Mainstreaming organic plant breeding – celebrating 20 years of organic plant breeders

‘How to make organic plant breeding mainstream’ – was the guiding question of the 20th anniversary event of the organic plant breeders in Brussels on 9 November 2021.

Happy birthday, ECO-PB!
The conference was organised by the European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding (ECO-PB) in close collaboration with IFOAM Organics Europe, Arche Noah, Biodynamic Federation Demeter International and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL). Organic breeders, seed companies, seed savers, competent authorities, examination offices and policymakers discussed the potential of organic plant breeding as a cornerstone to enabling more sustainable food systems. They also exchanged on key requirements to mainstream organic’s plant breeding approach. Of course, the event was also an opportunity to celebrate ECO-PB’s contribution to developing organic breeding over the last 20 years.

Key ingredients to mainstreaming organic plant breeding
Monika Messmer (FiBL Switzerland and President of ECO-PB) opened the public session by highlighting the results and impact of the Horizon2020 project LIVESEED (2017-2021) on boosting organic seed and plant breeding and the importance of engaging policymakers along the process.

Participants stressed that key points to make organic plant breeding mainstream are clear guidelines on what organic breeding means in practice, next to the abstract definition in the New Organic Regulation. Furthermore, they deemed it crucial to strengthen participatory breeding initiatives and support farmers in seed production, funding organic breeding and breeding research, as well as improving knowledge transfer and education.

The organic plant breeders greatly appreciated that the new EU Organic Regulation (2018/848), published a legally binding definition for “Organic varieties suitable for organic production” for the first time. They also valued a temporary experiment, as described in the new organic regulation (2018/848), foreseen to ease market access of such varieties. Participants concluded that the results of the temporary experiment on organic varieties should feed timely into the reform and lay the legal ground for more diversity in European agriculture. Infrastructure for organic VCU (Value for Cultivation, Use, and Sustainability) testing should be made available in each Member State. However, some questions remain, including whether plant variety rights for organic variety with adapted DUS (Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability) can still be obtained, which is important for many (organic) breeders.

These recommendations were discussed in more detail in a fishbowl discussion with representatives from the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO), the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), IFOAM Organics Europe, organic breeders, Euroseeds, farmers, and seed savers.

The participants agreed that there is a solid legal framework to make organic breeding mainstream. Still, to implement the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies and the new organic regulation, more funding (for example, by linking the Strategic Plans under the Common Agricultural Policy to strong National Organic Action Plans) and targeted research projects are needed, enabling a fruitful and close collaboration with authorities and policymakers.

For more information on (organic) seeds and IFOAM Organics Europe’s work on this issue, please contact [email protected]. IFOAM Organics Europe members can find more information on the member extranet and background materials in the arguments database on the member extranet (main messages, arguments/FAQs, visuals & videos).

For information about what you can gain from being a member, read our membership page and contact [email protected]

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