• The European Commission proposed legislation that would restrict plantings for professionals to a specific list of approved seeds. 
  • Backlash over the proposed regulation from growing groups resulted in some concessions but they worry the law is still bad. 
  • The commission believes the package simplifies current legislation in the interest of protecting public health and the economy, but growing groups say it is an infringement that could lead to more expenses and less biodiversity. 
Growing Groups Upset European Commission Proposes Law That Restricts Plantings to Approved List

(Image: Shutterstock.com)

The European Commission is proposing legislation that would have the government regulate what can be planted to its “tested, approved and accepted” list of seeds. Some worry the legislation, in addition to being over-regulation by the government, would lead to less biodiversity and that it could set a precedent that could someday criminalize the average gardener planting so-called banned seeds. 

According to the European Commission, the Plant Reproductive Material Law seeks to update existing legislation by cutting down 70 pieces of law to five and reducing “the red-tape on processes and procedures for farmers, breeders and food business operators (producers, processors and distributors) to make it easier for them to carry out their profession,” the press release stated

Th commission believes its package modernizes and simplifies rules “guiding the operation of the food chain” in the best interest of protecting health.

“The package responds to the call for better simplification of legislation and smarter regulation thus reducing administrative burden for operators and simplifying the regulatory environment. Special consideration is given to the impact of this legislation on SMEs and micro enterprises which are exempted from the most costly and burdensome elements in the legislation,” the press release stated. 

As TechDirt pointed out, the intent to ensure plants grown in the EU are safe and that if any problems occur they can be traced back to the offending source is commendable, but growing organizations have expressed concerns that the legislation would ultimately add up to “forbidden seeds.”

Growing Groups Upset European Commission Proposes Law That Restricts Plantings to Approved List

(Image: Shutterstock.com)

The Soil Association in its press release regarding the proposed legislation stated it would have a “disastrous effect” on the availability of rare plant varieties and those used by farmers.

“This will not only affect farmers and growers in the short term by outlawing exchange of seed not currently commercially available, but in the long term will erode the diversity of species that even the large seed companies, who are driving the proposal, need to provide their future varieties,” the Soil Association stated. 

Ben Raskin, head of horticulture for the association, explained that access to diverse varieties is important for adaptation to local environments and changing climate conditions. 

“The proposed regulation will require every seed to be registered and an annual license to be paid for each variety,” Raskin said in a statement. “Under this law it won’t be possible to register old and new niche varieties and populations (e.g. conservation and amateur varieties, landraces and farmers’ selections) based only on an officially recognized description (ORD), without official registration and certification, as is currently practiced. If this regulation is passed, not only will we lose a huge number of plant varieties , we will lose the amazing diversity of appearance, taste, and potential benefits such as disease resistance and nutritional content.”

Raskin worried that while some have assured the proposed legislation would only apply to farmers that the text suggests every gardener could be subject to it as well. 

An online petition organized through AVAAZ.org stated that the list of approved seeds is “60% dominated by big corporations like Monsanto, AstraZeneca, Bayer and others” (emphasis added):

The pros list are basically only hybrids – which means that you can not take next year’s seed from his crop. Furthermore, it not only be forbidden to sell other seeds than those already mentioned, but also to grow. “File sharing” in the area of seeds will become a criminal act. This means that people be even less able to influence what you eat, when you can not even decide what to grow. It also means that the varieties that are historically interesting will disappear, even varieties that can withstand our climate, because the market is too small for the majors to be interesting. This means that poor people who live off what they grow is referred to in the seedtrades discretion in terms of pricing, which can be costly where there are few players. 

As of Wednesday morning nearly 43,000 people had signed the petition saying they don’t accept the proposed legislation and want the EU to let them “keep our seeds.”

Due to concerns being voiced, the proposed regulation was amended somewhat, but the Food Policy for Thought blog states that the EU is still ”trying to find a balance on where producer protection stops and regulatory oversight is necessary.”

As for whether the amendments adequately accounted for concerns, Food Policy for Thought wrote that when it comes to those “demanded by civil society” — that regulation not require registration of plants without intellectual property rights associated with them — it didn’t go quite that far. 

Still, the amended draft “already looks much better than what was discussed previously.”

The Real Seed Catalog in the UK too wrote that the law is “still bad,” it is “much less bad” at this point. Real Seed Catalog broke down some of the concessions made:

  • Home gardeners are now permitted to save and swap unapproved seed without breaking the law.
  • Individuals & small organizations 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.

Ultimately, Real Seed Catalog director Ben Gabel said there wasn’t a need for any new regulation on this front. 

“We already had 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 covered health, traceability and safety. Anyone who produces seed is already inspected and certified by the Secretary of State,” he said in a statement.

“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, and charging fees for the use of plants that were domesticated and bred by the public over thousands of years of small-scale agriculture,” Gamble said.

The commission’s proposal will now be considered by other EU institutions and could be implemented by 2016 if adopted. 

(H/T: Before It’s News)