Monday, 13 May 2013

Save Our Seeds - Update

The draconian new seed laws described in my last post passed the EU commission last week, with some important last-minute changes for the better. The law will now go to parliament for modification or approval, so there is still a chance of further changes, with competing and vested interests trying to change it for their own benefit. What follows are extracts from Real Seeds' press release (read the whole article here) describing the good and the bad of the final draft of the law:

The law starts from the premise that all vegetables, fruit and trees must be officially registered before they can be reproduced or distributed. This obviously is a major restriction on seed availability, as there are all sorts of costs in both time and money dealing with the bureaucracy of a central Plant Variety Agency. Then, after making that the basic rule, there are some exceptions made in limited cases:
  • Home gardeners will be permitted to save and swap unregistered seed without breaking the law.
  • Small organisations can grow and supply unregistered vegetable seed - but only if they have less than 10 employees
  • Seedbanks can grow unregistered seed without breaking the law (but they cannot give it to the public)
  • There might be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation - maybe.
No, not really. These concessions might be helpful, but are still limited. They are subject to all sorts of 'ifs' and 'buts' in the small print. And the small print hasn't been written yet, and in fact won't be written until long after the law has been approved.
And the rest of the law is still overly restrictive - there are all sorts of rules about labelling & sealing packets for example - and in the long run will make it much harder for people to get hold of good seeds they want to grow at home or for small scale sustainable agriculture.
For years the availability of freely reproducible open-pollinated seedsuitable for sustainable agriculture has been shrinking due to the seed laws, and this new law doesn't address the problem. It just considers the needs of the agri-tech industry and makes it easier for them to market their industrial seed on a big scale.

The real problem is having a starting point that all seeds are prohibited unless officially tested and registered, and then adding some small exceptions as an afterthought.
This is really back to front - testing and registration should be voluntary. Then some people (like massive industrial farmers) who might want the sort of seed that can pass certain types of test - they can choose to use the 'officially registered' seed. And normal people would be free to choose freely what they want to grow from all the myriad of normal seed in the world.
There are also clauses that mean the above concessions could be removed at any time in the future without coming back to the Parliament for a vote.
This law was written for the needs of the globalised farm-seed industry, who supply seed by the ton to industrial farmers. It should not apply at all to seed used by home gardeners and small market growers, who have very different needs.
Freely reproducible seeds are an inalienable part of our heritage. Listing and official certification of vegetable seeds might be helpful for industrial-scale farmers, but it should be a voluntary scheme that people can choose to use if they need it.
So we are calling for registration and testing to be voluntary for all non-GMO, non-patented, non-hybrid seed. That would fix all the problems with the law, while still allowing the giant agri-companies to protect their business the way they want.
But if that does not happen, then the law needs improving - because allowing tiny organisations to supply seed outside the regulations is a good start, but it is not sufficient.
Only in this way will we have a broad supply of quality seed for the needs of home gardeners and small growers.
Do keep signing the petitions if you haven't already, and keep an eye on Real Seeds or Bifurcated Carrots for updates - this isn't over yet.

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