Special Issue "The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations"

A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395). This special issue belongs to the section "Farming Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 September 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Niels P. Louwaars
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Law Group, Wageningen University and Plantum, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: seeds; biodiversity; property law; genetic resources for plant species; gene banks; development cooperation; plant breeding and genetics; variety testing; seed inspection; seed regulations; breeder's rights; seed production
Dr. Bram de Jonge
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Law Group, Wageningen University and Oxfam/Novib
Interests: intellectual property rights; genetic resources policies; international development; bioethics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Plant breeding is a powerful applied science that produces innovations throughout the agricultural value chains. Breeding is done by scientifically trained breeders, by farmers and amateur breeders and by collaborative work between these.
Plant breeding responds to the needs of farmers to cope with pests and diseases and the effects of climate change through focusing on robust varieties. At the same time, it may focus on consumer demands and processor qualities. Through this, breeders both the formal (public and private) and informal sector contribute directly or indirectly to a range of public policy priorities.
Various policy areas affect plant breeding. Countries differ in their legislation but seed laws, intellectual property systems, and the implementation of policies around biodiversity and genetic modification affect the possibilities of breeders to widen the genetic base of their programmes, to select most efficiently and to secure the necessary investments to make the breeding operation sustainable. Several of these policies intentionally or inadvertently limit breeding.
The special issue intends to analyze the impact of the most relevant (inter) national policies on plant breeding and will highlight dilemmas described above. Authors are invited to contribute to his challenging and socially very relevant field.

Dr. Niels Louwaars
Dr. Bram de Jonge
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • plant breeding;
  • breeder’s rights;
  • farmers’ rights;
  • patents;
  • access and benefit sharing;
  • seed regulation;
  • genetic modification;
  • gene editing;
  • innovation pathways

Published Papers (15 papers)

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Research

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Article
Decoding Seed Quality: A Comparative Analysis of Seed Marketing Law in the EU and the United States
Agronomy 2021, 11(10), 2038; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11102038 - 11 Oct 2021
Viewed by 224
Abstract
The European Union’s (EU) approach to safeguarding seed quality and ensuring agricultural productivity includes a range of regulatory measures related to seed marketing, including the restriction of market access to seed varieties that are properly certified. In order for varieties to be properly [...] Read more.
The European Union’s (EU) approach to safeguarding seed quality and ensuring agricultural productivity includes a range of regulatory measures related to seed marketing, including the restriction of market access to seed varieties that are properly certified. In order for varieties to be properly certified, they have to be registered in a Plant Variety Catalogue. EU seed laws, and their Member State implementation, have traditionally favoured uniform crop production of commercialised breeds over conservation varieties, which has been a contributing factor to crop genetic erosion. The United States’ (U.S.) approach to seed marketing regulation is often presented as an alternative model to the EU’s approach. In the United States, any seed can be indistinctly marketed if properly labelled. In this regulatory framework, certification and registration of seed is voluntary. In light of the continued issues regarding crop genetic erosion and the recent developments in EU seed law reform, this article examines the key elements of both regimes and considers their different approaches to market access for conservation varieties. The most important differences relate to in truth-in-labelling (U.S.) and ex ante quality control mechanisms (EU). These differences highlight that EU and U.S. seed laws must be placed in their respective broader regulatory context and that their relative comparability hinges on policy aims related to seed quality. This raises the broader question as to what the key policy aims of seed laws are and whether these oft-compared regimes are in fact analogous in terms of goals and structure. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Article
Crop Diversity Management System Commons: Revisiting the Role of Genebanks in the Network of Crop Diversity Actors
Agronomy 2021, 11(9), 1893; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11091893 - 21 Sep 2021
Viewed by 571
Abstract
This paper rethinks the governance of genebanks in a social and political context that has significantly evolved since their establishment. The theoretical basis for the paper is the commons conceptual framework in relation to both seed and plant genetic resources. This framework is [...] Read more.
