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Dispute over royalties threatens Australia's plant innovation

In Australia, a dispute over royalties is casting a shadow over the future of plant innovation, with potential impacts on global food security and climate change resilience. Unlike copyright disputes in the music industry, the stakes involve the development of crucial agricultural products. Australia's plant-breeding rights system is under scrutiny for its ability to protect and incentivize the creation of new plant varieties, such as drought-resistant crops and nutritionally enhanced vegetables. The issue centres around the enforcement of plant breeders' rights, which are designed to ensure that companies receive compensation for their investment in developing new plant varieties.

At the heart of the matter are innovative plant varieties being developed by scientists, including a tomato with enhanced spice levels and a seedless capsicum. These developments are part of efforts to address the challenges of food insecurity and climate change. Syngenta, a global agritech company, plays a significant role in this area, emphasizing the lengthy and costly process of bringing new plant varieties to market. The protection of plant breeders' rights is crucial for recouping these investments and funding future research.

Future varieties of fruit and vegetables are being bred in greenhouses./ Image: International Seed Federation.

The International Seed Federation and Australian Seed Federation highlight the importance of intellectual property (IP) in encouraging innovation in plant breeding. However, the effectiveness of Australia's system in safeguarding these rights is currently under debate, with concerns that inadequate protection could deter investment in research and development. The enforcement of plant breeders' rights, which last up to 25 years depending on the plant species, is essential for the ongoing creation of plant varieties that can meet the evolving needs of agriculture and food production.


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