Congress made history Wednesday night by passing a broadly supported treaty to strengthen American agriculture and enhance global food security. First signed by President George W. Bush and pending for nearly 15 years, the now-ratified International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture (“the treaty”) will provide U.S. plant breeders with secure access to global plant materials as they work to develop the next generation of plant varieties to meet the needs of a growing population.
”The treaty is a win for the American seed industry and for agriculture innovation around the world,” American Seed Trade Assn. (ASTA) president and chief executive officer Andrew LaVigne said. “Ratification of the treaty has been one of ASTA’s top legislative priorities for the past decade and has been supported by a wide range of agriculture and scientific organizations and universities. The treaty will ensure U.S. public and private plant breeders have secure access to the materials they need to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges — from evolving plant pests and diseases to changing climates and feeding a growing population.”
The technical, international agreement facilitates the access and exchange of materials used to improve germplasm (seeds) — the backbone of agricultural innovation. Under the treaty, a Standard Material Transfer Agreement ensures that the terms for access to germplasm are uniform and transparent for all contracting parties.
“The treaty establishes consistent, transparent criteria for plant breeders to protect and exchange plant material as they develop new, improved varieties for farmers around the world,” LaVigne said. “Important meetings of the treaty are taking place early next year, and we’re glad the U.S. will finally have a seat at the table to protect its interests and lend its expertise.”
Previously, ratification was a less urgent matter. However, ASTA said now that the Nagoya Protocol under the Convention of Biological Diversity is in effect, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the rules for sharing germplasm. “Much germplasm is effectively locked by the uncertainty created by evolving Nagoya rules,” ASTA said in a fact sheet.
Parties to the treaty are discussing how to improve its functionality and make it more user friendly like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Plant Germplasm System. “A single, simple system ensuring facilitated access to germplasm globally is needed by public and private breeders alike,” ASTA added.
The ratification would require no new laws or any appropriations from Congress. It also does not alter access to U.S. gene banks by U.S. researchers, nor would it compromise existing intellectual property protections.
More than 80 companies and organizations supported ratification of the international treaty, including: ASTA, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Society of Plant Biologists, Crop Science Society, Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities’ Board on Agriculture Assembly, National Wheat Growers Assn., National Corn Growers Assn. and National Farmers Union.