22 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM Regarding the need for the INVITE project, Herrlinger says that in the very beginning, the research organisations (e.g. INRA from France) and the plant variety offices (e.g. the CPVO) were at the forefront of drafting the conceptual idea of the project. But plant breeding companies joined in shortly afterwards. “This is not surprising. Variety listing is - at least in Europe - probably the most important filter or bottleneck breeders have to deal with, to get their newly bred varieties through in order to get them to market. But variety listing is of course much more than just such a formal filter. At least for the agricultural species, vari- ety listing, through the Value for Cultivation and Use (VCU) test, ensures proper performance of varieties. It also defines, through the DUS criteria (Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability), the product ‘variety’.” Given this importance of DUS and VCU, Herrlinger says they want to take part in the discussions about it. It is obvious, he states, that depending on how you define processes, methods and criteria around DUS und VCU, you can end up with fairly different systems. “To give you an example: Does performance mean high yield, or low input, or both? If it is a mixture of these aspects, how to calibrate them against each other? Or with a view to plant vari- ety protection: narrow distances for distinctiveness lead to more varieties but also to a narrow scope of protection while it is exactly the other way around with broad distances.” There has been an extensive exchange between vari- ety offices and plant breeders about this already in the past. Nevertheless, the INVITE project is an excellent platform to fur- ther build on and to put existing positions and insights into a broader perspective. WEIGHING THE RISKS Herrlinger says there are no chance without a risk, and there are some aspects to this project which need scrutiny. Next to the objective of efficiency gain, the project also addresses the topic of sustainability. Not that addressing sustainability would be a bad thing as such. “But the existing system of DUS and VCU already strongly contributes to sustainability. A higher yielding, more stress tol- erant variety is per se more sustainable; a variety which delivers these traits with less input even more so.” Also, the DUS test contributes to sustainability, and homo- geneity is a key factor. A homogeneous field can be manged more effectively, less need for input is the positive effect. “We should be very careful with challenging these proven elements and should e.g. limit the listing or marketing of hetero- geneous material to very exceptional cases.” One key question is: How will the project ensure that the harmony between DUS and VCU, and between PBR and NLI is not disturbed? Herrlinger is reminded of the “one key several doors” princi- ple, which means one DUS test can be used for both variety listing and for PVP, ideally in all markets. Sticking to and strengthen- ing this principle, contributes to the efficiency in variety testing because it avoids duplication of work. “Luckily, national plant variety offices are to a certain degree ‘keepers of the grail’ in that regard, because they are involved in both variety listing and PVP,” he says. “Also, the CPVO, focus- sing on PVP, is well aware of the importance of that principle. According to us, there is a strong interest, also with CPVO, that this principle is kept, so that for example the national offices’ DUS expertise in certain crops can be used (through the concept of the entrusted offices) also in Community PVP.” Participation of offices and plant breeding companies in the project will ensure that this principle is taken well into account and, to the degree possible, even fostered. SUSTAINABILITY AT THE FOREFRONT Sustainability criteria are already part of the breeding work as these are important considerations for breeders. The existing system of DUS and VCU already strongly contributes to sustain- ability. But if we can find the higher yielding, more tolerant and less input dependent varieties more efficiently and more quickly, this would be an additional contribution to more sustainability. Speeding up the performance test and making it more efficient is therefore not just about costs but also impacts positively on sustainability. Also, content wise probably there is room for one or the other aspect which could be added to the VCU criteria. “But we should not forget that we are walking a thin line here,” says Herrlinger. “We will not be able to deliver on the con- cept of ‘more from less’ if every new variety would have to undergo e.g. a kind of environmental assessment including socio economic impacts and alike. This is something we as an industry partner of the project will have a close look at, and I believe that also the colleagues from the variety offices agree that we must maintain the established and trusted elements of variety testing, while at the same time making them fit for the future.” Herrlinger believes the existing system is – conceptually wise - a good system, but also good things can be improved. “But we must not throw away the baby with the bathwater. We would do sustainability a bad turn if we would ignore the need for clearly identifiable, high yielding, easy to manage varieties with high quality output traits.” Editors’ Note: Christoph Herrlinger is Head of Legal and Member of the Management Board at NPZ in Germany Rape seed trials