Monday, 13 May 2013

European Commission NOT seeking to restrict seeds; another Euromyth busted!

 During the last week I have received a number of emails from members of the public expressing concern about European Commission plans to "make seeds illegal unless they are registered with governments". Many of the people were keen gardeners who feared their hobby was being threatened by the EU.

I am happy to report that this is NOT the case. Last Tuesday in the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said that rumours of the Commission trying to strangle the seeds industry were UNTRUE and may have been based on rejected drafts and/or rumours.

Commissioner Borg explained that under current legislation, much of which dates back decades, all seeds need to be registered, but that the new regulation being proposed by the Commission will liberalise the seed registration system so that among other things:

  There will be no need for traditional seeds to undergo testing.

  Niche seeds made by micro enterprises will not have to be registered.

  Micro enterprises will be exempted from registration fees.

It is also (of course!) completely untrue that:

  Individual gardeners producing seeds for their own use will break the law and be prosecuted by the Commission (the rules only apply to commercial seed growers).

  The Commission will decide on these rules with no input from the European Parliament.

What will actually happen is that as the proposed regulation on seeds ( will be scrutinised by the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee before being voted on by all MEPs at the same time as being scrutinised by all EU national governments. In other words, the usual co-decision procedure.

Unfortunately, due to the poor quality and negative focus of most reporting on EU affairs in the UK media (a mixture of lies, false rumours, wilful misinterpretation and exaggeration, see article by my colleague Catherine Bearder here:, people are rather inclined to be taken in by such stories. It is irresponsible of journalists not to check facts especially when by not doing so, they unnecessarily worry a lot of people, this time British gardeners.

There is also perhaps another reason why things are misreported and that is so certain organisations can claim they have affected policy change and show how effective they are. Commissioner Borg commented on this by noting that some organisations were claiming a "victory" in "persuading" the Commission to change its position on the seeds legislation, when in fact the position they were clamouring against never existed. 


  1. Firstly, it is worth noting that the commission /has/ changed it's position on this legislation, with several of the exemptions and exceptions you have mentioned not being present in the first draft. Whether or not this is due to public pressure or not, I can't comment.

    I am still concerned about some parts of this legislation. While it is now clear that private growers who are not selling material will be unaffected, it will affect a number of growers who sell seed on a small scale - any who have more than 10 employees. If this has an impact on the cost of seeds or the number of businesses continuing, this can only be detrimental to heritage seed variety availability. Seedbanks will also not be allowed to sell seeds without registration, making such groups who sell seed to cover costs more unviable.

    Article 14(1):
    "Plant reproductive material may be produced and made available on the market only
    if it belongs to a variety registered in a national variety register referred to in Article
    51 or in the Union variety register referred to in Article 52."

    Article 36(1):
    "Article 14(1) 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."

    For all other cases, registration and payment of a fee is required ('small' organisations as defined above are exempt). I am uncertain as to how many traders across Europe fall below this cut-off in terms of employee numbers.

    While there is a general clause that 'the fee level shall be set so as to not unduly hinder registration' there will still be a cost and administration associated with this process, which will be passed on to consumers, and potentially reduce seed availability.

    I look forward to seeing whether or not any of the groups, businesses and organisations affected by this draft have any comments.

  2. @MATT: <10 employes and "annual turnover or balance sheet total does not exceed EUR 2 million" seems like a very reasonable cutoff for 'small-scale' seed growers, IMHO. That is not to say that I like the proposal, but I think this specific criticism doesn't hold water, really...