. is a rather small organization based in Brussels with the world as her playing field. Besides the director, a project manager is appointed and they make use of variousw specialised lawyers all over Europe. Their purpose is to contribute to an undisturbed development for new-bred varieties.

How it works

“Illegality, breach of contract and infringement on breeders’ rights can occur throughout the whole chain, not just with breeders but also with traders or processors”, says Geert Staring, director of Breeders Trust. “Therefor we invest in contacts throughout the whole chain. We noticed there is a lot of ignorance on these laws and regulations. So by communication, we try to educate and convince stakeholders that payment of licences is required and important. If needed, we are not reluctant to bring notorious infringers to court in order to set examples. Internationally we build on a network where we have good contacts with inspection services, FSS collecting agencies, fraud authorities and food safety authorities. By bringing concrete cases to their attention, we help enforcers and ensure plant breeders’ rights remain on their agenda.”

More on the work of Breeders Trust

“We are not reluctant to bring notorious infringers to court.”


“In the past few years, Breeders Trust frequently became front page news because of won court cases against infringers and of course we continue with that. But I am most proud on working to improve the system. To give an example: in 2011 Breeders Trust forced the Belgian Federal Government through a lawsuit to hand over the relevant Farm Saved Seed administration. In the context of food safety down there, all farmers are annually requested to apply the Farm Saved Seed acreage (reproduction of a part of the harvest on the own farm). Initially the Belgium Government hid behind privacy laws. Still, after a lengthy lawsuit, the judge ruled in favour of the affiliated breeding companies. Breeders Trust has a legal right to become this essential information in order to carry out rights. Since then, in some other European countries we have successfully received information based on the Freedom of Information Act and this jurisdiction.

Another example is that in Italy we recently established a system in which the collection of FSS royalties is conducted and managed in an efficient manner. Breeders Trust was previously involved in such an initiative in inter alia the Czech Republic.”

More positive developments Geert Staring distinguishes
Promising steps

Some countries are more developed than others with respect to plant breeders’ rights legislation, implementation and enforcement. Even within Europe, there are large differences in effect. The good news is that slowly but surely it is moving in the right direction. For example, in France growers last year finally reached an agreement with the Farmer Unions on the collection of Farm Saved Seed royalties.

On the other hand, the legislature doesn’t really facilitate the breeder since penalties are too often insufficient deterrent to stop infringing of notorious offenders. Geert Staring: “I am optimistic that through continuous communication and information and occasionally litigation, infringement damage is pushed back and the breeder gets enough space to continue to focus fully on breeding.”

Right attitude

Positive is also that it is clearly visible that the current generation of farmers are very much aware of their position as raw material producers. They form a vital link in the food chain! They also realize that without processors, without traders, without retail but also without breeders, produce is pointless.

In a successful modern chain, one is dependent on the other. But one also strengthens the other. Short-term thinking does not fit in there. Of course there will always remain outlaws who only listen when they are treated harshly. Breeders Trust acts firmly against them, in the interest of the whole sector.

Joint effort

In the ideal world legislation would not be necessary. Everyone would understand that licenses must be met and that infringement and illegalities are unacceptable.  In the real world, in addition to explanation and giving information, sufficient enforcement will be required to keep everyone in line. 

Breeders Trust cannot do its duty and work as a standalone. Anyone who read this article and bares our principles at heart, is requested to report abuse and infringements: either anonymously or through the website: This is in the interest not only of the breeders, but also in the interest of all of us, now and in the future. Breeders must continue to innovate and develop better varieties so that the generations to come have sufficient food supply.

“I am most proud on working to improve the system.”

Breeders Trust & HZPC

Why is Breeders Trust important to HZPC? Contrary to the patent laws, in the plant breeder’s rights laws all over the world, the owner of a variety has to check and trace all the users of a proprietary variety and to argue and prove that license fees have to be paid or certain lots of (seed) potatoes can’t be traded. There is no legal obligation to pay a license fee if the owner is not able to provide evidence that a particular proprietary variety is used. One independent company hardly can do this sufficiently over all countries. By doing it together with a big group of owners of potato varieties we are able to execute this job. 

We are pleased with the achievements of Breeders Trust so far. It has created a change in attitude towards license payments with certain users of our varieties. It also enables us to discuss and agree on systems with national farmers associations on behalf of almost all potato breeders. As an individual company this is impossible. It is nice to see that grass breeders have joined this initiative and vegetable breeders have created a similar type of organization.