June 23, 2016, Washington DC–The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed, by voice vote, ratification of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The Treaty, supported by agricultural organizations, would create a specialized, global system for the management and exchange of plant genetic resources from international gene banks. The U.S. signed the treaty in 2002, but the full Senate must ratify the agreement–the next step following the committee’s action. Even without ratification, U.S. plant breeders must abide by its legally binding material transfer agreement in order to access international germplasm.
“No country, including the U.S., is self-sufficient when it comes to seed,” said ASTA president and CEO Andrew LaVigne. John Schoenecker, American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) executive committee member, testified on behalf of the seed industry. “Without ratification of the Treaty, U.S. agriculture could be at a huge disadvantage. As all types of agriculture are asked to do more, it’s critical that our researchers have the ability to access the most basic genetic material needed to improve seeds and food for the future…Crop diversity is equally important to all sectors of agriculture, including organic, conventional, public and private.…Secure access to global plant materials will enable American Seed Trade Association members and the broader industry to supply the best seeds to our customers, so they can grow more of the best food tomorrow and into the future.”
The Treaty has been ratified by more than 139 countries, many of which are both competitors of the U.S. as well as important sources of seed exchange for public and private breeders. Ratification of the bipartisan Treaty would require no changes in existing U.S. laws and no additional appropriations.