I don’t usually use this blog to promote campaigns and petitions, but I think that this one is important enough to make an exception. On the 6th of May, European Union commissioners will be considering a new law which would make the sale or even the free distribution of unregistered varieties of seeds illegal. There would be a process for registering ‘old’ varieties cheaply, but this would still mean that the whole field of breeding locally-adapted varieties and unusual crops by amateur and small-scale local breeders would be outlawed. Forest gardening would be effectively nipped in the bud.
The Commission is divided on this, with the directorate of consumer affairs proposing the law and the directorates of agriculture and the environment against it, so national commissioners will decide the vote and there is a real chance to swing it. There is more detail on the Real Seeds Catalogue’s website.
Please write to your national commissioner, who is Baroness Ashton in the UK. Her email address is email@example.com. I’ve included the text of the email that I sent below. For other countries, the list of commissioners is at http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/index_en.htm. Commissioners’ emails all take the form of firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don’t have time to write, there are two petitions that you can sign on the Real Seeds page, but a clear, brief and polite personal email counts for a lot more than a petition signature. It needn’t take long: in fact short, clear and to-the-point is much better.
Dear Baroness Ashton
I am writing to ask you to vote against the new law on the sale and distribution of seeds proposed by DG SANCO when it comes up for your consideration on the 6th of May.
As I understand it, the law will ban the sale or distribution of unregistered varieties of seeds within the EU, with provisions for the cheaper registration of traditional varieties which are currently commonly traded. This will mean that plant breeding will become the sole preserve of companies rich enough to afford such registration. It will outlaw the huge amount of activity that currently goes on breeding locally-adapted varieties of a wide range of plants by amateurs and small-scale local producers. This activity has considerable economic and biodiversity significance, but perhaps even greater cultural significance.
In my case, I am involved in selecting seed of local wild species for use in forest gardening, an increasingly popular method of growing food in which shade-tolerant food crops are grown under fruit trees and bushes. Many of these species are only available in their wild form and would benefit from selection to improve their characteristics. An example would be sweet cicely, which produces an aniseed-flavoured root related to parsnip and which I am selecting for larger and straighter roots. I currently mostly give away seed but hope to sell some in the future. Both of these options would be outlawed by the proposed law.
It is difficult to see how this law would benefit anyone except for the seed companies which will gain an effective monopoly. It is surely significant that it is being proposed by the directorate for consumer affairs while being opposed by the directorates for agriculture and the environment.
UPDATE. In a very welcome development, on the 30th of January 2014 the EU’s Environment Committee voted unanimously to reject the seed law in its entirety, sending it back to the European Commission to be redrawn from scratch. This does mean that it will be back in some form or other, so the campaign is not over, but for now it is a major victory.