The current EU legislation on plant and forest reproductive material (PRM legislation) has proven its success in guaranteeing the identity, performance, quality and health of all PRM. Moreover, it has contributed to fostering an internationally competitive PRM industry. However, as it partly dates back to the ‘60s, the Commission is revising the legislation, with the aim to modernise it and to better align it with the goals of the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork, Biodiversity, new EU Forest and EU Adaptation Strategies. The revision will seek for the legislation to be implemented in a more harmonised way across the EU, efficient and effective, more open to integrating new and future developments, and to contribute to sustainability goals, the protection of biodiversity and adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change.
In 2019, the Council (Council Decision (EU) 2019/1905) requested the Commission under Article 241 TFEU to provide a study on the Union's options to update the existing legislation on the production and marketing of plant reproductive material ('PRM study'). Furthermore, the Council called on the Commission to prepare a legal proposal, if deemed appropriate in view of the outcome of the PRM study.
The Commission followed up on the request of the Council with the PRM study and a letter to the Council.
The PRM study concluded that the current PRM legislation functions very well but that it is outdated. It has confirmed the continued relevance of certain key problems identified in the previous evaluation of the PRM legislation that was carried out in 2007 – 2008. The PRM study has also identified new challenges. In the past decade, there have been numerous new technical developments in the breeding and seed production sector and the forest reproductive material sector, which can only be partially addressed or not addressed at all, with the tools of the existing PRM legislation. This development has been accompanied by a growing demand for sustainability in agriculture and the increasing need to support conservation of agro-biodiversity and adaptation to climate change. The PRM legislation needs to be aligned with the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy to ensure sustainable agri-food production, long-term food security and adaptation to changing climatic and environmental conditions.
The PRM study has been published as a Staff Working Document. An Executive Summary is also available. The study is supported by an analysis that has been carried out by an external contractor. EU Member States and EEA competent authorities, industry representatives and Farmers' organisations, civil society organisations, PRM experts, and the wider public were consulted for the preparation of the PRM study. Based on the findings of the PRM study, the Commission decided to present legislative proposals for the revision of the PRM legislation by the end of 2022.
Inception impact assessment
The Commission informed stakeholders and the public about its plans to revise the legislation on plant and forest reproductive material through the publication of an inception impact assessment on Have your say. The inception impact assessment identifies possible options for this revision. It was available for public feedback from 15 June until 13 July 2021 and 66 comments were received (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Overview of replies received Sixty-six stakeholders from 13 Member States and one third country provided comments.
Comments received outside of "Have your say":
To support the preparation of the revision of the PRM legislation, an impact assessment will be carried out. This will further refine and detail the policy options identified in the inception impact assessment to deal with the problems identified by the PRM study and meet the objectives set. The Commission will be supported by the external contractor ICF, who will work on gathering and assessing data on the impacts of different policy options.
Evidence to inform the proposal for the revision of the PRM legislation will be collected by means of a public consultation as well as several other consultation activities that ICF will carry out. These include a mix of open consultations and targeted interviews and with key stakeholders in order to engage with them and seek their opinion on main policy approaches and how they would be impacted by them (Table 1).
Table 1: Envisaged timeline of execution of consultation activities.
Description of activities
Interviews with key stakeholders
The external contractor conducted 6 exploratory interviews with key stakeholders; competent authorities, industry associations, farmers’ associations, civil society organisations and an EU level organisation representing non-forestry uses of FRM.
January – March 2022
Deadline 27 March
The Commission will gather feedback from the public and stakeholders on the proposed revisions to the PRM legislation.
The feedback received is available on Have your say
March - April 2022
Targeted surveys, interviews and focus groups
The external contractor will gather expert feedback through consultation of stakeholders.
The targeted survey was launched on 3 March and closed on 1 April. A validation survey by the contractor to assess the validity of key findings was initially planned for May 2022 but it has been cancelled.
End of 2022
Commission will adopt its proposals for the revision of the PRM legislation. The proposals will be accompanied by an impact assessment.
