July 15. 2024. 7:24

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Council pushes for tougher stance on farmer seed swaps in new EU law


EU member states are in favour of stricter rules on marketing seeds and other plant reproductive material (PRM), especially concerning exchanges between farmers.

On June 18, the Council published the current state of discussions on the draft legislation, which aims to replace at least 11 directives governing the production and marketing of PRM, such as seeds, cuttings, tubers, and young plants.

At the next meeting of EU agriculture ministers, on 24 June in Luxembourg, the Belgian Council presidency will present the document publicly.

The text reveals that EU countries are pushing for a tougher stance on farmer exchanges of reproductive material, a contentious aspect of the regulation.

The European Commission’s proposal exempts seed exchanges among farmers from regulatory requirements and bureaucracy if these do not involve payment.

However, several national delegations in the Council have proposed deleting this exemption entirely, fearing it would create a loophole for a seed black market.

Other delegations suggest keeping the exemption but tightening the definitions of “farmers” and “local level.”

Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s position has been more flexible, even including the possibility of agricultural producers being remunerated for exchanges of their own PRM—and not only seeds—going beyond the Commission’s proposal, which only allows seed swaps in kind.

According to the text approved by the Parliament, the Commission will later decide the maximum amount of PRM that can be traded among farmers without being subject to the rules.

Parliament wants to ease seed marketing rules for conservation efforts

The European Parliament adopted its position on Wednesday (24 April) on the overhaul of EU marketing legislation on seeds and other types of plant reproductive material (PRM), proposing to free seed exchanges between farmers and for conservation purposes of new bureaucratic requirements.

Another proposed exemption to the marketing rules is the case of conservation varieties – traditional crops adapted to local conditions that risk being displaced by modern varieties.

Some EU countries suggest narrowing this measure to include only “old” conservation varieties, excluding “newly bred” ones that are also adapted to local conditions.

However, the Council presidency warned that excluding new varieties created by farmer communities would subject them to all provisions that apply to commercial crops.

The Parliament, on the other hand, advocates less strict rules for the access, sale, and transfer of conservation varieties in “small quantities”—500 grams for vegetables or up to 1000 kilograms for seed potatoes.

Herbert Dorfmann, the member of the European Parliament (MEP) leading the work on the file, emphasised that networks involved in conservation should not be burdened with excessive bureaucracy as their efforts contribute to the EU’s biodiversity and cultural richness.

These proposed flexibilities have been criticised by Euroseeds, the European seed industry lobby. In April, the organisation warned that the “many derogations and exemptions” jeopardise the quality and control of seed material in Europe.

Conversely, the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), representing peasants and small-scale farmers, argues that any restrictions on farmer exchanges of seed material violate producers’ rights to swap PRM from their harvest, as stated in a 2018 UN declaration.

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