30 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM This collection and publication of data is linked to the derogations from the compulsory use of organic seeds in organic production. According to Article 35 of the agreement, these derogations would be phased out after 15 years; however, this period may be extended or reduced based on a report from the Commission (seven years into the period) which would assess the availability of organic seeds according to the informa- tion provided in the databases. Establishing a timetable for the ending of derogations is a step in the right direction - it will hopefully lead to greater investment and innovation in the produc- tion of organic seed as companies will have greater assurances that there will be a future market for such seed. At the same time, the link between the informa- tion in the database and the end date for derogations is important - it means that the end date will be introduced based on data, rather than at a point in time that is politically arbitrary. This should prevent any disruption to the market, since dero- gations will only end when there is proof of sufficient quantity of organic seed. Thus, again, it is important for producers to actively update databases to ensure a true reflection of the market situation. Derogations will need to be author- ised on a case-by-case basis by national competent authorities, and only where operators have consulted the database and sufficient quality and/or quality of organic seed is not available for their particular needs. Whilst ESA still would have preferred to see its own proposed classification system phasing out deroga- tions according to species be introduced – which would have allowed for an imme- diate end to unnecessary derogations - however, the adopted text will at least allow for an approach based on data, and it is our hope that the appropriate imple- mentation of case-by-case authorisation of derogations will lead to a similar out- come in practice. The agreed text also includes some remnants of the Parliament’s proposals relevant to the seed sector – namely pro- visions on the use of “organic heterogene- ous material”, i.e. material that does not satisfy the variety definition in terms of uniformity, and a definition of an “organic variety suitable for organic production”. In the case of the former, this started out as an exemption for “heterogeneous material” from the requirements of the seed marketing directives, despite the fact that there is an ongoing temporary experiment to assess whether or not this should be permitted. During negotia- tions, as part of a political compromise, this concept was narrowed down to only apply to “organic heterogeneous material” and significant safeguards were intro- duced limiting the production and mar- keting of such material, requiring the Commission to introduce further rules and detailed technical specifications on a species-by-species basis. In the case of the latter, the Commission agreed to publish a politi- cal declaration outlining its intention to carry out a temporary experiment with the purpose of establishing criteria for the description of the characteristics of “organic varieties suitable for organic pro- duction” and the conditions under which they may be produced. Part of the defi- nition restricting breeding methods was also removed in line with a deletion of the definition of “organic plant breeding” which, as originally phrased, was highly discriminatory and would have excluded many current and potential future breed- ing methods. We do not anticipate that these addi- tional provisions will place any immediate additional obligations on the seed sector, but they will need to be closely followed by ESA as they evolve and are given effect through subsequent executive acts by the Commission. Thus, ESA’s work will con- tinue even after the text is finally adopted as we monitor these developments and provide input where necessary. The final issue which was only resolved late last year concerned the text in Annex II outlining the rules for the pro- duction of plant reproductive material. The text included in the June agreement was originally unclear: it could have been interpreted as allowing for the status quo whereby organic seed is multiplied from untreated, non-organic basic seed; it could also have been interpreted as implying that organic seed can only be produced from organic basic seed. The text’s lack of clarity could have potentially implied significant changes if it were interpreted incorrectly: if producers were required to produce certified organic seed from organic basic seed instead of untreated conventional basic seed, this would severely limit their ability to pro- duce such seed, the resulting qualities would likely not meet the requirements of the seed marketing directives, and prices would likely rise so significantly that they would become prohibitive. However, ESA raised these concerns with the Commission, who were open to a dialogue on this issue and agreed that further clarity was required. The text was subsequently clarified to ensure that it permits a continuation of the status quo whereby organic seed is multiplied from untreated, non-organic basic seed. Some of those involved in the nego- tiations hailed the agreement in June as a great success, though on paper the improvements do not necessarily justify the time and effort which went into this reform. Many of the Commission’s objec- tives were watered down by Member States keen to maintain the status quo and many of the technical improvements do not give MEPs in the Parliament much political capital to use at home with their farmers and consumers. The final text was put to a vote of the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) on 20 November 2017, and a qualified majority of Member States voted in favour of the text. Following this positive vote, the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture held a vote in which a major- ity endorsed the text. The next step will be for final signoff by the full plenary of the European Parliament (all 751 MEPs) and by the national Agriculture Ministers at the AGRI-FISH Council meeting, both expected sometime in April 2018. Assuming these votes pass smoothly, the intention is for the new rules to apply from 1 January 2021. For the seed sector, we will have a new regulation which does offer some improvements to the sector. ESA’s advo- cacy efforts and persistence paid off, as we succeeded in retaining those elements we supported, and removing most of the elements we did not! However, our work is not over: once the text is adopted, the challenge for ESA will be to closely mon- itor the implementation of the regulation, including important upcoming secondary acts, and to support ESA members where necessary. Hopefully, in the medium-term, when the databases have been built up, this information will serve to influence the next reform of the organic regulation, when we can perhaps finally expect some meaningful proposals for our sector. Editor’s Note: Kate Wilson is the Public Affairs Manager at the European Seed Association (ESA), in Brussels, Belgium “We do not anticipate that these additional provisions will place any immediate additional obligations on the seed sector”