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News Navigator: Why is taking Japanese crop seeds and saplings overseas banned?

A bunch of "Shine Muscat" grapes are seen. (Mainichi/Takeshi Noda)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Japan's Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act, which was recently revised to ban taking seeds and saplings of some agricultural crop varieties overseas.

    Question: What are some of the Japan-made crop varieties that people are not allowed to take overseas under the revised law?

    Answer: A revision to the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act -- a law governing seeds and saplings of various agricultural plants including vegetables, fruits and flowers -- went into force in April, prohibiting taking seeds and saplings of branded crops out of the country. As of now, 2,546 varieties designated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are subject to the law. They include famous varieties such as "Amao" strawberries cultivated in Fukuoka Prefecture, luxurious "Shine Muscat" grapes and "Beniharuka" sweet potatoes, which are popular as a baked snack.

    Q: Why is taking them out of the country banned?

    A: To protect the rights of the varieties' developers. Developing a new cultivar takes decades. Meanwhile, there have been endless cases in which seeds or saplings from Japan have been cultivated abroad, and then put on the local market at low prices. In Hong Kong, Shine Muscat grapes are sold at about a quarter of their Japanese price. According to the agriculture ministry, illicit sales of at least 36 crop varieties were confirmed in China and South Korea in 2020.

    Q: Farmers must be relieved by the legal revisions, right?

    A: There are still concerns. Farmers will need to obtain permission from developers to take seeds from crops for later planting. There were voices in the Diet concerned about farmers' businesses, as they must pay fees to get that permission. In April last year, Japanese actor Ko Shibasaki attracted attention when she tweeted, "Farmers in Japan will be driven into a corner."

    Q: Will farmers be all right?

    A: There are many local governments that do not intend to impose new burdens on producers. In Nagano Prefecture, for example, it is expected that farmers will remain able to take seeds from crops for planting without permission, except for some specified crop varieties. Permission will be required from April next year, however. Though there has not been any confusion so far, the impact on producers remains to be seen.

    (Japanese original by Taiki Asakawa, Tokyo Business News Department)

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