On March 11, 2014, the European Parliament rejected – with a huge majority – a proposal by the EU Commission for a new EU seed regulation.

The proposal for change

The proposal, introduced by Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, aimed to consolidate and update legislation on the marketing of plant reproductive material by combining twelve EU Council directives.

The Commission had pointed out the need for existing legislation to adapt to modern technologies and had commented on how complex existing legislation is, due to its split over several Council directives. This fragmentation had led to uncertainties and discrepancies in adoption and implementation by member states, resulting in an uneven playing field within the EU market and complicating the seed business in a border-free Europe.

The proposal aimed to harmonise the implementation of seed legislation and to reduce cost and administrative burdens while supporting innovation and maintaining food security and safety for customers.

Industrial producers of seed varieties say that the planned European register and certification process will help to guarantee a high quality of the seed material sold for industrial purposes in the market and thus provide the best customer protection.

Its critics

The proposal was criticised by eco-farmers, smaller breeders and environmental activist groups. These parties voiced concerns that the provisions on certification are very complex, the registration is expensive and this would therefore raise costs for the certification of old plant varieties. This would then prevent commercial distribution of such varieties through smaller players in the market and could endanger the life of rare and old varieties.

These arguments, together with concerns that the regulation left no room for member states to adapt provisions to their own needs, were taken up by most of the members of the EU Parliament, who then rejected the proposal.

Next stage: EU Council

The proposal – together with the EU Parliament’s position – now goes to the EU Council. The Council will either support Parliament’s decision (ending the legislation process) or suggest amendments, leading to a second reading of the proposal in Parliament. Parliament could then either reject the amended version (again, ending the legislation process) or enter into negotiations with the Council regarding its wording.

The EU Parliament holds elections in May 2014 and installs a new Commission in October 2014. As a result, further debate on EU seed regulations may not take place until later in the year.