Japan passes bill to prevent outflow of fruit and vegetable varieties

TOKYO, Dec. 3 – A bill aimed at protecting Japanese-developed fruit and vegetable varieties from being taken abroad is passed in the Upper House of Japan’s parliament on Dec. 2.

The revised seed and seedling protection law, expected to take effect in April next year, will allow plant breeders to limit areas where their varieties can be grown to places within the country or designated prefectures.

Another revision to the law, which will take effect in April 2022, will introduce a permission system for the use of seeds that domestic farmers collect from registered varieties they harvest for next season’s planting.

Currently, it is not illegal to take seeds and seedlings abroad except to certain countries if they were purchased legally. Under the revised law, individuals who take seeds and saplings whose use is limited to Japan to foreign countries can get prison sentences of up to 10 years or a fine of up to 10 million yen, and a fine of up to 300 million yen for companies.

Developers can also file civil lawsuits to stop distribution of the varieties or demand compensation.

As for the use of seeds and seedlings, farmers need to obtain permission to reproduce them after April 2022 even if they purchased them before the date, except for native varieties and those that are not registered.

To simplify procedures for getting the permission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will create a contract template and let organizations such as agricultural cooperatives apply collectively.

Agriculture minister Kotaro Nogami said during Diet deliberations on the bill that permission charges are unlikely to become so high.

The bill had been initially submitted to the previous regular Diet session, but was carried over to the current session.

In order to address concerns over high permission charges weighing on farmers’ businesses, the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in both the Lower House and the Upper House passed an additional resolution asking the government to implement the new system in a way that stable supplies of seeds and seedlings will be assured at reasonable prices and the permission system on farmers’ use of seeds collected from their own harvest will not squeeze their business operations.

The ministry is planning to come up with a scheme to further reduce the burden of farmers, such as establishing a database which enables them to look up conditions for getting permission to use registered varieties.

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