This paper rethinks the governance of genebanks in a social and political context that has significantly evolved since their establishment. The theoretical basis for the paper is the commons conceptual framework in relation to both seed and plant genetic resources. This framework is applied to question the current policy ecosystem of genetic research and breeding and explore different collective governance models. The concept of crop diversity management system (CDMS) commons is proposed as the new foundation for a more holistic and inclusive framework for crop diversity management, that covers a broad range of concerns and requires different actors. The paper presents a multi-stakeholder process established within the context of the two recent projects CoEx and Dynaversity, imagining possible collective arrangements to overcome existing deadlocks, foster collective learning, and design collaborative relationships among genebanks, researchers, and farmers’ civil society organizations involved in crop diversity management. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Article
An Ethical and Societal Analysis for Biotechnological Methods in Plant Breeding
Agronomy 2021, 11(6), 1183; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11061183 - 10 Jun 2021
Viewed by 661
Abstract
Technological developments in plant breeding, notably cisgenesis and gene editing, require a rethinking of biotechnology policies. In addition to legal debates about the definition of genetic modification in the Cartagena Protocol and at national and supra-national levels, and debates about the safety of [...] Read more.
Technological developments in plant breeding, notably cisgenesis and gene editing, require a rethinking of biotechnology policies. In addition to legal debates about the definition of genetic modification in the Cartagena Protocol and at national and supra-national levels, and debates about the safety of the resulting products for mankind and environment, discussions are ongoing in society concerning ethical and societal questions. In this paper, we analyse the main ethical issues that need to be taken into account when evaluating contemporary plant breeding techniques. After a brief description of the state of the art in plant breeding, we discuss these main ethical issues. We take Consequentialist, Deontological and Virtue ethics as bases of our analysis. This results in a generally positive approach to gene editing, but also highlights several concerns, predominantly used by particular groups in society. This leads to a moral incentive toward transparency and options for operationalizing consumer choice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Article
Pluralistic Seed System Development: A Path to Seed Security?
Agronomy 2021, 11(2), 372; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11020372 - 20 Feb 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2655
Abstract
Seed security is central to crop production for smallholder farmers in developing countries, but it remains understudied in relation to long-term seed sector development. Here, we compare seed systems in two districts of Central Ethiopia characterized by subsistence-oriented teff cultivation and commercially oriented [...] Read more.
Seed security is central to crop production for smallholder farmers in developing countries, but it remains understudied in relation to long-term seed sector development. Here, we compare seed systems in two districts of Central Ethiopia characterized by subsistence-oriented teff cultivation and commercially oriented wheat production and relate this to the country’s pluralistic seed system development strategy (PSSDS). Our analysis is based on quantitative and qualitative information from a household survey and focus group discussions with farmers, as well as document review and key informant interviews with actors that make up the seed sector in the study sites. Farmers in both districts used a range of seed sources but primarily obtained their seeds from informal sources. Evidence of seed insecurity was found in both districts, as apparent from discrepancies between what the seed farmers say they prefer and those they actually use, limited availability of improved varieties and especially certified seeds of these, challenges with seed quality from some sources, and differentiated access to preferred seed and information according to sex, age and wealth. We find that the interventions prioritized in the PSSDS address most of the seed security challenges and seed system dysfunctions identified, but implementation lags, particularly for the informal seed system, which is largely neglected by government programs. The intermediate system shows promise, but while some improvements have been made in the formal system, vested political, organizational, and economic interests within key institutions represent major obstacles that must be overcome to achieve truly integrative and inclusive seed sector development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
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Communication
What Should Farmers’ Rights Look Like? The Possible Substance of a Right
Agronomy 2021, 11(2), 367; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11020367 - 18 Feb 2021
Viewed by 785
Abstract
Farmers’ Rights formally appeared in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) as a means of recognising the past, present, and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving, and making available the plant genetic materials that are important [...] Read more.
Farmers’ Rights formally appeared in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) as a means of recognising the past, present, and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving, and making available the plant genetic materials that are important for food and agriculture. Discussions have been underway under the auspices of the ITPGRFA’s Governing Body with the recent Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Farmers’ Rights (AHTEG-FR) collecting together views, experiences, and best practices to produce an inventory and options for encouraging, guiding, and promoting the realisation of Farmers’ Rights. While this is useful, this article reports on the outcomes of a workshop that applied a different methodology. Our purpose was to identify what could be and should be the substance of Farmers’ Rights so that the policy substance drives the implementation rather than the AHTEG-FR’s retro-fitting Farmers’ Rights to existing views, best practices, and measures. The contribution of this article is to develop and set out a list of possible substantive Farmers’ Rights as a contribution and foundation for further consultations and negotiations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
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Review

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Review
Authorizing GM Crop Varieties: Policy Implications for Seed Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa
Agronomy 2021, 11(9), 1855; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11091855 - 15 Sep 2021
Viewed by 377
Abstract
Considering an expanding research and development pipeline of and growing practical experiences with genetically modified (GM) crops, governments in Sub-Sahara Africa have in recent years authorized various GM crop events for general, unconfined environmental release, and in a few cases, subsequent commercial variety [...] Read more.
