One Swallow Does Not Make a Summer
Some very important changes appeared in the legislation draft in the last minute. I posted about this here. This is only because of pressure people all around the world put on the EU Commission. Signatures on petitions, emails to commissioners and the like. This was no gift, it came because we demanded it and worked hard for it. We must keep up the pressure. There are other problems with the legislation, and there is the possibility it will be amended later in the legislative process.
Fundamentally it’s bad legislation. It starts by declaring all seeds used in agriculture illegal, as well as most materials used in forestry management in Europe. It does not criminalize seeds, it makes them illegal. It then goes on to detail procedures for testing, certifying and registering this material, setting very strict rules on the people and companies that sell this material, then makes a few small but important exemptions. This is the wrong way to approach these things. Seeds should not be illegal — this does not make sense. Even if the only practical risk for using the wrong seeds is an administrative fine, this can be a disaster for a small farmer or seed company.
Not much attention has been paid to the forestry side of things, but what’s going to happen when all the trees in Europe’s forests are distinct, uniform and stable? How’s that going to be for biodiversity in general? It’s an important issue, but those of us working on the food side of things don’t have time to get into this right now.
Beyond regulating the seeds themselves, everyone in the entire supply chain is to be regulated, and there remains the possibility that individual EU member states could add additional regulations.
It’s completely the wrong way to address this issue.
Horse Meat or Horse Hockey?
The EU commission (DG SANCO) is comparing this to the recent horse meat fiasco in Europe. According to them, this is going to bring safety and purity to the food chain in Europe. The only sort of purity it’s going to bring to our food is the kind of genetic purity the Third Reich tried to bring to Europe during the war. Our food is not safer if it’s ‘genetically pure’, rather its less healthy, more bland and significantly more more damaging to the environment. It’s dependent on strong chemicals and fossil fuels, in part to make up for it’s genetic weaknesses.
This sort of agriculture is destroying agricultural biodiversity in Europe and around the world. Traditionally bred agriculture has virtually no consumer safety issues related to it’s genetics.
This legislation is completely filled with so-called delegated acts. These are incomplete sections — to be determined at a later date. These will be determined by industry dominated committees, immune to democratic process. These delegated acts have been a huge problem for small seed companies and farmers in the past. There are literally dozens of these acts, that at a later date could turn the whole piece of legislation upside down.
These must be dealt with now, by democratic process.
Protecting Europe’s Seed Industry and Exports
The argument is being made that somehow if genetically unpure seed were commercially produced in Europe it could tarnish the reputation of the seed industry, and harm exports.
If you buy seeds from a known source and get bad seeds, you don’t go back to that source. The problem is nearly all of Europe’s seeds are produced by a very small number of very large companies, and the market needs to be opened to smaller operators. It’s very bad for food security to be so dependant on our seeds in this way. The truth is the seed industry is more afraid of competition than the loss of Europe’s reputation.
We need to protect and stimulate Europe’s small farmers and seed producers. This is critical for the integrity of our agriculture, as well as the environment and rural development.
Protecting Europe’s Small Farmers and Seed Companies
There are very few provisions in this legislation that are good for small companies, but the limiting of the size of companies that can benefit from the so-called niche provision to €2.000.000 turnover or assets and 10 employees is a very good one. Companies that miss this limit by a little bit can reorganize and adapt in order to meet the requirements, but it will remain an obstacle for the largest companies.
The Seeds for Home Gardeners Will be Criminalized!
Stop! These were the words of one person, who misrepresented the situation. In the earlier drafts of the legislation this was not totally clear, but these were rough drafts and intended for discussion. The issue however was legality and not criminality, and it was a simple oversight slated to be clarified. In the latest draft home gardeners are explicitly excluded. This has never been a serious risk to home gardeners, only maybe to the companies that sell them seeds.
Yesterday the NGOs working on the seed law revision I’ve posted about several times, most recently here, received a 3rd and probably final EU Commission draft [Update: This draft has been updated, the last Commission draft can be downloaded from here.] of the legislation. This is a major rewriting of previous drafts, 124 pages, but not significantly different. It’s better written and easier to understand, but the consequences are mostly the same.
There are some new provisions apparently making it legal for individuals and seed saving organizations to engage in seed trading, something we’ve been promised for a while now. This is still not possible for farmers!
In a very promising way, there are three new classes of seeds introduced under this latest draft, however with significant limitations for all of them.
Officially Recognized Description (ORD)
This is a classification limited to older varieties, those on the market before the enactment of this legislation. They will still have to be classified according to region of origin, regardless of if this is clear or how many regions it was previously grown in, however will be allowed to be registered for multiple regions. It will only be allowed to be grown in the region(s) of origin, and it will still need to be maintained by an official seed company.
