Fight continues between UC-Davis and strawberry commission

04/24/2014 05:11:00 PM
Coral Beach

The California Strawberry Commission and the University of California-Davis remain at odds regarding the school’s use of strawberry germplasm developed in a breeding program partially funded by the commission.

The university’s legal team asked a state judge in Alameda County Superior Court to dismiss a suit the commission filed against it in October. The commission contends the school breached its contract regarding development and use of the new strawberry varieties it says its members paid for already.

“The strawberry breeding program at UC Davis is the pre-eminent public breeding program in the world today and the only public breeding program in the state. We are committed to maintaining that status for years to come,” Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a news release April 23.

Commission communications director Carolyn O’Donnell said the commission has been trying to resolve issues with the university for several years.

“For the past five years, commission members and staff have met with the university administration to discuss ongoing concerns regarding the management, oversight and long-term viability of the public strawberry breeding program,” according to a statement from the commission.

“During this time, there was no meaningful movement regarding any of these issues. The commission filed this lawsuit as a last resort to protect the public strawberry breeding program.”

O’Donnell said the university breeding program is a “critical” industry partner and the strawberry commission has contributed to it since 1955. She said the commission’s members have given the school more than $18 million in the past 25 years.

Among the allegations in its civil suit, the commission says growers are no longer receiving strawberry germplasm specifically developed for them. The commission wants the court to stop UC-Davis from allowing two scientists to control and profit from research and cultivars commission members paid for already.

The two scientists have been working on strawberries since the commission’s formal arrangement with the school began in 1980. They are not named as defendants in the case.

According to the commission’s complaint, in early 2012 researchers Doug Shaw and Kirk Larson announced intentions to resign and take the germplasm and research to establish a private company to research and breed strawberries.

The university then notified the strawberry commission it planned to terminate the breeding and research program and said it will no longer sell new strawberry varieties to the growers, according to the civil lawsuit.

“The majority of the commission’s growers will not obtain the new strawberry varieties that Shaw and Larson will develop from the germplasm because Shaw and Larson intend to exclusively distribute the new strawberry varieties to select growers,” according to the complaint.

The commission contends growers have paid $60 million to the university since the 1950s to directly finance strawberry breeding and in royalties to plant those varieties.

University officials call the commission’s lawsuit meritless in their news release.

The dean of the UC-Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences was scheduled to meet with state legislators in Sacramento the week of April 21 “to reaffirm the university’s commitment to the program and address misconceptions set forth in the lawsuit,” according to the news release.



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