Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity. The theme this year is Water and Biodiversity, which may be why I am in Bonn, at a conference on Water in the Anthropocene. Bravely ignoring the vast swathes of biodiversity that call fresh water home, I’d rather focus on agricultural biodiversity, and the recent proposals for revising the dreaded EU seed laws. Tl;dr? They’re pretty good.1
A couple of weeks ago the European Commission adopted new proposals for the marketing of plant reproductive material. People with an interest in agricultural biodiversity have been waiting a long time, and have put a lot of effort into telling the European Commissioners what they would like to see. They didn’t get everything they wanted – more of that later – but they did get quite a lot. So what was the response?2
- BREAKING: European Commission to criminalize nearly all seeds and plants not registered with government.
- We don’t accept this. Let us keep our seeds EU!
- EU Targets Seeds and Gardeners; Critics Lash Out
- New European Law To Illegalize Unregistered Government Vegetation
All of which is just plain wrong. The new proposals actually decriminalize some activities that were outlawed by previous versions of the seed laws. They also set gardeners free to exchange and grow any varieties they like. And there are other provisions that give micro-enterprises and seed banks licence to do things that larger concerns cannot. In my view (and I hate to pull the I’ve-been-at-this-a-while card, but I have) the new proposals permit officially throughout the EU things that previously were ignored to a greater or lesser extent in different member states.
Of course the devil is in the details – he always is – and we will have to see how the various gaps and derogations in the proposal pan out in the different countries of the EU. And the fundamental premise of the proposal remains all wrong.
Everything not permitted is still forbidden, and things that may soon be permitted could be forbidden (again) in future. Like many others, I’d like a system that the rest of the world enjoys, where breeders and growers can choose to avail themselves of the qualities that seed certification and registration offers. I’d also like world peace and harmony and for everyone to just get along.
But let’s be realistic. The EU was never going to admit that the original 1966 seed laws were a complete mistake. They have listened to some of what they were told in their efforts to find out what people wanted, and the final regime contains elements from the two most popular options. If I were still in the business of selling seeds or produce, I’d be wondering how to make the most of my new-found freedoms, while perhaps at the same time continuing to plot final escape and redemption.
BTW, theres some very interesting reading – for and against – in the Impact Assessment on the Proposal undertaken by Commission staff. I hope to find the time (and the raw data) to analyse some of the very interesting differences among member states.
- In fact my greatest disappointment is that in the long list of people and organizations that did take the time to share their views on this important matter with the EU, some that say they’re concerned about the diversity available to and used by farmers in their fields are prominent by their absence. [↩]
- No links; I don’t want to feed the trolls. [↩]