Blueberry industry faces blues over trading rights row
Cape Town - The blueberry industry, one of the fastest growing horticultural industries in the Western Cape, both in terms of hectares planted and gross value of production, could be at risk because of an intellectual property dispute, according to the South African berry producers’ association, Berries ZA.
A row between Ross Berries, one of the largest blueberry growers in the country, and United Exports, the Australian registered holder of the plant breeders’ rights, led to the confiscation by Dutch customs of two shipments of blueberries in the past week. Ross Berries (Pty) Limited is part of the Rosle Group of Companies, itself a division of the Rossouw Farming Group.
Last week Dutch custom officials confiscated a container with 20 pallets of 3kg bulk cartons of premium blueberry fruit in Rotterdam, which was reportedly earmarked for distribution and sale in the EU without the authority of United Exports.
Berries ZA chairperson Justin Midge said: “Berries ZA is aware that these seizures stem from an intellectual property dispute between a local grower and the registered holder of the plant breeders’ rights. We trust the parties to the present dispute will follow due process and act in accordance with the law, recognising that their conduct affects the reputation of the entire South African industry.”
Founder of United Exports Group Roger Horak said: “Ross Berries, a Rossouw Farming Group company, was attempting to export the fruit in flagrant disregard and abuse of the proprietary rights of United Exports, which holds the community plant variety rights in the OZblu blueberry plants and their fruit in the EU and across the world. The EU customs authority, has notified the authorities at all points of entry across the EU to monitor the import of South African blueberries to prevent the further infringement of United Exports’ intellectual property rights in relation to its OZblu blueberry plants and fruit.”
Rosle Group chief executive Charles Rossouw said: “Following the recent seizure of blueberries, we have attempted further negotiations with United and both Rosle and Ross Berries have agreed to sell what remains of their blueberry harvest for this season to United Exports on their proposed terms and prices. The basis of these negotiations was the release of the seized blueberries in the Netherlands.
“Ross Berries and Rosle wish to make clear, however, that they continue to dispute United’s claims regarding United’s rights in the so-called OzBlu blueberry varieties and, in particular, United’s claims that it is entitled as of right to ‘sell’ blueberries produced by our clients. These claims are without legal basis and merely form part of a broader effort by United to control the entire supply chain of these blueberry varieties in South Africa (and indeed internationally) and by implication fix the prices of the fruit,” said Rossouw.
“Rosle and Ross Berries acquired ownership of the blueberry plants on their farms when they purchased these plants from United Exports (South Africa). These producers are lawfully entitled to export and sell the fruit of those plants to whomsoever they please without authority or consent required in terms of both the South African and European laws,” he said.