The security of food production touches us all. So do the social issues around food security. As a breeder of vegetable varieties and producer of vegetable seeds, Bejo has an important role to play in the availability of healthy food, today and in the future. As a result, we are a participant in discussions about agriculture, plant breeding and the food chain. On many issues, we collaborate with partners such as the industry associations Plantum, ESA and ISF. For a number of relevant topics, we have outlined our position below.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is one whose genetic material has been altered in a way that would not have been possible through natural breeding. The use of breeding techniques that result in genetically modified organisms is subject to severe regulations in most of the countries in the world. Bejo believes and supports that several new breeding techniques could be considered as non-GMO and together with existing breeding techniques could provide sufficient possibilities to develop new vegetable varieties to meet the market’s needs. For this reason Bejo does not explore any breeding technique, in the EU or elsewhere in the world, that result in commercial GMO varieties. All varieties in our assortment are obtained through non-GMO plant-breeding methods in accordance with worldwide GMO regulation.
New Breeding Techniques
As a result of rapid innovation in the plant breeding sector, breeding methods have been developed in recent years that can considerably shorten the breeding period for new varieties. In the case of some of these new techniques, such as CRISPR-cas, the European Commission is currently investigating whether they should fall under GMO regulation. Until a decision has been reached, use of the new techniques is subject to GMO-regulations in the EU. Bejo believes that new breeding methods that makes natural breeding more effective and efficient should be permitted and considered to be non-GMO. It is of essential importance for the competitive strength of the European vegetable breeding sector that there is an international level playing field in this respect. Bejo therefore calls for clarity and supports the standpoint of our industry association, Plantum, in this matter. In principle we follow the same policy for our organic seeds, but we will always consider the point of view from the market.
In March 2015 the Enlarged Board of Appeal, as the highest 'court' of the European Patent Office, clarified that patents may be granted for plants that are obtained by essentially biological processes such as classical crossing and selection. Bejo does not support the development of granting patents on native traits and characteristics, and actually promotes free exchange of biological material under the plant breeder right system (‘Kwekersrecht’). In the meanwhile the Administrative council of the European Patent Office took a decision to amend the relevant regulations in order to exclude from patentability plants obtained exclusively through an essentially biological breeding process, which harmonizes with Bejo’s point of view. As a consequence, in its Notice the European Commission clarified that it was the European legislator’s intention to exclude not only processes but also products obtained by such processes. In order not to block innovative strength in breeding the vegetable seed industry already has created its own system with ILP (International Licensing Platform). This system ensures full access to biological material that contains patented traits among breeding companies that are associated with ILP.
Declining bee population
Over the past century bees have suffered from a population decline. This is a troubling development, as bees are the primary pollinators for both wildflowers and field crops. Multiple factors are considered to be the cause for declining bee populations. Some research suggests that it is related to the use of certain pesticides (neonicotinoids) that are also applied in seed coatings. The research studies are not conclusive at this moment, and alternative forms of applying pesticides (such as granulates or spraying) have negative side effects. We’re keeping a close eye on developments. Bejo maintains thousands of bee colonies in bee farms globally that we nurture for the pollination of our crops, and that also help sustain bee populations in general. In our fields we grow nectar-rich flowers to nourish bees and support biodiversity. To learn more, read 'Bees and Bejo: natural partners in seed production'.