Unsurprisingly, this uncertainty poses a danger to the industry’s vitality. Today, farmers can choose from a number of seed types to determine the mix of traits that work best for their specific situations – but in the future, will there be more choices, or fewer? Will new seeds be brought to market, or will regulatory burdens slow the process? And will companies continue to innovate, creating new traits, or will they find their profit margins too narrow to merit further research and development?
It’s crucial that we establish a clear framework for using these seed traits after their patents expire – not only for American farmers and seed companies, but also for the world’s farmers and consumers. As the Nature Biotechnology article notes, “The benefits (of genetically modified crops), especially in terms of increased yields, are greatest for the mostly small farmers in developing countries, who have benefitted from the spillover of technologies originally targeted at farmers in industrialized countries.” At a February 2012 USDA conference, seven former U.S. secretaries of agriculture unanimously agreed that feeding the world’s growing population is a challenge that must be addressed.
America’s farmers feed the world, thanks to a combination of hard work and a broad array of innovative products at their disposal. Clearly defining the rules governing seed patents will help make sure that farmers everywhere will have even more products and seed types to use in the future so that there is enough available for people around the globe.