Wednesday, 1 May 2013

URGENT: Save Our Seeds

On May 6th, the EU will vote on new legislation governing plant varieties, proposed by the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers in response to hard lobbying by the globalised agricultural seed industry - Monsanto and its buddies. This legislation will mean that no seed (or other plant reproductive material) can be sold, swapped or given for free to anyone anywhere in the EU unless it is registered on the EU Plant List as an 'approved' variety.

If the legislation passes, it will kill off innumerable heirloom, heritage and amateur varieties. It won't (I believe) impact the varieties already licensed for commercial use, but it will impact the huge number of 'amateur' varieties, all those that breed plants on a small scale at home, all those that forage seed and propagate wild plants, and all the rare seeds being preserved and brought back to cultivation by small businesses. It will mean high costs for seed merchants to put their varieties through rigorous tests to get them on the list - and since the tests are designed around high-output industrial varieties, many are unlikely to be approved anyway. Once a variety is approved, the seller will have to pay an annual fee to keep it that way. Heirloom varieties and other less-popular varieties will undoubtedly be lost. Small seed merchants preserving and supplying rare varieties will undoubtedly not be able to continue. Biodiversity will fall dramatically. Consumer choice will be reduced. Food security will be damaged. With every variety that dies out, the pool of genetic material for breeding future varieties will be diminished. That unique heirloom bean your grandfather gave you will be outlawed - it will be illegal to pass it on to anyone else. There'll be no seeking out local varieties when you move to a new area. There'll be none of the seed-saving and -swapping and -sharing that we growers enjoy so much - unless they're on the EU Plant List. And all this so that agricultural giants can make more money and take yet more control of our food supply.

This legislation flies in the face of nature, which propagates, adapts and evolves freely, constantly creating sub-species and sub-sub-species. It's an attempt by corporations to claim ownership of the plant world, and it's an assault on our right as earth-dwellers to enjoy and interact with the earth's natural world.

I personally grow many unusual and heritage varieties which are at risk; seeds I've saved myself and seeds I've bought from Real Seeds and others - many listed as 'amateur' varieties 'not for commercial exploitation', which Real Seeds must get round by charging 1p per year to join their 'club'. Many of these are my favourite varieties. I have a Caucasian vining spinach plant which I've only ever seen shared informally and sold by one-woman company Backyard Larder. I suspect most of these varieties would quickly become endangered if the legislation passes, and next year I'd have to grow a dramatically different selection.

I'd like to think there's no way this insane law would pass when put to the vote, but Monsanto seems to have ways to get anything it wants. I have had no replies so far to my letters to MEPs and it's simply too important an issue to just wait and see without expressing my opposition.

Whether or not you grow food yourself, this legislation has implications for your food security, the natural world all around you, and thus the future of the planet. PLEASE inform yourselves about this issue and TAKE ACTION.

Here are some links to help you:

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