Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Modernizing the Movement of Seed in Europe

New marketing regulations should allow for stronger private sector involvement, say advocates.

Although the foundation of Europe’s seed marketing rules remains solid, the time has come to modernize the legislation as a means to streamline policy and foster innovation among the continent’s plant breeders and growers.

More than five years ago, the European Commission launched a review of the 12 basic acts or directives that currently govern the way seed and plant propagating materials are produced and moved within the European Union.

In the fall of 2012, the Directorate General for Health and Consumers drafted a proposal for revisions to the EU legislation on the marketing of seed and propagating material. The proposal was adopted last May and an official proposal has been forwarded to the European Council and Parliament for consideration.

Time to Renovate, Not Revolutionize
Some of the tenants of the current legislation date back to the 1960s, but according to Garlich von Essen, secretary general of the European Seed Association, age wasn’t the only reason a review was in order. For example, the European Commission regularly evaluates policy applicable to individual sectors with the intent of simplifying language for the benefit of economic growth.

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“We hope the new legislation will be clear that all seed placed in the EU market must also fulfill the EU rules, norms and standards, starting with belonging to a correctly registered variety.” 
— Garlich von Essen

During the review process, it became apparent that the seed and farming sectors wanted some change; it was equally clear, however, they weren’t looking for a revolution. “In the area of plant reproductive material and plant health, the evaluation found the main pillars of the legal framework still valid and much appreciated by all stakeholders,” von Essen says.

Those pillars include registration requirements based on a plant’s distinctness, uniformity and stability, and value for cultivation and use. These criteria are used for variety listing, compulsory seed certification for agricultural crops and to determine specific exemptions for clearly defined markets or uses.

Nigel Moore, business administration director of KWS UK Ltd. and ESA’s vice president, says European food security was a major consideration when the current standards, especially the value for cultivation and use, were enacted as part of the original legislation. Today, the requirements for continual genetic gain from new varieties continue to be important due to the region’s focus on sustainability.

“It is essential to European private sector plant breeding investment to have this regulatory framework providing a basis for plant variety development. Its retention in the new legislative proposal is very much welcomed by the seed industry and provides a continued driver to raise productivity per farmed hectare and deliver on public policy on sustainable agriculture,” says Moore.

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“It is essential to European private sector plant breeding investment to have this regulatory framework providing a basis for plant variety development.”
— Nigel Moore

Clarification of important terms, should they be realized in the new law, would have an immediate impact on international trade. For example, problems with direct imports and misleading declarations have arisen due to the vague way in which the term imports is currently defined.

“We hope the new legislation will be clear that all seed placed in the EU market must also fulfill the EU rules, norms and standards, starting with belonging to a correctly registered variety,” von Essen says.

Although simplification is one goal, industry leaders say future legislation must continue to respect the differences between species and markets; for example, establishing identical rules for vegetables and agricultural crops would be problematic.

“We clearly want to maintain flexibility and differentiation where this is beneficial for farmers and growers, breeders and, of course, public or official bodies,” says von Essen.

One proposed change to the current legislation being welcomed by the industry is a new format. “The ‘old’ law is based on directives which require implementing acts by member states. Over the years, many differences of interpretation and practices have emerged. With the new law based on a regulation and thus directly applicable in all 27 member states, more harmonization and with that, an even stronger common market for seed, should be achieved,” he notes.

Industry Requires Efficiency
The European Seed Association advocates that the new policy, in the interest of modernity, must allow for a more efficient and less costly system for variety testing and seed certification. The nature of the industry has evolved greatly since the first seed acts were drafted 40 years ago.

“We work in a different, much more international business environment, in more open markets where competition is fiercer than ever. High quality and high speed are demanded by farmers and growers and must be assured by breeders and seed producers. Only companies that consistently produce and assure both have a chance to continue to grow,” von Essen says.

Reorganization among government agencies and stronger involvement by the private sector are means by which efficiencies can be achieved, says von Essen.

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“In order to assure the quality of these delegated controls, the quality system requirements to be met by operators have to be clearly defined and verified.”
— Gerard Meijerink

The ESA is also calling for the Community Plant Variety Office to play a bigger role in several areas. The agency has demonstrated its ability to work efficiently on variety protection and the ESA would like to see it administer additional tasks such as the common catalogue of varieties, currently managed by the European Commission.

“We see a number of activities where variety protection and variety registration are somehow linked or rest on the same pillar, such as the DUS requirements,” von Essen says.

It’s also logical that the European Union adopt a more cooperative form of governance wherein the industry is viewed as a partner rather than just a body subject to decision-making—the expertise of professionals within the sector benefitting from the quality and speed of plant health controls and certification, von Essen says.

“Today’s seed sector is much more professional than 40 or even 50 years ago—and so are farmers and growers. We can take over many tasks that in the past had to be carried out by officials. But it is decisive that the system continues to deliver the necessary trust of all parties. That is why we advocate a partnership where qualified and accredited private operators carry out defined tasks under official supervision,” von Essen says.

Gerard Meijerink, Syngenta’s senior government relations advocate, says he would welcome more “delegation under official supervision” to private operators—while respecting stringent standards.

“In order to assure the quality of these delegated controls, the quality system requirements to be met by operators have to be clearly defined and verified. Competent authorities need to audit and perform post-controls on a representative number of seed lots. This should assure that only operators with the right expertise, facilities, processes and internal controls will be eligible for this delegation,” Meijerink says. 

 Maria Brown

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