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Marketing of vegetable seed

Marketing of vegetable seed



Directive 2002/55/EC on the marketing of vegetable seed


It sets out rules for the registration of seed varieties and for the production and certification of seed of various key species (EU regulated species) before they can be marketed in the EU. The eligibility criterion for certification or production of standard seeds is that the varieties are registered in the EU common catalogue of vegetable species.


National and EU-wide catalogue of species

Each EU country catalogues seed varieties that have been officially accepted for marketing in its territory. The EU-wide Common catalogue of varieties of vegetable species is compiled from all the national catalogues. A seed variety is accepted for marketing in the EU only if the seed has been officially certified as a basic seed* or certified seed*, or has been verified as a standard seed* (with some exceptions).

Additional catalogue rules:

  • where maintenance breeding of the variety is required, the name of the person or persons responsible for this in their country must be indicated in the catalogue;
  • varieties should be known by the same name in all EU countries as far as possible;
  • if seeds are marketed in another country under a different name, that name must also be indicated in the catalogue.

Acceptance rules for the marketing of vegetable seed

The eligibility criterion for certification and verification of standard seeds is that the vegetable variety must be registered in the EU-wide catalogue of varieties of vegetable crops. The variety must be tested in the field to establish whether it fulfils the following criteria.

  • Distinct: the vegetable is clearly distinguishable from any other variety known in the EU and is capable of precise recognition and definition.
  • Stable: after successive propagations, the plant remains true to the description of its essential characteristics.
  • Uniform: apart from very few aberrations, the plants are similar or genetically identical.

Variety registration is valid for 10 years but may be revoked if, on examination, the variety no longer meets these criteria. Varieties coming from other EU countries are subject to the same requirements as those applying to domestic varieties.

Genetically modified varieties are accepted only if the genetically modified organism (GMO) has been accepted under Directive 2001/18/EC (see summary), a rule introduced by an amendment to the directive, Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 (see summary).

Based on inspection in the field, the crop must:

  • have sufficient varietal identity and varietal purity;
  • be practically free from any pests which reduce the usefulness and quality of the propagation material;
  • comply with the requirements about EU quarantine pests, protected zone quarantine pests and regulated non‐quarantine pests;
  • comply with rules about previous cropping and minimum distances from neighbouring sources of pollen.

Based on sampling and testing, the seed must comply with other standards depending on the type of seed.

Packaging and labelling

EU countries must require that, unless small, packages of basic seeds and certified seeds be marketed only in tamper-proof packages, sealed officially or under official supervision, complying with the directives. Standard seeds and small packages of certified seeds do not require this official oversight (and less stringent rules apply to small deliveries direct to end-consumers).

The label must include:

  • the statement ‘EC rules and standards’;
  • the certification authority and EU country;
  • the officially assigned serial number (a rule added by Implementing Directive (EU) 2016/317);
  • the month and year of sealing or of the last official sampling for official certification;
  • the reference number of lot;
  • the species indicated at least in roman characters, under its botanical name;
  • the variety, indicated at least in roman characters;
  • the category;
  • the country of production;
  • the weight or number of seeds;
  • in the case of hybrid varieties, the word ‘hybrid’;
  • other information depending on the type of seed.

Labels are colour-coded as follows.

  • Basic seed: white.
  • Pre-basic seed*: white with a diagonal violet line.
  • Certified seed: blue.
  • Standard seed: dark yellow.
  • Seed not yet certified, and harvested in another EU country: grey.
  • Other seed: brown.

Genetically modified seeds must be clearly labelled as such. Any chemical treatment must be noted on the label.

The packaging must also contain a separate official document in the same colour as the label, giving similar information. Packages of standard seeds and small packages of certified seeds must bear a supplier’s label or a printed or stamped notice.

Comparative testing

Comparative tests and trials are carried out within the EU for the post-control examination of samples of vegetable seeds placed on the market. These could include:

  • seeds harvested in non-EU countries;
  • seeds suitable for organic farming;
  • seeds marketed in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources.


Non-EU countries seeking to export to the EU must meet the same criteria for seed characteristics, examination, identification, marking, control and packaging as seeds harvested and controlled in the EU.


The directive has been amended several times by the following:

  • Directive 2003/61/EC, introducing revised rules on comparative testing and trials;
  • Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003, introducing revised rules on genetically modified food and feed;
  • Directive 2004/117/EC, introducing rules about official examinations and equivalence of seeds produced in non-EU countries;
  • Directive 2006/124/EC, revising the list of vegetable species covered by the directive;
  • Directive 2009/74/EC, introducing revised rules for sweet corn, French beans, runner beans and broad beans; and
  • implementing acts Implementing Directives 2013/45/EU, (EU) 2016/317, (EU) 2019/990 and (EU) 2020/177.


The directive codifies Directive 70/458/EEC.


It has applied since 9 August 2002.


See also:


Basic seed: a seed produced according to accepted practices for the maintenance of the variety and intended for the production of certified seeds and which meet the directive’s minimum conditions after official examination.
Certified seed: a seed produced directly from a basic seed, or from a seed of a generation prior to basic seeds, intended mainly for the production of vegetables and which meet the directive’s minimum conditions after official examination.
Standard seed: a seed which has sufficient varietal identity and varietal purity as defined in the legislation, and is intended mainly for the production of vegetables.
Pre-basic seed: a bred seed of generations prior to basic seeds, officially inspected in accordance with the same provisions as basic seeds.


Council Directive 2002/55/EC of 13 June 2002 on the marketing of vegetable seed (OJ L 193, 20.7.2002, pp. 33-59)

Successive amendments to Directive 2002/55/EC have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 on genetically modified food and feed (OJ L 268, 18.10.2003, pp. 1-23)

See consolidated version.

Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 March 2001 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC — Commission Declaration (OJ L 106, 17.4.2001, pp. 1-39)

See consolidated version.

last update 18.02.2021