The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and a diverse group of more than 80 agriculture, food and research groups representing both industry and the public sector are urging the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (“the Treaty”). The Treaty—which would create a specialized, global system for the management and exchange of plant genetic resources from international gene banks—was signed by the U.S. in 2002, but is still pending ratification in the Senate.

“By the year 2050, farmers will be required to grow twice as much food as they currently produce to feed rapidly growing numbers of people inhabiting earth,” stated the groups in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and Ranking Member Ben Cardin. “Food will be grown in the face of greater strains on water, soil, and energy resources. A significant portion of addressing this burden falls to plant breeders who, if they are to be successful, must have the tools necessary to meet this goal.” 

Many crops grown in the U.S. rely on genetic diversity from other countries. In fact, few crops originated in North America. As all types of agriculture are asked to do more, our researchers need the ability to access the most basic genetic material needed to improve seeds and food.

“This is a clear issue with a clear and non-controversial solution,” said ASTA President & CEO Andrew LaVigne. “We are at a pivotal time for action, as countries that have been involved in the implementation and commercial implications of the Treaty are discussing ways to improve its functionality.  As the world’s biggest market for seed and the largest seed exporter, the U.S. cannot afford to be absent from these discussions.”

Currently,139 countries have ratified the Treaty, many of which are key competitors with the U.S. in international seed markets. Even without ratification, U.S. companies, universities and government agencies are being impacted by the Treaty, and must abide by its legally binding material transfer agreement in order to access critical, international germplasm. Ratification of the bipartisan Treaty would require no changes in existing U.S. laws and no additional appropriations.