Imagine a place where seed companies, such as our local Southern Harvest, are told what seeds they are allowed to sell and seedsavers groups and people with market stalls cannot sell seeds from their gardens….. well, take heed, Australia, this is exactly what has happened in Europe.
The choice of what crops are available for gardeners to grow has been dealt yet another restrictive blow, according to leading organic charities Garden Organic and the Soil Association.
In a recent ruling in the European Court of Justice in Brussels(1) a small French seed company, seeking to defend its sales of old unregistered varieties of vegetables, lost its case. The company, Kokopelli, argued that the basis of the EU Marketing Directive was unlawful and curtailed the right to trade seed freely. However the court opposed this and ruled in favour of the current legislation, which restricts what seed can and cannot be marketed and sold.
Current seed regulation has meant that many once freely available varieties have disappeared along with the useful traits that breeders and growers may wish to utilise in the future. Garden Organic works to protect such ‘at risk’ varieties through its Heritage Seed Library; a collection of almost a 1000 unregistered vegetable varieties - and distributes seed amongst members, rather than selling it. The decision to rule against marketing these seeds means that once again many varieties will not be available and many more will be at risk.
Whilst some international directives(2) openly encourage the protection of biodiversity, this recent ruling against Kokopelli appears to go against this.
Bob Sherman, Chief Horticultural Officer at Garden Organic said, “It is disappointing that the EU has neglected to unravel this controversial Directive to give amateur gardeners freedom of choice. Very few people believe that trade in traditional and endangered varieties threatens the commercial seed world. Despite some recent slackening of the regulation of ‘amateur’ and ‘conservation’ varieties, it appears it is still possible for large corporate businesses to control the market with no hesitation in resorting to law against the minnows of the sector. Fortunately Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library is not a seed company and we will continue to work at protecting the availability of many ‘at risk’ varieties by allowing our supporters access to seeds.”
Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture for the Soil Association said “For both amateur growers and commercial producers, the resilience of our farming systems depend on a wide range of genetics within the food chain. It is vital that these varieties are maintained as a living collection amongst growers. Every variety lost weakens our ability to create an effective food system that can cope with the increasing challenges of climate change and resource scarcity.”
We support the statement by the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) EU Group(3) and hope that the review of the legislation taking place in Brussels at this time will finally take into account traditional varieties and those bred on farms and will put in place a legal framework that will allow the marketing of these without the current restrictions and thereby protect this important resource.
1.Summary of the judgment in Case C 59/11, Association Kokopelli v Graines Baumaux SA: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2012-07/cp120097en.pdf
2.ITPGRA International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture http://www.planttreaty.org/content/sustainable-use
3.IFOAM EU Group Press Release http://www.ifoam-eu.org/