Rijk Zwaan is involved in the future of food from a global perspective. As a result, we play a role in various socially relevant discussions. For many of these topics, we work in close collaboration with other companies, among which companies in the sector through our industry associations: Plantum, ESA and ISF. Rijk Zwaan’s standpoints on a number of socially relevant topics are outlined below.
In the case of a genetically modified organism (GMO), the genetic material is altered in a way that would not be possible naturally. GMOs are primarily used in staple crops such as maize and soybean; they are very uncommon in vegetable crops.
Rijk Zwaan does not develop any varieties that fall under GMO regulation and believes that GMOs are unnecessary in vegetable varieties. Thanks to our planet’s huge biodiversity, there are more than enough opportunities for us to continue our breeding work in a natural way.
Rijk Zwaan considers it important to earn a return on its investment in order to be able to reinvest in research and development activities. Plant breeders’ rights enable it to do so. Over the past two decades, patent law has entered the plant breeding arena. Patents on technological inventions can contribute to innovative strength. However, extending patents to cover biological material can hinder innovation.
Rijk Zwaan believes that patent-protected biological material should remain available for use in developing new varieties. It must also be possible to commercialise the resulting new varieties. We support the standpoint of our industry association, Plantum, in this matter. We are an initiator and member of the International Licensing Platform Vegetable (ILP), whose members give each other access to patent-protected biological material in return for a reasonable fee.
New breeding methods
In recent years, a number of new breeding methods have been developed which can considerably accelerate the development of new varieties. In the case of some of these new plant breeding techniques, the European Commission is currently investigating whether they should fall under GMO regulation.
In our opinion, it is of societal interest for this matter to be clarified quickly. If a new breeding method produces varieties that are essentially no different from varieties developed using more conventional methods, we believe that breeding method should be permitted without unnecessarily costly and/or time-consuming deregulation. We support the standpoint of our industry association, Plantum, in this matter.
Position of smallholders
Rijk Zwaan strives to add value in developing countries as well as developed ones. We therefore also maintain a high standard of quality in developing countries and consciously opt for hybrid varieties, underlining our long-term approach. The production of such varieties demands a greater investment than traditional ‘open pollinated’ varieties but it ultimately results in a higher yield and better quality. Hence these hybrid varieties contribute to the development of local sales networks and to boosting local vegetable consumption.
Rijk Zwaan is firmly convinced that small-scale, local growers play a key role in building a sustainable food supply in developing countries. Although important, good varieties alone are not enough; knowledge transfer is essential to maximise the potential of these varieties. In this context, Rijk Zwaan works very closely with governments, NGOs and other (local) partners.
Our seeds and our specific knowledge and techniques enable us to contribute to a healthy future. Our varieties help to facilitate increasingly efficient utilisation of agricultural land and lead to a continued reduction in the use of crop protection agents. In order to develop new varieties, we must have continued access to nature’s genetic diversity. We need a healthy foundation as the basis for our trials. Therefore it is only logical that we make respectful and sustainable use of the environment and our natural resources.
Rijk Zwaan is not only aware of its responsibility towards the planet but also shoulders its responsibilities as an employer. The company’s primary objective is to offer its employees an enjoyable and long-term job. This approach results in a high level of employee satisfaction and low rate of employee turnover, and this translates into healthy growth figures for the company.
Rijk Zwaan strongly condemns child labour. Because child labour unfortunately occurs in some of the countries we operate in, we actively address the topic with our partners in those countries.
We are aware that India is a particularly high-risk area with respect to child labour, so we take a number of extra measures in that country. In our contracts with producers, we explicitly state that we will not tolerate child labour. We arrange for external audits of our producers. We work in conjunction with a number of fellow breeding companies and local partners to invest in educating local parents about child labour. We will also be introducing this approach in other countries in the longer term.
Biodiversity is very important for vegetable breeding. In order to ensure we can continue to respond to market needs and contribute to food security we are always on the look-out for new genetic variation in our crops.
We work with gene banks around the world to help us in this quest. We finance collection missions that enable the gene banks to expand their collections and to safeguard genetic resources for the future. In addition, we help to describe, characterise and multiply these genetic resources. This, and the development of new varieties, are our direct contribution to preserving the agrobiodiversity of our planet and to better vegetables for future generations.
The vegetable breeding process forms the foundation for the plant-based food supply. New breeding methods are regularly being developed aimed at improving the effectiveness and speed of that process. As one such new breeding method, CRISPR is of societal interest. The CRISPR variants currently known to us result in a clear acceleration of the breeding process and also in higher efficiency.
The application of certain CRISPR variants enables the development of the same improved varieties as can be developed using the more conventional breeding methods, only faster. It is for the regulatory authorities in Europe to decide whether these CRISPR variants and the varieties obtained from them can be qualified as safe. In our opinion, it is important for this matter to be clarified quickly. Until that happens, we will not be developing any varieties using CRISPR.