Three months ago, the USDA opened an inquiry inviting public input on competition concerns in the seed industry as they relate to intellectual property rights, including potential impacts IPR has on public plant breeders, tribal seed stewards, and society’s ability to respond to climate change. This inquiry stems from a July 9, 2021, Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. Per the Biden Administration’s request, the USDA will use this public input to inform a report with recommendations on these topics.
On June 15, OSA submitted the most detailed policy comments we’ve ever submitted to a public docket. Joining us in our comments and recommendations to the USDA was the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA. Liza Wood with the University of California, Davis’s Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior, and also a co-author of State of Organic Seed, also contributed to these comments. OSA also submitted a short sign-on letter joined by the Agricultural Justice Project, Experimental Farm Network, National Organic Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Organic Farming Research Foundation.
Here are links to our:
Full comments to the USDA on seed industry competition and IPR
Our organizational sign-on letter
Some points that OSA made included:
- The seed industry is one of the most consolidated sectors in agriculture: Four companies, all with roots in the agrochemical industry, now control over 60 percent of the global commercial market. This level of concentrated market power increases prices, limits choice in the marketplace, squeezes out competitors, and makes our seed supply – and thus food supply – less secure.
- Utility patents are the wrong tool for protecting developments in seed. Unlike other agricultural inputs, seed is a natural resource that requires careful management to sustain modern food systems and those of future generations. Seeds do not fit the utility patent model because they produce food—a universally recognized human right, they replicate when planted in the ground, and have evolved over thousands of years.
- Owners of utility patents have far-reaching control over access and use of their products, including seeds and genetic traits. Patents remove valuable plant genetics from the pool of seed that breeders and growers rely on for improving crops, feeding their communities, and exercising independence in the seed system.
- Action must be taken to address the concentrated ownership of seed afforded by patents and other restrictive forms of IPR. Action must also be taken to revamp antitrust laws and enforcement to break up “Big Seed” and ensure a competitive marketplace for independent seed companies and growers to thrive.