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European parliament's new seed rules cause concern in the potato sector

A European Parliament initiative to modify new EU regulations on seed marketing has raised alarms within the potato industry, as there are worries that the proposed legislation could heighten the risk of disease transmission among crops. The European Commission introduced this regulation last July to replace ten existing EU directives concerning the production and marketing of Plant Reproductive Material (PRM), including directives from 2002 focused on the marketing of seed potatoes. The Agriculture Committee (AGRI) of the Parliament, with Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann of the European People's Party (EPP) as the author, proposed amendments that would extend beyond the Commission's exemptions for specific seed exchanges, suggesting a further relaxation of the rules.

Europatat, representing European potato and potato seed traders, expressed concerns that AGRI's amendments fail to consider the unique aspects of potato crops, potentially leading to severe repercussions for the industry. According to Romans Vorss, Europatat's technical affairs director, the proposed exceptions might lead to the emergence of a parallel seed market. The main issue for potato producers across Europe is the soil-borne diseases and pests, such as wireworms, that can cause significant losses. For example, in 2021, Austria saw a 10% reduction in potato production due to these pests, amounting to a loss of 30,000 tons. Additionally, climate change is exacerbating these challenges, with Italy experiencing record-low yields in 2022 due to extreme weather conditions and pest damage.

There is particular concern over AGRI's amendment that would allow farmers to exchange any type of PRM, including tubers, without complying with existing marketing rules. This change goes beyond the Commission's initial proposal, which limited exchanges to seeds only. The potential for unchecked seed movement raises phytosanitary concerns, especially for large farms. Europe, being the third-largest potato producer globally in 2021, enforces strict regulations on potato imports to manage these phytosanitary risks.

The upcoming vote's outcome remains uncertain, with support expected from various political groups within the Parliament. Amendments aiming to reintroduce limitations on farmer-to-farmer seed exchanges have been proposed to mitigate increased phytosanitary risks. These amendments have garnered support from Europatat, Copa Cogeca, and Euroseeds. The Parliament is set to vote on its position in the next week's plenary session, with the Council's stance on the matter anticipated by autumn.


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