This is a different set of regulations that now exist for these types of seeds, and is cumbersome in it’s own way. Many smaller seed companies won’t be able to satisfy these requirements, or will be forced to resell purchased seeds instead of growing their own. In particular, that it must be maintained in it’s region of origin is not very sensible.
This new concept might benefit some consumers, in that some older varieties may make it onto market that aren’t available now, but probably only the larger companies will find it profitable to grow these and produce seed.
This is one of the more promising new concepts, essentially everything goes here. No seed registration is necessary. There are however 2 important limitations:
1. This will be limited to companies with less than €75.000 annual turnover or assets, and a maximum of 4 employees.
2. The seeds and/or products may only be sold once, to the final user, who may not resell them directly, or re-propagate the material for further sale.
What good is this? The €75.000 in annual turnover is not profit, it’s total revenue in after paying expenses needs to pay the salaries of the 4 employees! Then, whoever buys the products from this company must be the end user, so it won’t be possible to make use of any wholesaler or distributor.
In effect, this will make it possible for a very altruistic person, to sell their garden vegetables at a farmers market.
This is also a promising new class of material, unfortunately we don’t know anything about it, because it’s a ‘delegated act’, meaning the details will be worked out later.
I can tell you right now, if it’s limited to companies with less than €75.000 annual turnover or assets, and a maximum of 4 employees, it won’t mean anything.
We must continue to oppose this law until our demands are met!
Please sign the petition if you haven’t already done so!
Demands of Civil Society
- No obligatory registration and certification for open pollinated seeds and other PRM not protected by a IPR.
- The scope of the regulation must remain limited to marketing of PRM with a view to commercial exploitation
- The exchange of seeds and other plant reproductive material between farmers and individuals must be excluded from the scope of the regulation
- Open pollinated varieties and seeds bred for organic farming or specific local conditions must not be discriminated against by any norms, procedures or plant health requirements.
- Micro and small enterprises need only comply with very basic rules concerning labelling and packaging, unless they are dealing with GMO or with PRM protected by IPRs (Plant Variety Protection or patents).
- Ensure public transparency on breeding methods and IPR associated with registered varieties and plants.
- Voluntary registration based on officially recognized descriptions shall be possible for all species and genera, without registration deadlines, or restrictions concerning when first marketed or geographic origin.
Journalists can contact the author of this blog for more information.
Mobile phone: +31 6 40109417
Skype: patrick _wiebe (with prior arrangement)
Goran was one of the participants from the recent workshop in Vienna. He sent me a link to this video documenting his community garden project in Croatia.
In his own words, according to the description on the YouTube video:
Published on Apr 22, 2013
Promotional video for grassroots urban gardening project in Croatian city of Varaždin. The project started 1st of May 2012. At the moment 100 gardeners take care of their 50 m2 gardens on area of about 1 hectare. The project was realized completely without money but with great enthusiasm of the citizens.
You can find more detailed description here:
You can also find their Croation language blog here.
A link to this New York Times article showed up in one of my RSS feeds the other day. I don’t read the New York Times very much, and if this article is an indication of their current level of journalism, this must be the reason.
A few years ago in Europe they changed the rules in most countries concerning advertising in government funded media. It used to be banner advertising was allowed, but embedded advertising was generally not allowed. Embedded advertising is when a media company accepts payment for publishing an article. At first the amount of garbage that was showing up in the media here was so overwhelming and so offensive, people complained loudly. Now it’s a little less offensive, but still there. In America it’s been the norm for decades. I think for many of us here in Europe, the before and after picture of this rule change has been a real eye-opener.
The article above immediately set off my bullshit detector, and it stands out as a perfect example of the misinformation published these days by the food industry as embedded advertising. It’s almost written in Michael Pollan style.
In Europe the food industry recently spent a record setting €1 billion requiring new labelling on foods, listing ‘nutritional analysis’ such as fats, sugars, carbohydrates and so on. This article shows perfectly how the food industry manipulates our perception of food, into thinking they are the good guys and how they are trying to make healthy food for us. This article is a perfect example of how we’re supposed to learn to eat more processed foods.
The one thing I do agree with this article on is their comparison of themselves with the tobacco lobby of a decade or two ago. In many ways the food industry is much more powerful than the tobacco lobby ever was, and food is after all something we all need to eat. It’s nice to see them giving us proof, in their own words, of how we need to take them more seriously than we have ever taken the tobacco industry.
Jeremy at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog wrote a good summary on all of the important arguments made in the press and Internet media on Quinoa.