Regulation, Testing and Protecting Varieties

We work with plant breeders to help explain the value of their work and promote the importance of continually bringing new seed varieties to market. The intellectual property (IP) rights associated with seed development are crucial for securing the revenue needed to continue our members’ work.

plant research

Seed of an approved variety can only be offered for sale if it meets strict quality criteria laid down in UK law. The UK’s official seed certification system offers an independent assurance of quality to growers. Minimum standards apply for varietal identity, purity, and germination capacity. In addition, strict limits apply to seed-borne diseases, and the presence of physical impurities such as weed seeds.

Around 9 percent of the UK arable area is used to multiply the pure lines of seed from the plant breeder into certified seed. This involves several thousand individual crops, each grown under specific management regimes to ensure the purity and integrity of the resulting seed is maintained. To gain certification, every seed crop must undergo crop inspection and seed testing.

planting seeds

Seed certification underpins the health and purity status of the major arable crops in Britain. It offers an independent benchmark of quality on which buyers of seed and their customers depend.

Vegetable seed may be certified or is more often marketed as standard seed, which also has to meet prescribed standards for identity and quality and be officially labelled.

Before a new crop variety can be placed on the market, it must undergo a statutory testing process. Successful varieties are placed on the National List, or register of approved varieties. Official trials are conducted, in most cases for a minimum of two years, to test each candidate variety for a range of characteristics which together determine its distinctness from other varieties, as well as its value to growers and end-users.

National Listing is rigorous and ensures that only varieties which are novel and distinct, and which are a clear improvement over existing varieties may be added to the List and marketed.

Petri dish with plant

National Testing DUS

All varieties submitted for National Listing are assessed for Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS). In the case of cereals, some 30 individual characteristics of the plant are inspected to verify that it is distinct (i.e. clearly distinguishable from other varieties), that its characteristics are uniform from one plant to another, and that the variety is stable from one generation to the next.

DUS tests are carried out to highly detailed official protocols. More information can be found on

National Listing VCU

For agricultural crops, National Listing also involves trials to establish a candidate variety’s Value for Cultivation and Use (VCU). This provides an independent assurance that only varieties with improved performance or end-use quality can be approved for marketing.

In the UK, BSPB is the organisation authorised by the National Authorities to organise VCU testing for all species except for potatoes, for which SASA in Scotland organises the testing.

Read more about BSPB’s role in this here.

Did you know?…

The UK, Plant Breeders’ Rights entitle the holder to prevent anyone doing any of the following acts with respect to the propagating material of the protected variety without authority:

  • production or reproduction (multiplication)
  • conditioning for the purpose of propagation
  • offering for sale
  • selling or other marketing
  • exporting
  • importing
  • stocking for any of the purposes mentioned above and
  • any other act that may be prescribed by the provisions of the Plant Varieties Act 1997

If you are involved in any of the above, please contact to apply for a BSPB licence.

For more info about registering for seed marketing operations



Need to get in touch?

If you have any questions that are not covered on our website, please contact us by either emailing us on or calling us on +44 (0)1353 653200