Please sign the new English language petition opposing the new EU seed law!
The petition is now available in other languages, but please only sign one copy! The signature lists will be combined, and duplicate signatures will be removed.
More languages are on the way…
BULGARIAN (Requires Cyrillic installed in browser)
GREEK (Requires Greek characters installed in browser)
There is an important vote coming up concerning proposed changes to EU seed law. This is a vote in the EU Commission, by written procedure, on Monday 6 May 2013.
If the legislation passes this vote, it will then be sent on to the EU Parliament and Council.
Worse Than What We Have Now
The European NGO analysis of the two draft texts we have seen so far concludes it’s worse than existing legislation, and of these two texts the second was far worse than the first. This proposed new regulation is an attack on agricultural biodiversity, innovation in agriculture, small farmers, independent plant breeders and independent seed companies, in Europe and around the world. This legislation is a de facto prohibition on biodiverse seeds for farmers and gardeners.
One of the more troublesome aspects of this legislation are the ‘delegated acts’, effectively meaning many of the most important aspects of it will be decided later in committee, immune to democratic process.
This legislation will not only impact agriculture and consumers in Europe, but also around the world as aspects of it are exported through trade agreements.
If you’re in Europe now, please consider writing or emailing your commissioner as soon as possible and asking them to vote against the proposal. You can get the email of your commissioner by sending an email to address-information [at] ec.europa.eu and asking for the email address of your commissioner. You can find your commissioner on this page. Most email addresses are in the form firstname.lastname@example.org, but it’s best to verify this in advance.
Open source seeds have put some ‘pre-written’ emails online, as well a list of Commission email addresses and lots of other background information. I haven’t verified his email addresses are correct, so you may still wish to verify them as per above.
Please Sign the Petition!
You can find the English version of our petition here.
What Seed Laws Mean in General
This EU regulation covers Plant Reproductive Material (PRM).
Modern day seed laws in Europe have their origins in the 1920s and 30s, at a time of extreme views on genetic purity. Even now, in existing legislation, you see terms like ‘inferior material’ and ‘superior’. There is further justification that only genetically pure food is safe, or that farmers need to be ‘assured of quality’. It’s a way of thinking about genetics that’s not logical, and has no scientific basis. Even the rhetoric surrounding GMOs is very similar, in the quest to make genetically perfect food. In fact there are many very important reasons why we should not think about agriculture in this way, and many reasons to think our food might be much healthier and more environmentally friendly, if it was more genetically diverse.
As consumers we would benefit tremendously from the increased choice unrestricted biodiversity could give us. Innovation in agriculture would explode.
In modern times the idea of ‘genetic purity’ is to facilitate the intellectual property rights (IPR) on food, in other words to be able to patent the plant so no-one else can sell it. If a plant variety is very uniform and genetically stable, than it’s much easier to define, and therefore establish IPR over it. It’s also because food and agriculture are increasingly viewed as commodities, to be bought and sold on stock markets, and this is really only possible if crops are very uniform.
The problem comes about because the larger seed companies see truly biodiverse food as strong competition to their products. For this reason, there are currently two criteria all seeds must meet in order to be marketed, DUS (Distinct, Uniform and Stable) and VCU (Value for Cultivation and Use). All seeds must meet this criteria, regardless of if any IPR is claimed on them, and from the point of view of a small farmer or seed company these systems of registration are unrealistically cumbersome.
This is a little like declaring the Linux computer operating system which is free of IPR illegal, because it isn’t similar enough to Windows, its commercial counterpart.
There is simply no reason to maintain this de facto ban on non commercial seeds, except to perpetuate the monopoly seed companies have on our food supply. If the larger companies feel they need a DUS/VCU registration system for IPR, this should not preclude alternatives without IPR or maybe even with different systems of IPR.