Considering an expanding research and development pipeline of and growing practical experiences with genetically modified (GM) crops, governments in Sub-Sahara Africa have in recent years authorized various GM crop events for general, unconfined environmental release, and in a few cases, subsequent commercial variety registration and cultivation. These decisions are consistent with more business-oriented agricultural development policies aimed at turning agriculture into a leading driver of economic growth and wealth creation. Such policy reforms are also motivated by continent-wide initiatives described in this review paper, which emphasize seed sector reform, agricultural productivity growth, intra-regional trade, and agri-business development. While such policy developments spur a more proactive approach to introducing agricultural biotechnology, it becomes apparent that authorizing GM crops for general environmental release and commercial seed registration requires the harmonization of government policies in various sectors relevant to seed systems, most notably those affecting plant breeding research, testing, and variety release. Critical areas for such policy reforms and harmonization were analyzed in this paper, with associated recommendations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
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Review
The Potential of Private Standards for Valorizing Compliance with Access and Benefit Sharing Obligations of Genetic Resources and Traditional Knowledge
Agronomy 2021, 11(9), 1823; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11091823 - 11 Sep 2021
Viewed by 467
Abstract
International legal instruments such as the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (“Nagoya Protocol”) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food [...] Read more.
International legal instruments such as the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (“Nagoya Protocol”) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (“ITPGRFA”) are meant to create incentives for fairly sharing the benefits of the utilization of genetic resources. These commitments have, however, been assessed by many stakeholders as an obstacle rather than an incentive to commercial activities. If this is indeed the case, ABS obligations may do more harm than good and raises the fundamental question: can ABS obligations be translated from an obstacle into an opportunity? The article discusses consumer-based mechanisms as positive drivers for benefit sharing by using private standards to incentivize ABS obligation compliance. This approach goes further than using private standards as implementation tools, and suggests that they could leverage advantages for industry from the consumer perspective, specifically a consumer-facing label on products. We suggest a research strategy addressing this approach. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Review
Towards a Fair Scope of Protection for Plant Breeders’ Rights in an Era of New Breeding Techniques: Proposals for a Modernization of the Essentially Derived Variety Concept
Agronomy 2021, 11(8), 1511; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11081511 - 29 Jul 2021
Viewed by 434
Abstract
Plant breeders’ rights (PBRs) are an important IP right, and as plant breeding has a crucial role to play in sustainability, it is vital that innovations in plant breeding receive the appropriate innovation incentives. The full breeders’ exemption ensures that there is always [...] Read more.
Plant breeders’ rights (PBRs) are an important IP right, and as plant breeding has a crucial role to play in sustainability, it is vital that innovations in plant breeding receive the appropriate innovation incentives. The full breeders’ exemption ensures that there is always free access to the plant variety protected by a PBR for developing new varieties. The price to pay for this exemption is that PBR holders cannot prevent third parties from taking advantage of their efforts and investments in developing a new variety. This invites free-riding, at the detriment of the PBR holder. The concept of “essentially derived varieties” (EDV), introduced in 1991, provided a “fix” for this problem. It allows PBR holders to extend, at least to some extent, the scope of protection of their PBR to those varieties which use all or most essential characteristics of the initial protection variety. Decades have passed, but no adequate interpretation of the complex EDV concept has been found. The advent of new breeding techniques (NBTs) has made the discussion about a fair scope of protection of PBRs all the more relevant. This necessitates a modernization of the EDV concept, if the PBR system is to remain relevant and continue to be an innovation-incentivizing mechanism. I argue that a broader scope for the EDV concept is essential and fair. Determining what essential derivation is will remain a difficult task also in the future. This is why I have additionally proposed a collaborative reward model, which will facilitate the functioning of the EDV system and is capable of providing more legal certainty in this area. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Review
Institutionalizing Quality Declared Seed in Uganda
Agronomy 2021, 11(8), 1475; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11081475 - 25 Jul 2021
Viewed by 500
Abstract
Farmer-led seed enterprises can produce good quality seed and market it. However, for them to thrive, they need a conducive policy and regulatory framework that is inclusive and less stringent than existing regulatory frameworks. One way to provide a more enabling environment for [...] Read more.
