Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sowing Seeds of Discontent

We have received an email from Richard King of UKIP via a local open email list for gardeners on which we both appear. Not wishing to abuse that list with a reply-all we thought a public response would be in order.

The subject of the email was thus:
"a terrible new seed law". He writes:
Hello everybody,
It seems the EU is pushing ahead with its new "Plant + Seed Registration" laws. This is not good news for bio-diversity in our gardens. You can find out more info at the links below or do your own research on Google, search for "EU Plant Reproductive Material Law" says
"A terrible new seed law was drawn up by the European Commission. If passed, it will hugely restrict the vegetable varieties that can be sold."
More unnecessary interference which we can do without.
Richard King.
Well, shock horror, we agree. But only that the substantive issue is a problem. We do not appear to agree on how to deal with it. Let’s have a little look into what is really happening and give a rather different perspective and quote from the very same first link Richard supplies.
"However, due to the huge amount of public objection - all your letters and emails and calls - the MEPs have realised that there is a problem and the law cannot be passed as it is, and several objected to the law at its first reading."
That’s hardly "pushing ahead" is it? More like stumbling to defeat. That’s how democracy works, yes democracy, not un-elected commissioners telling us what to do, but our elected representatives, er well representing us. When they can be bothered to turn up that is. If we, or our MEPs, do not engage with the democratic processes of the EU then how can we expect the EU to meet our needs?

If you want to lobby your London MEPs, on this or any other issue, you can find their contact details here:

And don’t forget to vote on May 22nd.

There is a petition here, spread the word, but a letter/email to your MEPs is much more powerful.


  1. I tried very hard not to reply to this post as I know what I say will not go down well with some of you, but here goes anyway.

    I am a member of the Heritage Seed Library, which is part of Garden Organic of which I am also a member. The HSL encourages members to grow, and save and exchange the seeds of, varieties of vegetables which the seed companies have deleted from their lists. Seed companies will only purchase licences for varieties for which there is big demand, which is why you will only see one or two varieties of cauliflower or cucumber in the shops. The thinking which motivates HSL is mainly the anxiety that if a disease affects a certain variety of, say, potato, and if most of the potatoes grown are of that variety, the effects would be disastrous. It is also important that some older varieties grow particularly well in certain conditions and will have superior flavour. When you see in Sainsbury's a pack of tomatoes proclaiming 'grown for flavour', it may occur to you to wonder what all the others are grown for.

    A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from Garden Organic from which I will quote:
    "You may remember earlier in the year we wrote to you telling you about the EU plans to licence seed production. It would have effectively banned small seed producers and potentially even criminalised the gardener who produces his own seed. The impact on plant diversity would have been devastating.

    We joined forces with several other campaigning groups across Europe and won concessions which excluded the smaller producers. However the situation is now looking worse.

    One influential Italian MEP, Sergio Silvestris, has been working hard to amend the legislation, and it is now proposed that the new legislation is amended to cover all plant materials which are made available for sale. Even worse, Mr Silvestris has removed the exemptions to the rules for voluntary and community living seed banks like the Heritage Seed Library.

    This means not just food crops but also ornamentals, fruit trees and even wildflowers will now be subject to EU regulation.

    In its proposed form, the legislation would require all seed producers, of whatever size, to become licensed operators and all plants sold to be described and listed and to meet set standards, with plants having to conform to tightly defined descriptions. And seed producers will have to bear the costs.

    This legislation works very well for the big producers who churn out large volumes of limited varieties. But what about all the small seed banks, specialist nurseries, seed exchange networks, even amateur breeders - how will they bear the cost of regulation? The Heritage Seed Library would almost certainly become unviable.

    And there is no reason for it. It is not as if there are massive problems with the way seeds are produced at the moment. This legislation is simply a way for the large corporations to get a stranglehold on the market."

    The letter continues with a list of the key changes to the proposed legislation which the HSL is campaigning for.

    I would love to hear your comments on this.

    1. Well, I’m jolly pleased you did comment Patsy. Your views are always welcome here.

      As I wrote above I think this is a big problem and I advised readers how to lobby their MEPs.

      These sort of things are not confined to the EU, though. We currently have a UK Environment Secretary who appears not to understand how nature works. In order to influence these things we have to engage. The European Free Alliance (Greens) are on to it.

      I can’t cover everything and to some extent I rely on others telling me if something is important. So why didn’t you send in a guest post earlier? The subject is right up our alley, localism, diversity etc.

      I have added a link to a petition in the main post.

  2. The EU will soon be making laws about how one must pee, and other bodily functions.

  3. Sorry Alan, I got the impression that you thought that Richard King was just using the issue as a stick to beat the EU and that you believed the issue had gone away anyway.

    The ramifications of this proposed legislation are actually much bigger than any of us probably realise. It is not just the cost that small organisations like HSL would be expected to pay. The real issues, as I see them are:

    The multinational seed companies would have more control over which varieties of plants are grown, probably ending with a monopoly;

    we are risking our food diversity and therefore natural resistance to disease and other reasons for crop failure. We argue against GM but if this legislation goes through unchanged we will have no choice eventually but to accept seeds which are modified for disease resistance.

    Sergio Silvestris does not appear to be a disinterested party. Perhaps you could read the article about this issue in the Corporate Europe Observatory, where it seems plain that Sr Silvestris is working with the major seed companies.

    1. Well, yes I did think he was "using it as a stick to beat the EU" - without really being interested in the issue. And I was countering his assertion that it was a foregone conclusion by pointing out that there is stiff opposition to it and is not yet a done deal.
      You have hit the nail on the head on the risks above. But then Nature has a habit of biting our bums when we don't play by her rules.
      I have emailed Jean Lambert for a status update.