From Bio Journal - June 2020

Deliberations begin on Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act amendment

On 16 April 2020, the bill for a partial amendment to the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act (see BJ April 2020) was presented to the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The focus of this amendment is to expand the ban on autonomous seed production and seed multiplication that was formerly limited to certain registered varieties to all plant varieties. Plants for which seed production or seed multiplication is banned have been increasing rapidly, from 82 varieties in 2016 to 387 in 2019. Since this increase is continuing, the current Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act amendment will cover all plant varieties without exception and will also strengthen punishments.

The trigger for this amendment stems from the 1991 amendment of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (Union Internationale pour la Protection des Obtentions Végétales - UPOV Convention) that mainly strengthens protection of the intellectual property rights of with regard to GM crops, which have now become the central element in seed development. This strengthening of the protection of intellectual property rights is beneficial to multinational seed-developing corporations such as Monsanto. The UPOV Convention amendment was reflected in an amendment of the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act, the Japanese domestic law based on the UPOV Convention, in 1998, but autonomous seed production and seed multiplication was banned only for only a very few limited crops. The current amendment of the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act has been timed to coincide with the appearance of the new seed control technology of genome editing. For the purpose of strengthening protection for intellectual property, which has now risen in importance, the autonomous seed multiplication ban has been expanded to all crops. Full-scale debate on the bill began during May, with the government aiming to pass the bill into law during the current session of the Diet, but this has now been postponed to the next session. Criticism has been growing of the government's stance of attempting to push through the amendment, which is sure to have serious consequences, during the confusion resulting from the spread of the COVID-19 infection.

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