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EC about to hand over power over seeds to seed giants

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PRESS RELEASE 2  May 2013

Amsterdam/Nijmegen – On Monday 6 May, the European Commission will vote on a proposal by the Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) for new seed regulations. Large seed companies have long pushed for these regulations in order to further strengthen their market positions. The new rules will mean that farmers and independent breeders will be forbidden to use old and rare seeds if they are not on the European varieties list. This threatens the exchange and sale of many currently available varieties, and thus also the cultivation of these crops. The regulations will cause a serious decline in agrobiodiversity. ASEED Europe, Platform Aarde Boer Consument, Stichting Zaadgoed and Cityplot, together with many other civil society organizations in Europe, are calling upon European Commissioner Neelie Kroes and all other commissioners with an international petition [1] to vote against the proposal.

The admission of crops to the European catalog costs time and money. It is not feasible for varieties of which relatively few are sold, and no option whatsoever for small-scale gardeners and ‘seed savers’ who want to continue to use and trade their own seeds. In addition, the regulations require that crops be ‘uniform’ and ‘stable’, although variety within a crop is in fact desirable for sustainable agriculture [2].

Flip Vonk from ASEED Europe: “It’s crazy that you should no longer be able to use centuries-old or self-bred crops. There is no reason that the EU should determine which vegetables we may and may not grow. Only agribusiness shareholders benefit from these regulations. Nobody should have the exclusive rights to plant reproductive material, like seeds”.

Seed breeding. which results in an independent form of agriculture optimally adapted to local conditions, is becoming increasingly difficult. Three international agribusiness companies already control around half of the global seed market [3]. Keimpe van der Heide from Platform Aarde Boer Consument (Earth Farmer Consumer): “The proposal restrains the unique and important rights of breeders in the Netherlands, and will eventually also limit the Dutch seed trade. But most importantly, it will harm biodiversity. We advocate full exemption for breeders in patent law.”

The legislation has been on the horizon for some time, but until recently it seemed that farmers, hobby gardeners, and small growers could continue to breed, multiply and use seed freely on a small scale. In the current draft text from DG SANCO, however, anyone who strives for agricultural biodiversity and the preservation of heritage and other special varieties – even without profit — will also get into trouble.

Lieven David from the Association for Ecological Living and Gardening (VELT): “We have noticed that more and more people are growing, exchanging and experimenting with seeds. This shows a greatcuriosity about and connection to the germination of all life. The current EU proposal is at odds with this increasing interest, and with the wishes of hobby gardeners, farmers and others to become involved with seeds.”

“We call upon the EU to guarantee the social importance of the conservation of agricultural biodiversity in its laws. The free exchange of open-pollinated varieties by hobby gardeners and small farmers is of vital importance,” said Bert van Ruitenbeek, chair of Stichting Zaadgoed (the Seed Foundation) .

The DG SANCO proposal has been received with significant criticism in many European countries. The Austrian agricultural minister has supported the critical position of seed network Arche Noah, and the German minister for agriculture, Ilse Aigner (CSU) has also spoken out against the plans [4].

Notes:

1 Information about the European campaign, including protest letters and the petition, can be found here: http://www.seed-sovereignty.org/EN.

2 The Commission announced in response to earlier protests that the proposed regulation contained sufficient exceptions for old varieties, but the exemption is insufficient as it concerns only old varieties that were on the market prior to this registration.

3 See the ETC-Group reports on this subject: http://www.etcgroup.org/issues/seeds-genetic-diversity

4 http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/landwirtschaft-aigner-lehnt-saatgut-plaene-der-eu-ab/8113362.html