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.
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".