Rijk Zwaan is involved in the future of food from a global perspective. As a result, we play a role in various socially relevant discussions. For many of these topics, we work in close collaboration with other companies, among which companies in the sector through our industry associations: Plantum, ESA and ISF. Rijk Zwaan’s standpoints on a number of socially relevant topics are outlined below.
In the case of a genetically modified organism (GMO), the genetic material is altered in a way that would not be possible naturally. GMOs are primarily used in staple crops such as maize and soybean; regulated GMOs are very uncommon in vegetable crops.
The current assortment of Rijk Zwaan contains no varieties that fall under the GMO regulation, and we believe that such GMOs are unnecessary in vegetable varieties. Thanks to our planet’s huge biodiversity, there are more than enough opportunities for us to continue our breeding work in a natural way.
Rijk Zwaan considers it important to earn a return on its investment in order to be able to reinvest in research and development activities. Plant breeders’ rights enable it to do so. Over the past two decades, patent law has entered the plant breeding arena. Patents on technological inventions can contribute to innovative strength. However, extending patents to cover biological material can hinder innovation.
Rijk Zwaan believes that patent-protected biological material should remain available for use in developing new varieties. It must also be possible to commercialise the resulting new varieties. We support the standpoint of our industry association, Plantum, in this matter. We are an initiator and member of the International Licensing Platform Vegetable (ILP), whose members give each other access to patent-protected biological material in return for a reasonable fee.
Many countries have ratified the Convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). In principle, it is not allowed to reproduce and sell propagating material of protected varieties without prior consent of the plant breeders’ rights holder.
Small farmers in developing countries however do not need consent to save and use, exchange or sell self-produced propagating material to support themselves. Plant Breeders’ Rights do not extend to acts done privately and for non-commercial purposes (UPOV 1991). The flowchart developed jointly by Oxfam, Plantum and Euroseeds, helps farmers and breeders to decide whether the exception is applicable.
New breeding methods
In recent years, a number of new breeding methods have been developed which can considerably accelerate the development of new varieties. In the case of some of these new plant breeding techniques, the European Court of Justice has decided on 25 July 2018 that they should be considered as genetic modification techniques. Therefore, the varieties obtained by these breeding methods fall under the regulation of the GMO directive 2001/18/EG.
In its current assortment, Rijk Zwaan has not included any varieties obtained by techniques to which the GMO directive is applicable. Moreover, the regulation and qualification of products may vary per country. Of course we monitor these developments closely.
Position of smallholders
Rijk Zwaan strives to add value in developing countries as well as developed ones. We therefore also maintain a high standard of quality in developing countries and consciously opt for hybrid varieties, underlining our long-term approach. The production of such varieties demands a greater investment than traditional ‘open pollinated’ varieties but it ultimately results in a higher yield and better quality. Hence these hybrid varieties contribute to the development of local sales networks and to boosting local vegetable consumption.
Rijk Zwaan is firmly convinced that small-scale, local growers play a key role in building a sustainable food supply in developing countries. Although important, good varieties alone are not enough; knowledge transfer is essential to maximise the potential of these varieties. In this context, Rijk Zwaan works very closely with governments, NGOs and other (local) partners.
Our seeds and our specific knowledge and techniques enable us to contribute to a healthy future. Our varieties help to facilitate increasingly efficient utilisation of agricultural land and lead to a continued reduction in the use of crop protection agents. In order to develop new varieties, we must have continued access to nature’s genetic diversity. We need a healthy foundation as the basis for our trials. Therefore it is only logical that we make respectful and sustainable use of the environment and our natural resources.
Rijk Zwaan is not only aware of its responsibility towards the planet but also shoulders its responsibilities as an employer. The company’s primary objective is to offer its employees an enjoyable and long-term job. This approach results in a high level of employee satisfaction and low rate of employee turnover, and this translates into healthy growth figures for the company.
Rijk Zwaan strongly condemns child labour. Because child labour unfortunately occurs in some of the countries we operate in, we actively address the topic with our partners in those countries.
We are aware that India is a particularly high-risk area with respect to child labour, so we take a number of extra measures in that country. In our contracts with producers, we explicitly state that we will not tolerate child labour. We arrange for external audits of our producers. We work in conjunction with a number of fellow breeding companies and local partners to invest in educating local parents about child labour. We will also be introducing this approach in other countries in the longer term.
Biodiversity is very important for vegetable breeding. In order to ensure we can continue to respond to market needs and contribute to food security we are always on the look-out for new genetic variation in our crops.
We work with gene banks around the world to help us in this quest. We finance collection missions that enable the gene banks to expand their collections and to safeguard genetic resources for the future. In addition, we help to describe, characterise and multiply these genetic resources.
Patent legislation may extend the scope of patents to material in public genebanks, for example to varieties that we provide to genebanks. We will not use our patents to prohibit genebanks to supply such material to others.
The cooperation with genebanks and the development of new varieties are our direct contribution to preserving the agrobiodiversity of our planet and to better vegetables for future generations.