The ongoing objective of variety and seed regulation is to guarantee seed of sound, genuine and marketable quality to the user. It is with this objective in mind that the first legislation was implemented in France in the 1920s and 1930s (Seed Testing Committee set up in 1922, Official French Catalogue of Species and Varieties created in 1932). In 1942, the Permanent Technical Committee for Plant Breeding (CTPS) was set up. This new committee moved away from the notion of “seeds” and instead towards the notion of “varieties” and “genetic progress”. Since then, the French Catalogue has grown over the years with new varieties emerging across the different species, in response to constantly evolving market needs.
And so, since the 1960s, plant breeding has responded to successive and cumulative objectives: improving the productivity of French agriculture, ensuring national food security, boosting the competitivity of the seed and variety sectors in the open EU and world markets, and proposing new species, uses and outlets.
With these objectives in mind, the CTPS assists and guides genetic progress by developing its technical rules for registration. These rules aim to ensure the best possible match between the objectives of variety users, civil society, public authorities, and the scientific and technical capacities of breeders. The rules also take into account the productivity, regularity, and quality of production; these fundamental objectives provide an essential guarantee of the profitability and economic longevity of French agriculture and its sectors.
Today we are faced with a range of new challenges, such as the environment, health, and conserving biodiversity. To address these challenges, the CTPS is pursuing its mission of guiding genetic progress within the framework of the Ministry of Agriculture’s “Seed and Sustainable Agriculture Plan” (SPAD). The SPAD strategic plan for 2014-2019 builds on the CTPS’s existing activities, taking account of the Ecophyto plan and the Agriculture-Innovation 2025 mission for environmentally-friendly, sustainable and innovative agriculture.
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Among the selected actions, we draw particular attention to an incentive for the registration of varieties with reduced chemical consumption and adapted to diversified conditions. This includes the work carried out on VCUS (Value for Cultivation, Sustainability and Use) registration rules. Varieties are assessed with regard to disease and pest resistance, efficiency of nitrogen and water use, and genotype x environment x performance interactions. Work is also carried out across all species to promote the registration of varieties adapted to low input cultivation, in particular for Organic Farming or increasing protein production in quality and quantity.
To meet the challenges of maintaining intra and inter-specific genetic diversity, we will need to enhance actions already undertaken for many years, such as the registration of old varieties with strong cultural connotations. France was the first to open a list in its official catalogue for amateur vegetable varieties nearly 20 years ago. Many old fruit varieties are also listed. A list has also been opened for conservation varieties threatened by genetic erosion, helping to register varieties which can be redeveloped in their region of origin. As part of the SPAD plan, a CTPS Plant Genetic Resources (RPG) Section has been created and will assist France in meeting its international commitments in this area. It will also allow the official recognition and support of numerous PGR network managers in France. This new CTPS mission fits perfectly into what we can call the "continuum" of diversity and genetic innovation ranging from PGR to marketed varieties. This notion of continuum is also a major focus in the evaluation and promotion of variety data.
In addition to guiding varietal innovation towards the needs expressed, the CTPS seeks to promote the French catalogue in a context of "regulatory" intra-European competition. If the registration objectives in France change direction too abruptly, this would be counterproductive. The catalogue's users would bypass the French catalogue and opt instead for catalogues of other Member States allowing easier access to the Community market.
That is why promoting the principles and strategic directions of the official French Catalogue at EU level is a permanent objective for the CTPS and the Ministry of Agriculture, just as it was when the now-abandoned EU seeds law was discussed. The French Catalogue owes its longevity, richness and diversity to the composition and functioning of the CTPS. A unique structure in the European Union, it brings together all stakeholders involved in varieties and seeds, from PGR stakeholders to civil society representatives, including stakeholders in the agricultural, vegetable, fruit, vine, ornamental and forest sectors.