The legislation dates back to the ‘60s and is outdated. Several practical problems in the management of the plant and forest reproductive material legislation have been identified. The main issues – as identified in the inception impact assessment – can be summarised as follows:
- Divergent implementation practices and non-level playing field for operators across Member States.
- The legislation prevents innovation and use of new technologies
- The legislation does not allow for adaptation to policy developments.
It is also important to note that the general policy objectives have changed from merely increasing agricultural production in the past to addressing climate change and environmental degradation. Thus there is an urgent need for transformation to a more sustainable agri-food chain. We have a responsibility to live within planetary boundaries while also producing food and ensuring access to food for 10 billion people by 2050. Furthermore, the availability of sufficient and more diverse forest reproductive material combined with sustainable forest management would result in healthy and resilient forests that would contribute to adaptation to, and mitigation of, the impact of climate change and would better protect biodiversity. These are challenges where plant breeding can play a key role. The aim is to steer plant breeding to a more sustainable direction.
The proposed revision of the PRM legislation fits into other priorities and policies initiated by the Commission, including the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies as well as the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change.
The goals of the Farm to Fork Strategy, as part of the European Green Deal, include reducing the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system, strengthening its resilience, ensuring food security in the face of climate change and reducing biodiversity loss. Sustainable food systems also rely on seed security and diversity. Farmers need to have access to a wide range of quality seeds of plant varieties adapted to the pressures of climate change. Updated rules on seeds and new and improved plant varieties can contribute to achieving a more sustainable, productive and diversified EU agriculture. Moreover, they can also help farmers to improve food quality and security. The Biodiversity Strategy states that the decline of genetic diversity must also be reversed; this can be done by facilitating the use of traditional varieties of crops and breeds. This would also bring health benefits through more varied and nutritious diets. The Commission will take measures to facilitate the registration of seed varieties, including for organic farming, and to ensure easier market access for traditional and locally adapted varieties.
The EU Adaptation Strategy emphasises the need to make better use of genetic diversity and plant and forest genetic resources for adaptation to climate change, and to facilitate the broadening of the supply of suitable high-quality plant and forest reproductive material to support adaptation in agriculture, forestry, and land ecosystem management.
The PRM study concludes that there are problems with the legislation concerning a lack of coherence across the Directives, complex and rigid procedures, uneven implementation and obstacles to innovation. The lack of a harmonised and risk-based framework for official controls and IT support systems creates an uneven playing field for official controls within the Union. The current legislation complicates the adoption of measures to contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies as well as the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change.
Action needs to be taken to address the problems with the legislation on the production and marketing of plant and forest reproductive material. The PRM study identifies possible options to address these problems.
There is sufficient evidence and scientific basis for the Commission to take policy action, which will entail carrying out an impact assessment. The Commission intends to adopt a legislative proposal revising the current legal framework taking into consideration the outcome of the impact assessment.
The Commission will maintain the two pillars on variety registration and certification to ensure the supply of high quality seed to the farmers. The varieties will continue to be tested for DUS (Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability) and for agricultural crops on their performance (value for cultivation and use, VCU). The identity, health and quality of seed will be ensured for users.
The Commission is preparing a proposal for a seven-year-derogation for organic varieties from existing variety testing protocols (DUS) and requirements for testing as regards performance (value for cultivation and use, VCU). The intention is to promote the breeding of varieties for the specific needs of organic agriculture with the aim to increase their availability and use.
As regards organic heterogeneous material (material that is not a variety nor a mixture of varieties), a delegated act has recently been adopted to address the need to market more heterogeneous material for organic agriculture. Moreover, the Commission will reflect, on the basis of a temporary experiment on populations finalised in February 2021, on the need to have rules on heterogeneous material not produced under organic conditions.
The revision will elaborate on how and to what extent further improvements could be introduced in the PRM legislation, in order to facilitate technical and scientific developments, e.g. use of bio-molecular techniques in variety testing and certification as well as digitalisation.
