Press release July 16, 2012: European Court of Justice confirms sales hurdles for plant biodiversity

Kokopelli and seed saving organisations in Europe fear disadvantages from the upcoming reform of the EU seed legislation

In the current revision of the EU seed legislation, the so-called Kokopelli judgment of the European Court of Justice of July 12 plays into the hands of agricultural corporations. The Court confirms the existing EU seed legislation, which has been criticised since long by seed savers because it has contributed to the dangerous loss of agricultural biodiversity of the past decades. The Court’s press release, which was cited widely in the German media, praises the “Conservation Variety Directive” allowing the sale of registered varieties but omits the major importance of non-registered varieties for agricultural biodiversity. Only registered varieties are allowed in the market. The objective according to the Court, to avoid “sale and sowing of seed that is potentially harmful” has been completely missed due to its favouring of industry seeds that need agrochemicals.

The Conservation Variety Directive established in 2009 has not improved the situation but has imposed new bureaucratic rules which are absurd and hard to follow. „In order to sell rare varieties, seed savers must apply to register them and agree with others to keep total amounts within an officially given limit – as if there were already too many rare varieties in the market, while in fact, according to FAO, three quarters of varieties are already lost“, comments Susanne Gura of the German umbrella organisation for crop and livestock diversity.

Vegetable varieties in particular have not only to be registered for admission, but the EU prescribes maximum package sizes and demands reporting of every single gram of sold seed. According to the authorities, administrative work for the seed saver in Germany amounts to between 5,5 and 11 hours per variety each season, in addition to the admission fees. “This is an enormous input for seed savers who could sell hundreds of varieties, but only in small amounts. Sales would not cover this cost,” explains Roland Wüst of Freie Saaten. The small association Freie Saaten (Free Seeds) that grows some 1200 varieties, would have to spend, according to the current legislation, between € 36,000 and € 252,000 for registration fees. In addition, administrative work requested by the authorities would amount to between € 132,000 and € 264,000 (based on a gross hourly wage of € 20). Such an amount would not be generated by sales. The consequence: Only a very small number of varieties have been registered and admitted to the official catalogue of varieties that can be sold. Seed savers prefer to exchange their seeds or give them away in exchange for a donation and must risk that this is considered by lawyers as a sale.

The French seed saving organisation Kokopelli was sued by the breeding corporation Graines Baumaux for selling unregistered varieties. Kokopelli’s defense before the relevant French court in Nancy is made more difficult by the preliminary ruling of the European Court of Jusice. Graines Baumaux, with an annual turnover of € 14 million, demands a penalty of € 100,000 and the discontinuation of Kokopelli’s activities. This would be a hard blow against one of the largest seed saving organisations in France.

All over Europe there are legal risks for seed savers. Only a few months ago, the owners of the Latvian farm Neslinko were persecuted by the regulative authorities for selling tomato seeds at a garden club event, and Europan seed saving associations have sent an open letter to EU commissioners in protest.

The Court of Justice draws its conclusion that the Conservation Variety Directive serves agricultural biodiversity simply from its stated objective, not from its stipulations and their impact on seed savers. Kokopelli’s suggested alternative, that seed savers may sell highly diverse varieties just with an adequate label, without official registration, is rejected by the Court because seed could be sold “that is not conducive to optimum agricultural production”. Only uniform varieties guarantee an optimum agricultural production, believes the European Court of Justice and follows the view of powerful agricultural corporations that combine uniform seed and agrochemicals as a business model. Genetic uniformity is a condition for registration. However, as an experience of several decades of their use, agrochemicals are very far from the optimum agricultural production; the EU seed law has completely missed this goal.

In contrast, varieties with a large internal genetic diversity are of great value for agriculture, since they can adapt to various challenges without agrochemical crouches. But they do not fulfil the uniformity condition for registration and therefore belong to the “potentially harmful” varieties that the Court of Justice wants to keep away from Europes fields and gardens.

The judgment of the highest European court was derived from the views of agricultural corporations. Moreover, the Court of Justice, in an unusual move, did not follow its own expertise, the Opinion of the Advocate General. “This unusual procedure is obviously meant to help deny the demands of seed savers, assesses the German umbrella organisation. The judgement, which has been welcomed by the seed industry association ESA, is to be seen in connection with the current EU seed legislation reform called “Better regulation”. According to ESA, traditional varieties have no place in fields and gardens, and should instead be kept in gene banks. Seed savers organisations are demanding the right to sell traditional varieties without any registration. With their vast knowledge and specialisation they care for an essential heritage of mankind and want to cover the costs. The Kokopelli judgment of the EU Court of Justice is biased towards seed corporation interests and is of no help to agricultural biodiversity.


Link to the Judgment of the European Court of Justice:

Link to the Press Release zur Pressemitteilung European Court of Justice :

Link to Kokopelli:

Link to the Open Letter to EU Commissioners by organisations in Europe:

Link to the source of  data for adminitrative work required in Germany to get admission for a conservation variety


More information:

Dr. Susanne Gura, ph.: 0049 177 669 1400, Email:

Roland Wüst, Freie Saaten e.V. ph.: 0049 6324966061, Email:;


Under the German umbrella organisation for crop and livestock diversity 15 member organisations are cooperating in particular in the areas of public relations and education, and representing their interests vis-à-vis policy decision makers. They share technical knowledge and experience relevant to their conservation work in a German network, and are collaborating with organisations in Europe and the world.