Farmer-led seed enterprises can produce good quality seed and market it. However, for them to thrive, they need a conducive policy and regulatory framework that is inclusive and less stringent than existing regulatory frameworks. One way to provide a more enabling environment for farmer-led enterprises is through the Quality Declared Seed (QDS) production and marketing system. In Uganda, this seed class is specifically introduced for farmer-led enterprises to produce and market quality assured seed of crops and varieties not served by the private sector. The class is anchored in the Ugandan National Seed Policy and its seed regulations and its operationalization plan. We identified a combination of three strategies that enabled the QDS class to be incorporated into the National Seed Policy. These were: (i) to generate evidence to demonstrate that local seed businesses (farmer groups) can produce and market quality seed; (ii) to engage stakeholders towards an inclusive seed policy; and (iii) to develop a separate QDS regulatory framework. By 2021, institutionalization has reached a critical mass. Areas of attention for full institutionalization are the decentralization of inspection services, awareness and demand creation for quality seed, increasing the number of seed producers, and solving shortages of basic seed (starting material for producing seed). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
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Review
Future-Proofing EU Legislation for Genome-Edited Plants: Dutch Stakeholders’ Views on Possible Ways Forward
Agronomy 2021, 11(7), 1331; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11071331 - 30 Jun 2021
Viewed by 532
Abstract
Genome editing is an emerging, new breeding technology with numerous potential applications in plant breeding. In Europe, genome editing is regarded, in legal terms, as a genetic modification technique, hence plants obtained using these methods fall under the legislation for genetically modified organisms [...] Read more.
Genome editing is an emerging, new breeding technology with numerous potential applications in plant breeding. In Europe, genome editing is regarded, in legal terms, as a genetic modification technique, hence plants obtained using these methods fall under the legislation for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Despite the opportunities that genome editing brings to the plant sector, it also poses challenges to the regulatory system. For example, the enforcement of labelling and traceability requirements for GM foods and feeds may be impossible for small genome edits that are indistinguishable from natural mutations. In order to discuss potential adaptations of EU legislation with stakeholders from the Dutch plant breeding sector, five different scenarios of future regulation of plants obtained by means of genome editing were elaborated. These scenarios were discussed in depth, along with the potential applications of genome editing in plant breeding, as well as challenges and opportunities. Stakeholders particularly indicated their preference for new, future-proof legislation in the long term, which will also include products of novel technologies. Finally, we discuss potential short-term amendments to current legislation, including the exemption of certain small mutations, that would make it align with regulation of genome edited plants in non-EU countries. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Review
The Future of Essentially Derived Variety (EDV) Status: Predominantly More Explanations or Essential Change
Agronomy 2021, 11(6), 1261; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11061261 - 21 Jun 2021
Viewed by 426
Abstract
This review examines the categorization of Essentially Derived Varieties (EDV) introduced in the 1991 revision of the Convention of the Union internationale pour la protection des obtentions végétales (UPOV). Other non-UPOV member countries (India, Malaysia, and Thailand) have also introduced the concept of [...] Read more.
This review examines the categorization of Essentially Derived Varieties (EDV) introduced in the 1991 revision of the Convention of the Union internationale pour la protection des obtentions végétales (UPOV). Other non-UPOV member countries (India, Malaysia, and Thailand) have also introduced the concept of essential derivation. China, a UPOV member operating under the 1978 Convention, is introducing EDVs via seed laws. Challenges in the implementation of the concept and progress made to provide greater clarity and more efficient implementation are reviewed, including in Australia and India. The current approach to EDV remains valid provided (i) clarity on thresholds can be achieved including through resource intensive research on an individual crop species basis and (ii) that threshold clarity does not lead to perverse incentives to avoid detection of essential derivation. However, technological advances that facilitate the simultaneous introduction or change in expression of more than “a few” genes may well fundamentally challenge the concept of essential derivation and require a revision of the Convention. Revision could include deletion of the concept of essential derivation coupled with changes to the breeder exception on a crop-by-crop basis. Stakeholders might also benefit from greater flexibility within a revised Convention. Consideration should be given to allowing members to choose if and when to introduce changes according to a revised Convention on a crop specific basis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Review
Open Intellectual Property Models for Plant Innovations in the Context of New Breeding Technologies
Agronomy 2021, 11(6), 1218; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11061218 - 15 Jun 2021
Viewed by 643
Abstract
Plant related innovations are critical to enable of food security and mitigate climate change. New breeding technologies (NBTs) based on emerging genome editing technologies like CRISPR/Cas will facilitate “breeding-by-editing” and enable complex breeding targets—like climate resilience or water use efficiency—in shorter time and [...] Read more.