Different options will be assessed for laying down a lighter regime for the registration and marketing of varieties of interest for conservation – traditional varieties including varieties adapted to local conditions - taking into account the needs and demands of the users. The possibility to exempt from the scope of the legislation the marketing of seeds to amateur gardeners or set up a lighter regime for such marketing will be assessed. Moreover, it will be assessed if seed conservation networks/associations that market PRM for non-profit purposes can be exempted from the scope of the legislation when they contribute to the conservation of genetic resources.
Currently, the rules apply to the marketing of PRM to all categories of users. For the revision of the legislation, options will be explored regarding marketing to amateur gardeners. The rules for registration of varieties of which the PRM is intended for exclusive marketing to amateur gardeners will be revisited. Amateur gardeners wish to have diverse PRM of good quality and the new rules will ensure that this is the case. It should be noted that the use of plant reproductive material (including by amateur gardeners) is not regulated and this will remain so also in the future.
Thanks to the development of plant breeding, testing and registration of varieties by national authorities, there are about 46 000 different varieties of agricultural and vegetable plant species, 21 500 different varieties of fruit plants and 79 000 approved different sources for the production of forest reproductive material available on the EU market. The general performance of plant reproductive material has increased significantly over time. The aim of the revision is to explore the possibilities to improve the efficiency and efficacy of variety registration, including adapting uniformity requirements for organic varieties and simplifying the rules for the registration of varieties of interest for conservation (traditional and locally produced and adapted varieties).
Member States and stakeholders have been and will continue to be consulted during the process of the revision of the PRM legislation. An online public consultation on the key questions will be organised from beginning of January 2022 to 27 March 2022.
The possibilities for harmonising official controls and ensuring a level playing field for operators in the EU will be assessed, amongst which the potential inclusion of the PRM legislation under the scope of the OCR.
The revision of the PRM legislation will not address plant variety rights or patents.
Obligatory certification for seeds of agricultural crops will be maintained. It is one of the key pillars of the PRM legislation. This means that also in the future only certified seed can be marketed to farmers. Farmers can use seed harvested on their own holding for further sowing, but they cannot market it (‘farm saved seed’). Under certain conditions farm saved seed can also be seed of protected varieties.
The revision will assess options to address the exchange of seed in kind, such as lighter rules for this type of activity or allowing the exchange of seed in kind and services between farmers under well-defined circumstances.
Bio-molecular techniques are rapidly evolving. They can be used as supplementary tools to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the variety registration and seed certification processes. However, they do not replace the phenotypical observations in the field. Their use has in recent years been addressed in international standards of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Seed Schemes.
NGTs including the issue on their labelling will not be analysed and addressed in the context of the revision of the PRM legislation but under the separate initiative on NGTs. See more information on this on the relevant webpage.
Based on an evaluation in 2007-2008 [Final report – Annexes – Executive summary ], an Action Plan in 2009 and an impact assessment in 2011-2012, in May 2013, the European Commission submitted a proposal for a Regulation on the production and marketing of PRM including forest reproductive material. The proposed Regulation aimed at consolidating, updating and simplifying the existing legal framework regarding all sectors of seed and other PRM by replacing the 12 existing Directives ('2013 PRM proposal').
The 2013 PRM proposal addressed several areas of concern such as the complexity, rigidity, and fragmentation of the legislation, the non-level playing field, and the lack of coherence with other policies. Moreover, the aim was to create links with the new legislation related to plant health and official controls. These two Regulations were revised at the same time and entered into force in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The main objective was to create a common and simplified framework for all sectors of seed and other plant reproductive material, and in particular to:
- grant more responsibility and flexibility to operators
- cut red tape and costs by making the rules more flexible and efficient across the EU
- create more opportunities for niche markets and for small producers
- make the rules more compatible with policy aims such as sustainable intensification of agriculture and the enhancement and conservation of biodiversity
- streamline administrative procedures to support innovation; and
- establish a level playing field by introducing the principle of cost recovery.
The 2013 PRM proposal was rejected in 2014 by the European Parliament whereas the Council expressed support for the proposal and provided orientations for possible amendments. In 2015, the Commission withdrew the proposal.
For more information, please see the page on the "2013 PRM proposal"