Six-fold increase in organic seeds needed in the next ten years in Europe
Second European Organic Seed Policy Conference shows pathways to make organic seeds a reality
The Spanish Presidency of the European Union put a spotlight on rural areas and agricultural resilience during a High-level Rural Policy Forum taking place in September 2023. Meanwhile, European and national policymakers, experts, and leading organisations of the organic seed sector gathered in Poznań (Poland) to discuss the roadmap to 100 % organic seed of adjusted cultivars in Poland and the European Union. This conference was organized by the European Union co-funded project LiveSeeding and its partners from Poland. The LiveSeeding project promotes the growth of organic seed and plant breeding for the transition to more sustainable local food systems.
(Poznań and Brussels, 4 October 2023). The 2nd European Organic Seed Policy Conference took place on 29 September 2023 in Poznań, Poland. It provided an opportunity to share experiences among participants and discuss how to boost the organic seed and plant breeding sector in Poland and throughout Europe. While European legislation requires the use of organic seeds in organic agriculture, the lack of availability of organic seeds leads to the continued use of derogations for non-organic ones, slowing down progress in meeting this legislative goal. The European Commission has set the ambitious objective to completely phase out derogations by 2035.
“To reach 100 % organic seed use in organic farming, we need a six-fold increase in the production of organic seeds in the next 10 years. Such a massive increase will only be possible by joining forces,” says Dr. Monika Messmer, plant breeding expert at FiBL Switzerland. “Leading organisations across the sector are working together under the EU co-funded innovation project LiveSeeding to help overcome the practice of derogations and make organic seeds a reality everywhere in Europe”, she added.
Also, the European Commission has proposed a reform of the seed marketing legislation to harmonize and merge the various legislations and rules on seed production into one regulation. LiveSeeding project partners are working intensely on organic breeding and organic variety testing. On the basis of their scientific and market experience, LiveSeeding Consortium members welcome the draft seed legislation because 1) it provides testing of organic varieties under organic conditions in all Member States as well as room for flexibility for organic varieties registration; 2) it sets a broader definition of new and traditional conservation varieties, which will allow more genetic diversity on farms; 3) it allows in-kind exchange of seeds among farmers and; 4) it allows the commercialisation of heterogeneous material by simple notification.
Yet, the LiveSeeding Consortium is concerned about the fact that the introduction of vegetable and fruit VSCU (value for sustainable cultivation and use) testing could restrict and slow down market access of organic seeds. Under current legislation, VCU testing is compulsory only for arable crops. The current draft proposal would extend these additional tests to fruits and vegetables. This would result in additional costs, further delays in registration and slower uptake of organic seeds, which would hold back the organic sector.
Organic agriculture has been at the forefront of transitioning our agricultural systems to sustainable practices, which are resilient to adverse climate conditions, foster biodiversity and are beneficial for human and planetary health. The respect of the precautionary principle is paramount to maintaining consumers’ confidence.
While the European Commission’s proposal explicitly prohibits New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) from organic production, it does not provide a clear basis to protect GMO-free and organic production with co-existence measures nor to ensure a fair distribution of risks and burdens.
“The Commission’s proposal to deregulate New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) does not support an evidence-based and systematic approach to agriculture and innovation. It is a distraction from the agroecological solutions needed to move agriculture towards sustainability,” according to Eric Gall, IFOAM Organics Europe deputy director. Also, “exempting certain NGTs from risk assessment, traceability and labelling would be a step backwards for biosafety and consumer information, and is unlikely to bring any benefit for sustainability. Therefore, we urge Member States and the European Parliament to maintain traceability for NGTs all along the production chain and to provide organic breeders, farmers and processors with the means to avoid the presence of NGTs in organic production”.
“The Seed Policy Conference provided a great opportunity for different stakeholders to define together the roadmap to 100 % organic seed in Poland,” says Dr Edward Gacek, honorary Director of COBORU, the Polish National Variety Office, adding, “We want to encourage organic farmers to buy high-quality seed of locally adapted varieties as this strengthens the organic sector in Poland”.
The 2nd European Organic Seed Policy Conference took place after the LiveSeeding annual meeting. Sixty delegates from 37 partners convened in Poznań from 26 to 28 September 2023 to plan their future work. LiveSeeding is a 4-year innovation action co-funded by the Horizon Europe programme, Switzerland and the UK. With a budget of 6.6 million euros, the project aims to boost the organic sector by delivering high-quality seeds of a broad range of cultivars for a wide range of crops across Europe.
The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL is one of the world’s leading research institutions in the field of organic agriculture. FiBL’s strengths are interdisciplinary research, joint innovations with farmers and the food industry as well as rapid knowledge transfer. The FiBL Group currently includes FiBL Switzerland (founded in 1973), FiBL Germany (2001), FiBL Austria (2004), ÖMKi (Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, 2011), FiBL France (2017) and FiBL Europe (2017), which is jointly supported by the five national institutes. Around 400 employees work at the various locations.
About IFOAM Organics Europe
IFOAM Organics Europe is the European umbrella organisation for organic food and farming. For 20 years, it has been and continues representing organic in European policymaking and advocating for a transformation of food and farming. Its work is based on the principles of organic agriculture – health, ecology, fairness and care. With almost 200 members in 34 European countries, the work spans the entire organic food chain.
COBURU is the Polish National Variety Office. Its mission is to stimulate the innovation in plant breeding and seed and to support the application of plant variety progress into agriculture.
Polska Izba Nasienna (PIN), the Polish Seed Trade association associates and represents breeding, seed production companies and distributors of seed in Poland. Currently, it brings together 85 national and foreign affiliates, representing about 80 % of the market for agricultural, vegetable and fruit seeds.
Poznańska Hodowla Roślin Ltd. (PHR) is a seed cultivation company which specialises in cultivation and seed production of wheat, legumes and grasses.
Read Media Release in Polish here.
Read Media Release in German here.