European Commission bill will criminalize nearly all seeds and plants not registered with government -
On Monday May 6th a draconian new law was put before the European Commission, which creates new powers to classify and regulate all plant life anywhere in Europe.
The "Plant Reproductive Material Law" regulates all plants. It contains immediate restrictions on vegetables and woodland trees, while creating powers to restrict all other plants of any other species at a later date.
Under the new law, it will immediately be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been tested and approved by a new "EU Plant Variety Agency, who will make a list of approved plants. Moreover, an annual fee must also be paid to the Agency to keep them on the list, and if not paid, they cannot be grown.
Following a huge outcry and intense lobbying from consumer groups, small-scale farmers, genebanks, and even some member-state governements, a few last-minute alterations were made, which while not perfect, have reduced the impact quite a lot.
The key last minute concessions that were made - and this really was only due to public pressure, because they were not in the draft just 3 days previously - are as follows:
Home gardeners are now permitted to save and swap unapproved seed without breaking the law.
Individuals & small organisations can grow and supply/sell unapproved vegetable seed - as long as they have less than 10 employees.
Seedbanks can grow unapproved seed without breaking the law.
There could be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation - maybe.
But the rest of the law is still overly restrictive, and in the long run will make it much harder for people to get hold of good seeds they want to grow at home. There are also clauses that mean the above concessions could be removed in the future without coming back to the Parliament for a vote.
We are checking out what the next step is. It appears that next it must go to Parliament for modification or approval, so there is still the chance of changes for better or worse. We must all campaign to make sure only improvements are made!
Ben Gabel, vegetable breeder and director of The Real Seed Catalogue, says:
"The draft law was truly awful, and it is good to see that the Commission have responded to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who raised their voices against it. They have made important concessions for home growers and small farmers, though it is a shame they did not think of them in the first place."
"However, it will still have negative consequences. It will halt the professional development of vegetable varieties for home gardeners, organic growers, and small-scale market farmers:
The main registration system is no good for home gardeners, who 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.
Seed companies used to be able to develop , register and sell 'Amateur' varieties that didn't pass the tests, for home growers. Under the new system, they are called 'Niche' varieties and there is no testing or registration at all, but there is a catch: any company with more than 10 employees is banned from producing them.
So new varieties for home growers can only be developed by tiny organisations, and they may not have the resources to do it well. There will be very little professional development of varieties for home gardeners or small-scale sustainable agriculture. "
"Also, the law will reduce the choice available to large farmers as well. For industrial-scale agriculture, in some cases 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 interfering with the right of people to grow what they want. It also very worrying that they have given themselves the power to regulate and licence 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 globalised 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."
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