Plant related innovations are critical to enable of food security and mitigate climate change. New breeding technologies (NBTs) based on emerging genome editing technologies like CRISPR/Cas will facilitate “breeding-by-editing” and enable complex breeding targets—like climate resilience or water use efficiency—in shorter time and at lower costs. However, NBTs will also lead to an unprecedented patent complexity. This paper discusses implications and potential solutions for open innovation models. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
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Review
Using Regulatory Flexibility to Address Market Informality in Seed Systems: A Global Study
Agronomy 2021, 11(2), 377; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11020377 - 20 Feb 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1054
Abstract
Seed rules and regulations determine who can produce and sell seeds, which varieties will be available in the market, the quality of seed for sale, and where seed can be bought and sold. The legal and regulatory environment for seed impacts all stakeholders, [...] Read more.
Seed rules and regulations determine who can produce and sell seeds, which varieties will be available in the market, the quality of seed for sale, and where seed can be bought and sold. The legal and regulatory environment for seed impacts all stakeholders, including those in the informal sector, through shaping who can participate in the market and the quality and diversity of seed available. This paper addresses a gap in the current literature regarding the role of law and regulation in linking the informal and formal seed sectors and creating more inclusive and better governed seed systems. Drawing upon insights from the literature, global case studies, key expert consultations, and a methodology on the design and implementation of law and regulation, we present a framework that evaluates how regulatory flexibility can be built into seed systems to address farmers’ needs and engage stakeholders of all sizes. Our study focuses on two key dimensions: extending market frontiers and liberalizing seed quality control mechanisms. We find that flexible regulatory approaches and practices play a central role in building bridges between formal and informal seed systems, guaranteeing quality seed in the market, and encouraging market entry for high-quality traditional and farmer-preferred varieties. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
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Other

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Erratum
Erratum: Mulesa et al. Pluralistic Seed System Development: A Path to Seed Security? Agronomy 2021, 11, 372
Agronomy 2021, 11(9), 1838; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11091838 - 14 Sep 2021
Viewed by 484
Abstract
The authors would like to make the following correction to the published paper [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
Perspective
The Use of Intellectual Property Systems in Plant Breeding for Ensuring Deployment of Good Agricultural Practices
Agronomy 2021, 11(6), 1163; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11061163 - 07 Jun 2021
Viewed by 1188
Abstract
Breeding innovations are relevant for sustainable agricultural development and food security, as new, resilient production systems require crop varieties optimally suited for these systems. In the societal debate around genetic engineering and other plant breeding innovations, ownership of patents on the technology used [...] Read more.
Breeding innovations are relevant for sustainable agricultural development and food security, as new, resilient production systems require crop varieties optimally suited for these systems. In the societal debate around genetic engineering and other plant breeding innovations, ownership of patents on the technology used in the hands of large companies is often seen as a reason that small breeding companies are denied opportunities for further improving varieties or that farmers are restricted in using such varieties. However, intellectual property (IP) systems may also be used as tools to ensure the use of good agricultural practices when cultivating the resulting varieties. This paper explores documented cases in which IP systems (plant variety rights, patents and brand names) are used to promote that innovative varieties are grown according to good agricultural practices (GAP). These include effective disease resistance management regimes in innovative crop varieties of potato in order to prevent or delay pathogens from overcoming disease resistance genes, management regimes for transgenic insect-resistant Bt or herbicide-tolerant crops to prevent the development of resistant pests or weeds, respectively. The results are discussed with respect to the influence of breeders on GAP measures through various forms of IP and the contribution and role of other stakeholders, authorities and society at large in stimulating and ensuring the use of GAP. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Policies in Plant Breeding—Rights and Obligations)
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