EU seed marketing legislation

The current EU seed marketing legislation is based on three pillars:

In order to be marketed at the European or national level, a seed variety of a regulated specie* must be registered in, at least, one official national catalogue of cultivated species. The European catalogue gathers all national catalogues.

Varieties not registered in any of the Member States official catalogues therefore cannot be legally marketed** in the EU.

* Almost all cultivated species of some commercial significance are regulated. However, a few species remain unregulated (...) therefore, varieties of these species must not be registered in an official catalogue.

** The definition of marketing, however, only covers the sale, disposal, supply or transfer of seeds aimed at the commercial exploitation of the variety to third parties.

To be registered, a variety of plant must meet several criteria.

For all species, a variety must respond to the DUS system, i.e.:

1. Being DISTINCT from the varieties already registered.

2. Being UNIFORM. Individuals composing the variety must be identical

3. Being STABLE, able to conserve its characteristics over time

These requirements are mandatory and harmonized at the European level with the rules applicable for the granting of Plant Breeder’s Rights, a specific legal regime of intellectual property rights for new plant varieties (DUS also applicable).

This is managed in the European Union by the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) on the basis of global guidelines and an international convention (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants or UPOV).

Regarding the registration of agricultural plants (e.g. cereals), a variety must also have a Value for Cultivation and Use (VCU), i.e. the variety must show superior characteristics (especially in yields) as those already available on the market.

After the registration of the variety, seeds will be ‘multiplied’ and seed lots, or other plant reproductive material (PRM), will have to be “certified” under certain circumstances. Certification is mandatory for all agricultural crops. This procedure entails verification of their identity, their quality (e.g. in terms of varietal and specific purity and the germination capacity of the seeds) and their sanitary status before any lot can reach the market.

Certification also applies to vegetable species but controls only take place randomly, in distribution channels (after marketing). Seeds reaching the market under these conditions are labelled “standard seeds”.

This procedure is generally carried out by Member States' official bodies.

To be legally sold, seeds must eventually comply with packaging, sealing, labelling and documentation requirements.

“Conservation varieties” and “varieties with no intrinsic value for commercial crop production but developed for growing under particular conditions”

Certain derogations to the horizontal legislation on the marketing of seeds have been introduced for "conservation varieties" and “varieties with no intrinsic value for commercial crop production but developed for growing under particular conditions”.

Through Commission Directive 2009/145/EC of 26 November 2009, applicable to vegetable landraces, and Commission Directive 2008/62/EC of 20 June 2008, applicable to agricultural landraces and potatoes.

- 'Conservation varieties' are "landraces and varieties which have been traditionally grown in particular localities and regions and threatened by genetic erosion"

- 'Varieties developed for growing under particular conditions' are varieties "with no intrinsic value for commercial crop production but developed for growing under particular conditions".

- A variety shall be considered as having been developed for growing under particular conditions if "it has been developed for growing under particular agro-technical, climatic or pedological conditions".

Some small flexibility has been introduced for the registration and the certification of these two categories of seeds.

However, additional restrictions also apply to them:

- 'Conservation varieties' must be produced and marketed only in their "region of origin";
- Quantities commercialised must remain very limited: seeds of 'conservation varieties' must not be sold in quantities exceeding the possibility to plant 10 to 40 ha, depending on the species (maize is limited to 10 ha, for instance);
- 'Varieties with no intrinsic value for commercial crop production but developed for growing under particular conditions' must be sold in small package only (5 to 250 g max, depending on the species), so that "the relatively high cost of the seed sold in small packages having the effect of a quantitative limitation".

To go further...

  • Directive 2010/60/EU - derogations for marketing fodder plant seed mixtures for use in preservation of the environment.
  • Commission Regulation 637/2009/EC of 22 July 2009 establishing implementing rules as to the suitability of the denominations of varieties of agricultural plant species and vegetable species.
  • Directive 2009/145/EC- derogations for accepting vegetable landraces and varieties traditionally grown in certain regions, threatened by genetic erosion and varieties with no intrinsic value for commercial production but developed growing under particular conditions; marketing of their seed.
  • Council Directive 2008/72/EC on the marketing of vegetable propagating and planting material other than seed.
  • Directive 2008/90/EC - marketing of fruit propagating material and fruit plants for fruit production.
  • Directive 2008/72/EC - marketing of material for the propagation of the vine.
  • Directive 2008/62/EC - derogations for agricultural landraces and varieties naturally adapted to local conditions, threatened by genetic erosion; marketing their seed and seed potatoes.
  • Commission Directive 2003/91/EC: Rules on minimum characteristics and minim conditions for examining certain vegetable species.
  • Commission Directive 2003/90/EC: Rules on minimum characteristics and minimum conditions for examining certain varieties of agricultural plant species.
  • Directive 2002/57/EC - marketing of seed of oil and fibre plants.
  • Directive 2002/56/EC - marketing of seed potatoes.
  • Council Directive 2002/55/EC on the marketing of vegetable seed.
  • Directive 2002/55/EC - marketing of vegetable seed.
  • Directive 2002/54/EC - marketing of beet seed.
  • Council Directive 2002/53/EC on the common catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species.
  • Directive 2002/53/EC - common catalogue of agricultural plant species
  • Directive 1999/105/EC - marketing of forest reproductive material.
  • Directive 1998/56/EC - marketing of propagating material of ornamental plants
  • Directive 1992/33/EEC - marketing of vegetable material, other than seed.
  • Directive 1966/402/EEC - marketing of cereal seed
  • Directive 1966/401/EEC - marketing of fodder plant seed