About a week ago, I wrote about the threats to EU seed diversity possibly contained in a sweeping law that required the mandatory registration of all commercially traded seeds, often at considerable financial and administrative effort involved.
Today, the European Commission actually presented its proposal for the first time and, lo and behold, there were some last-minute additions introduced that do take care of some of the concerns voiced.
In particular, paragraph 2 of the last proposal draft covers derogations, including:
“Derogation on niche market plant reproductive material
In addition, proportionate and sustainable rules for small scale activities concerning plant reproductive material, which is adapted to local conditions, and made available on the market in small quantities, should be established. Such varieties should be exempted from the requirements on registration and making available on the market. This material is defined as niche market plant reproductive material. The exemption should concern e.g. farmer-breeders or gardener-breeders whether being professional operators or not. However, some basic rules on labelling and traceability of the material should be laid down. In order to prevent an abuse of the exemption the material should only be made available on the market in a defined size of packages.”
This is further clarified in Article 2:
This Regulation shall not apply to plant reproductive material:
(a) intended solely for testing or scientific purposes;
(b) intended solely for breeding purposes;
(c) intended solely for, and maintained by, gene banks, organisations and networks of conservation of genetic resources, or persons belonging to those organisations or networks;
(d) exchanged in kind between persons other than professional operators.”
While this is good news for seed banks and swaps between private persons, I am not sure how this wording sees the swapping of seeds between local farmers – they are clearly “professional operators”, but would they qualify as pursuing “on-farm conservation” of genetic resources?
There is more information on derogations in Article 36:
“1. Article 14(1) [requiring mandatory registration] shall not apply to plant reproductive material where all of the following conditions are fulfilled:
(a) it is made available on the market in small quantities by persons other than
professional operators, or by professional operators employing no more than
ten persons and whose annual turnover or balance sheet total does not exceed
EUR 2 million;
(b) it is labelled with the indication ‘niche market material’.”
So there is a certain leeway for small-scale producers, but clearly the EU is trying to find a balance on where producer protection stops and regulatory oversight is necessary.
The new draft also addresses old traditional varieties, as follows:
“Old traditional varieties. Concerning old varieties, such as conservation varieties (including landraces), or so called ‘amateur varieties’, less stringent requirements should continue to be laid down in view of promoting their on farm conservation and use as currently regulated under the Directives 2008/62/EC and 2009/145/EC. The varieties will continue to be registered, however, on the basis of an ‘officially recognised description’ which shall be recognised – but not produced – by the competent authorities.” (p. 8)
In addition, the press release stresses that the use of seeds in private gardens, and the private sale of seeds in small quantities, will not fall under the scope of the regulation, that old traditional varieties and heterogenous material will only be subject to “light registration rules” (and are exempt from the testing requirements), and that micro-enterprises are generally exempt from registration fees.
So, were all concerns addressed? It depends; some of the actual adjustments are only delegated to the Commission, which is then tasked to “adopt delegated acts accordingly”, but these specifics will be decided behind closed doors. In addition, the changes don’t reach as far as was demanded by civil society (e.g., that no registration of plant varieties that don’t have intellectual property rights attached to them is mandatory). However, this draft already looks much better than what was discussed previously – it seems civil society has been (to a certain extent) heard! Now, the legislative debate moves to the European Parliament and the Council – the reform is intended to become law only in 2016.
Were you following the seed diversity debate? Do you think it was much ado about nothing, or that only the protest movement ensured that the current draft is as reasonable as it is?