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David Victor

Proposed EU Legislation regarding plant material

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You may not know that there is important legislation being proposed regarding plant varieties currently. The wording of the legislation requires all plant varieties sold in the European Union to be listed on an official register, making it illegal to sell unregistered varieties. At present only 2,000 of the estimated 77,000 cultivars sold in UK are registered, and with an administrative cost of as much as £500 per variety to register. 


While the regulations are designed to rationalise and simplify current legislation, and offer greater protection to consumers, their effect in their current form likely to be more extensive and damaging.  For example, many small nurseries and holders of specialised collections, both of which often depend on the sale of selected cultivars to enthusiasts, are likely to be forced to close, to both the detriment of the buyer and the seller.


If you would like to know more about this subject, go to http://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedlaw2.html where there is a long discussion of the subject.


Alternatively,  Plant Heritage, the UK plant conservation charity has further details at http://www.nccpg.com/News/EU-regulation-on-Plant-Reproductive-Materials.aspx


This includes information on how to lobby the group that are making the decisions.  


The deadline for representations is the end of November, so please hurry!

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As a very small producer of rare plants I was at first quite worried by the proposed EU regulations. When I studied the text downloaded from the EU site, I came to realise that the text was unlikely to be voted into law in its present state; Not exactly in legal language, more of a draft adaptation of a previous text, prepared perhaps by a "stagiere" whose first language was not english. Either way, there are more exceptions than rules: staff numbers, annuel turnover, and target market (collections, scientific studies, plant breeders) are all taken into account so the law be left with little or no content.


Large scale producers and distributers would be obliged to label more accurately which should be a good thing, although legislation already exists here in France and is simply ignored. These large companys sell huge quantities of a limited number of varieties so costs for them  would be proportionally low.


Exempt at first sight from this proposed law are small producers who will remain free to sell unregistered varieties. These varieties will, as at present, require  labels, but nothing will be done to ensure the accurate the identification of the plants themselves.  The proposed law will not alter the status quo. Some plant sources will remain reliable, others will not improve.


Those who are close to or just above a limit for exemption and who produce a wide variety of plants may feel a real and quite unjust economic impact from this. One of my friends grows 1700 varieties of hardy plants. In a good year he might exceed the turnover quota, but there is no way to predict that in advance nor could he possibly afford to register every variety "just in case". There are a number of  "pépinièristes" in France of about this size, and they represent an important source of high quality plants, but only a few votes when election time comes.


It is for cases like this that we should oppose this project. Yes to correct plant plant labelling, no to more rules that cannot or will not help.


Here in France we have to contend with "Departemental" Regional, French and European laws that are sometimes conflicting. Most are ignored. Latest ruling: I am no longer allowed to burn contaminated plants or invasive weeds. A "Prefectorial" decision perhaps equivalent to a local by-law? OK, in futur I will  use them to heat the greenhouse even though this is not helpful in full summer.

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My feeling is that this is yet another case where "eternal vigilance" is called for.  Whilst the underlying rationale for such a scheme to protect large commercial users might well be justifiable, the damage to small users can be devastating, as the EU seed legislation proved some years ago. 


Another scheme of this type that has (at least until recently) been going the rounds is a set of international agreements to restrict the interchange of seeds across regional boundaries.  Luckily, in the US a member of a small society has been co-opted onto the inter-governmental  board preparing the proposals to ensure that the scheme, which is primarily aimed at the major agricultural and horticultural industries does not crush the enthusiast market "by accident".  Oh for that kind of opportunity in the EU, but sadly that is so corporatist by nature that there is no opportunity for such involvement.


We need to keep the pressure up on all of these initiatives if we wish to maintain our enjoyment in the variety of our plants.

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