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1st February 2015

Sam and  CarolineSeedy Sunday festival is the UK's biggest and longest-running community seed swap event [1]. This year as many as 3000 people came along and about 10,000 packs of seed crossed the seed swap tables. Given the boom in growing your own, it’s understandable that so many people are expressing concerns about a proposed new EU law that threatens swapping seed, growing heritage varieties and even saving your own seed from year to year.

Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion and Britain’s first Green MP, has raised this threat to civil liberties with the Environment, Food and Farming Minister several months ago. She asked George Eustice to oppose the obligatory registration of seed varieties and to support voluntary rather than compulsory registration and testing for all seeds that are not GM, patented or hybrid. Since then the EU’s proposals have been amended, but not for the better. In fact they now represent an even greater threat to sustainable biodiverse agriculture and consumer choice [2].

In particular the plans further concentrate the EU’s seed market into the hands of just a few corporations, whilst exemptions from the regulations for small scale seed swaps wouldn’t protect Brighton’s Seedy Sunday. Caroline Lucas has written to DEFRA to stand up for gardeners and farmers that want to grow heritage varieties and exchange seeds.



According to ASEED [3], a European policy watchdog, the amendment to the new EU seed law means that the current European Directives still apply. How these are implemented in each country varies, while some exemptions to the Directives are used by one country, they are not used by another. France is notoriously punitive, using the Directives to protect the interests of their commercial seed industry, the fourth largest in the world. And, the huge fine that the Kokopelli seed savers got for distributing unregistered seeds speaks for itself. European seed savers have started to gather data to ensure that every Member State uses exemptions which are favourable for biodiversity.

The best option for protecting biodiversity now would be if the European Parliament demands that the Commission start over again to produce a completely different EU seed proposal. This would stop industrial seeds becoming the standard, rather than the real, honest to goodness, diverse, farm-saved, freely evolving, open-pollinating, naturally varied, low tech, cheap, traditional, and freely accessible seeds. These are the seeds we need for sustainable, low-input food production. Too much diversity has been lost since industrial agriculture took hold and it’s time to move in line with the ecological principles of sustainability and diversity.

Another threat to seed sovereignty comes in the form of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is a controversial goods and services free trade deal between the EU and the US that will remove any obstacles to a complete market take-over by the dominant seed-multinationals. The TTIP is being negotiated behind closed doors, unencumbered by democratic intervention or transparency, and will hand corporations the right to sue governments if they feel that their potential profit is threatened by unfavourable legislation.

Let’s just remind ourselves who the world’s top ten seed corporations are:

Company 2007 seed sales

Percentage of global proprietary
seed market

 Monsanto US  $4,964m  23%
 Dupont US  $3,300m  15%
 Syngenta Switzerland  $2,018m  9%
 Group Limagrain France  $1,226m  6%
 Land O Lakes US  $702m  4%
 KWS KG Germany  $524m  3%
 Bayer Crop Science Germany  $524m  2%
 Sakata Japan  $396m <2%
 DLF-Trifolium Denmark  $391m  <2%
 Takii Japan  $347m  <2%
 Top Ten Total:  $14,785m  67%

 Source: ETC Group

If signed at the end of 2015,the TTIP will leave the backdoor open for corporations to bypass existing EU regulation on GMOs. So it is no surprise that the biotech and agro-industry lobbyists for the TTIP are in the overwhelming majority. According to them the EU is far too restrictive when it comes to GMOs. However, the majority of Europeans do not want GMOs in their food.

At Seedy Sunday 2015 Caroline Lucas said: “There has been no evidence that GM is necessary and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is incredibly harmful both to the environment and also to farmers’ livelihoods. So I think that the message we want to send to the GM companies and indeed to Governments throughout Europe and beyond, is that the public still don’t want GM. There is no proven case that GM is necessary. Of course we must feed the world – absolutely we can do that without GM - and in fact through low input agriculture it’s much easier to do that. So let’s look at what the UN is saying, let’s look at what farmers around the world are saying and listen to them to what they want: the support with some of their traditional farming methods, rediscovering some of those older methods. Those are ways in which we can ensure that we have an agriculture that works for farmers and that produces enough food and doesn’t put the profits of the big agribusiness at its heart. “

Photo of Sam Burcher and Caroline Lucas by Kevin Coleman