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BANNED: European Union To Outlaw Heirloom Seeds?

EU flagToday, May 6th, 2013, the European Commission will consider legislation titled the “Plant Reproductive Material Law” which is intended to  give it the power to “classify and regulate all plant life anywhere in Europe,” according to the Wales-based, DEFRA-registered seed supplier, The Real Seed Catalogue, a UK non-profit company dedicated to the needs of home gardeners.

According to, “If passed [this law] would mean no seed can be sold, or potentially even given for free, to anyone anywhere in the EU unless it is registered on the EU Plant List as an ‘approved’ variety. This would effectively outlaw Heritage [sic] seeds in the EU.”

The Big Ag seed industry has been lobbying for years for these regulations, and DG SANCO (the Directorate General of the EU for Sanitary and Consumer Affairs) is fully on board with the proposed legislation. The agricultural seed industry has spent a lot of money to get this legislation enacted.

However, DG AGRI (Directorate General of Agriculture and Rural Development) and DGENVI (Directorate General for the Environment), two other EU directorates, both oppose the proposed legislation. They seem to understand that enactment of this law will be a death knell for agriculture and biodiversity. DG SANCO is pushing ahead anyway by placing it before the Commission directly.

According to The Real Seed Catalogue, “Under the new law, it will immediately be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been tested, approved and accepted by a new ‘EU Plant Variety Agency’. Moreover, an annual fee must also be paid to the Agency if that particular variety is to be used by anyone.”

Following the publicizing of this proposed law, a huge outcry from consumer groups, small farmers, and gene banks forced last-minute alterations to the legislation, allowing home gardeners (but not farmers) to give each other seed for free without breaking the law.

Ben Gabel, director of The Real Seed Catalogue and vegetable breeder, concluded their press release of this issue with the following statement:

“This law will immediately stop the development of vegetable varieties for home gardeners, organic growers, and small-scale market farmers. Home gardeners have really different needs – for example they grow by hand, not machine, and can’t or don’t want to use such powerful chemical sprays. There’s no way to register the varieties suitable for home use as they don’t meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers.

We used to be able to sell ‘Amateur’ varieties of vegetable seed, so home growers could buy seed that big farmers wouldn’t be interested in, but that has been abolished. It will become really hard to get hold of the seed you want to grow at home as any company with more than 4 employees is now banned from producing them.

Even worse, it will reduce the choice available to large farmers as well. For industrial-scale agriculture, the law will only allow new varieties of vegetable if they are tested and proven to be better than ones currently in use. This is foolish, often you don’t discover the benefits of a new variety until you’ve been growing it for several years, for example when a new disease comes along that it turns out to be resistant to. In a free market, it should be up to farmers to try out any new crop they like and decide what variety is best based on their own experience.

There’s no need for this complex new regulation. We already have very strong consumer-protection laws that cover all this – seeds must be fit for the purpose sold, match their description, and perform as advertised. The old seed laws already cover health, traceability and safety. Anyone who produces seed is already inspected and certified by the Secretary of State.

This is an instance of bureaucracy out of control. All this new law does is create a whole new raft of EU civil servants being paid to move mountains of papers round all day, while killing off the seed supply to home gardeners and interfering with the right of farmers to grow what they want. It also very worrying that they have given themselves the power to regulate and license any plant species of any sort at all in the future – not just agricultural plants, but grasses, mosses, flowers, anything at all – without having to bring it back to the Council for a vote.

This law was written for the needs of the globalized farm-seed industry, who supply seed by the ton to industrial farmers. It should not apply to seed used by home gardeners and small market growers, who have very different needs.

We call for a total exemption from the law for seed supplied in small packets directly to individual consumers.”

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  1. I guess people with small gardens and small farms are a threat to the trend of making people dependent upon government–if you trade seeds, then you would probably not be adverse to trading produce when food is short. Certainly expect something like this in the US in the future.

  2. The new proposal voted by EU commisioners on 6th of May is les bad than expected, however bad enough to fight against it (details:
    some (last minute improvements were:
    •Home gardeners are now permitted to save and swap unapproved seed without breaking the law.
    •Individuals & small organisations can grow and supply/sell unapproved vegetable seed – as long as they have less than 10 employees.
    •Seedbanks can grow unapproved seed without breaking the law.
    •There could be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation – maybe.

    The proposal will no pass to the European parliament and council for further approval and there is good chance to sink it, block it, or send it back for redrafting. “The battle has just began..”

  3. Instead of hear’say, why don’t you read the law and point out these supposed bans? I didn’t read the whole thing, but I read a lot fo it and it seemed t have the opposite intention and uses the list that has already been in use for some time. Please use real sources instead of “he said, she said” quotes from biased groups.

    • I’ve been trying to find the original and I can’t. I can’t find anything about this on any reputable site.
      Yes, the law has existed already, in the UK, and it’s thought some 3000 plant varieties have been lost because of the law.

      That it has a different goal doesn’t matter. What matters is the laws effects. Loss of genetic diversity is a problem for the world wide food system.

      BTW, you can bet the seed companies keep varieties of heirloom and heritage seeds that they breed. It’s just that they don’t offer them for sale, since they can make more money from cross bred plants and GMO’s. They need to get their genetic source from somewhere, after all.

  4. Are these people crazy? whats next banning breathable air?

  5. This reeks of Monsanto buying off the people dreaming up/writing these laws. Disgusting. Corporate and big business interests over that of “the people”. What a world our kids will inherit, eh?

  6. After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any means you’ll be able to take away me from that service? Thanks!

  7. When I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any approach you’ll be able to take away me from that service? Thanks!

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