The South African berry producers’ association, Berries ZA, will have to conduct an investigation after a shipment of South African blueberries was seized in the Netherlands in the week of 26 October, according to Elzette Schutte, the association’s manager.
Dutch custom officials confiscated a container with 20 pallets of 3kg bulk cartons of premium blueberry fruit in the Port of Rotterdam, which was reportedly earmarked for distribution and sale in the EU without the authority of the Australian plant breeder.
The fruit was produced by Rossberries and exported from South Africa without permission of the blueberry variety rights holder, United Exports Group, according to Jon Salters, CEO of United Exports Group South Africa.
Salters said the Dutch Customs Authority issued a red alert notice to the European Union Customs Authority on arrival of the blueberries in Rotterdam.
“In doing so, the European Union Customs Authority recognised the community plant variety rights in respect of the OZblu blueberry varieties held by United Exports Group and grown by the South African fruit producer without a license to do so.
“The European Union Customs Authority has seized the fruit and commenced proceedings involving the South African exporter, the shipper and the European wholesaler for the destruction of the fruit,” United Exports said in a report on Freshplaza.com.
“The United Exports Group produces the proprietary variety blueberries and sub-licenses the right to do so to various growers. The producer concerned terminated its license in May to grow and produce fruit from the proprietary varieties that were exported to a Belgium wholesaler,” Salters said.
“It must be noted that this relates to a single instance where a licensed grower thought they could cancel their agreement and that plant breeders’ rights and other related regulation would not be upheld.
“Failure by producers and the agriculture industry in general to respect and uphold plant breeders’ rights will directly result in new genetics being diverted from South Africa in favour of other Southern Hemisphere countries that do so,” he explained.
Berries ZA’s chairperson, Justin Mudge, said the association supported the implementation and regulation of the process according to the applicable laws and regulations, including those of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, and expected South African producers and their allied partners to adhere to these laws.
Freshworld, the company that exported the blueberries to the EU on behalf of Rossberries, said in an emailed statement to Farmer’s Weekly that Freshworld was “a proud member of the Agricultural Produce Agents Council and the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum (FPEF), and adheres to the code of conduct set out by the FPEF”.
According to Freshworld, Rossberries was a long-standing Freshworld customer.
“United Exports did not consult any of the affected parties before taking its action,” said Jaco Oosthuizen CEO RSA Group, which owns Freshworld.
“At this stage, given the lack of consultation, we are still investigating the details, and are unable to offer any specific comment,” Oosthuizen added.