Plant Reproductive Materials - EU Regulation Proposals

In May 2013 a new EU regulation sought to replace 12 Directives, which would have seen gardeners and farmers prevented from exchanging seeds and, as a consequence, not being able to grow heritage varieties. Unlike the Directives, the single regulation was not open to interpretation by each member government; it would have been an EU law that would have applied directly to the whole of Europe.

The proposed regulation led to fears that seed exchange networks such as Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library (HSL) and the making available and swapping of seeds between private individuals and subsistence growers would be subject to costly annual fees, registration fees and increased bureaucracy. Faced with this threat to our seeds, bulbs and plants, Garden Organic began campaigning in opposition to such a regulation with other NGO’s from across Europe. As a result EU commissioner Tonio Borg made last minute changes to the original draft proposals which softened the impact of the regulation but still posed a threat to our biodiversity and the free movement and trade of local, landrace heritage and unregistered seeds, the very core of our Heritage Seed Library.

In November 2013 the original concessions made in May 2013 came under threat again as a new draft report tried to roll back and water down the exemptions gained in May.

The key propositions of the new report would have seen the HSL once again subject to costly licensing and registrations that could have potentially led to its closure. This registration would have also restricted the development of new seed varieties. It would have also left farmers, growers and the consumer faced with limited choice as a large number of varieties could have been eliminated from potential future production. This action in turn could have had a lasting long term impact on biodiversity levels across Europe.

Garden Organic formed an alliance with concerned UK organisations – including UK NGOs, small seed producers, plant breeders and trade associations – to work together to persuade EU officials and MEPs to reject the proposals and reinstate the previously agreed exemptions. We also joined forces with 37 different organisations from across Europe and produced a declaration to the European Parliament (http://www.eu-seedlaw.net/) with a set of demands on behalf of the European Network in an effort to have our collective voice heard on this very important issue.

On 11th March 2014 the Plant Reproductive Material regulation was set before the EU Parliament and was rejected by a significant majority, not only was the regulation rejected but it was also rejected with more than 1400 amendments.

The Parliament was then dissolved due to impending Elections, and parallel to that, on 12th May 2014 the Member States’ Council working group demanded that the EU Commission rebuild the proposal. The European Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection (DG SANCO) held an advisory group with stakeholders on 15th July 2014 to discuss any future seed marketing regulation and to gather thoughts after the previous PRM proposal had been outvoted so unanimously to see if there was a way to move this type of regulation forward.

The EU Seed Regulation was discussed by the European Commission in January 2015; when two options were outlined, the first being that the Commissioners accept an amended re-presented version of the rejected regulation in the work plan. An amended regulation would have adversely affected Europe’s biodiversity and seen gardeners and farmers threatened with being prevented from exchanging seeds and, as a consequence, no longer be able to grow heritage varieties. It would also see our own Heritage Seed Library come under direct threat. Garden Organic's preferred option involved the EU conducting an impact assessment, direct consultation with stakeholders, leading to a complete rewrite of the EU Seed Regulation.

Where are we now? On Friday, 6th March 2015, Garden Organic learned that the current EU Seed Regulation legislation has been withdrawn, this was confirmed the following day when the official notification was posted on the EU official journal. There has been no notification as to what will happen next, but we will keep you updated as to future developments, as and when they happen.