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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 Open-Seeds.org, “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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