There are some much touted exemptions in this regulation, like a new concept of ‘Officially Recognized Description’. Even this would only be available to varieties on the market before the enactment of the legislation (and in many cases, especially with older varieties, this may be impossible to prove). Also required would be ‘Country of Origin’, and plants just don’t exist naturally in this way. When varieties are taken to another location and grown for a number of generations, they evolve and have to be considered a different variety. How can you classify a variety according to Country of Origin under these circumstances?
Within the legislation are also many aspects that represent unfair regulation on smaller farmers and seed companies, like excessive paperwork, labelling, packaging, fees, principle of cost recovery meaning costs for being treated unfairly by the legislation could not be recovered from increased fees for the larger agricultural companies, and a great deal of other ‘fine print’. The legislation is very much written by and for the larger agriculture interests, and there’s just no place in it for smaller players.
Near the beginning of this process, we (many European NGOs) made a proposal that micro-enterprises should be exempt from the most cumbersome aspects of this legislation, unless it involved a farmer working with GMO varieties, or those covered by IPR. There is broad agreement that this is the way forward, a simple division that allows lager companies to have the IPR and rules they need, and let the smaller farmers and seed companies operate under regulations that make sense for them.
We haven’t heard very much about this proposal.
Conflict of Interest
I posted about this before a few days ago. For all intents and purposes, this legislation was written by one person, representing the French seed industry.
Last Minute Compromises
In a meeting with IFOAM, a European NGO promoting organic agriculture, DG SANCO commissioner Tonio BORG expressed assurance the concerns with the legislation would be addressed by a number of last minute compromises. There’s no official word on exactly what these compromises are, meaning everyone is now discussing a very hypothetical piece of legislation, however there are rumors.
Apparently there is a very small exemption pending for smaller-than-micro-enterprises. €2.000.000/10 employee companies MAY be exempt from some of the registration fees, and €75.000/4 employee companies exempt from the DUS registration requirement, but maybe not the VCU. The decision to exempt the fees would be on a country by country basis, so it would not be guaranteed. There would still be the principle of cost recovery, meaning the cost for these exemptions could not be passed onto the larger companies through higher registration fees. In effect this means these costs would have to be paid directly by national governments out of the public purse, or raised some other way. Almost certainly the smaller, poorer countries will not elect to do this.
Regardless, varieties where there is no proof they were on the market before the legislation came into force would not be candidates for registration, and all varieties would still have to be registered according to country of origin.
These last minute compromises cannot be taken seriously. They are far too little, far too late.
Agriculture by Populations
This is really the key sticking point in this legislation.
In nature, in plants and people, reproduction takes place in groups and results in genetic evolution. It’s not logical to exclude this in agriculture. These small genetic changes represent increased productivity, disease and pest resistance and many other very important traits. No amount of materials stored in genebanks around the world could match the resources of this sort of agriculture if it were realized. It’s very important to allow farmers the possibility to make full use of this genetic resource, saving and trading their own seeds, both for old varieties and newly created ones.
The current system has resulted in a massive loss of agricultural biodiversity in the last few decades, according to the FAO this is about 75%.
The current system is integrated with the agro-chemical industry, and results in far more chemicals being introduced into the environment than is necessary.
The current system is reliant on commodity crops, requiring high fossil fuel inputs, transported long distances, to be turned into processed foods or fed to animals. There are far more efficient ways to feed the worlds population.
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.
Links and Country Information
Here are links to websites in specific countries and in local languages.
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.
I was recently approached by someone working on a PhD, who is looking for any information on Cape Gooseberry cultivation in Europe. Does anyone have any historical information? Is anyone aware of any farmers growing it now in Europe? He’s looking for any sort of leads or contacts on the subject.
Arche Noah (German for ‘Noah’s Ark’) is the Austrian organization I am working with most closely in lobbying for the new European seed laws. In the last few months they have put up an English language section on their website, and included in this is their open letter (German, English and French) concerning the seed law changes, signed by a number of other well known European seed organizations.