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European Seed Legislation: Who will profit, who will lose?

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Demeter International and its alliance partners invited to a European seed legislation and policy conference Challenges for producers, consumers and citizens: Who will own the seeds? (picture). The conference took place in Brussels on 22 January 2014 under the patronage of IFOAM EU and was supported by 16 stakeholder NGOs. Representatives of the European Institutions, Member State Authorities, farmers’ associations, breeders, seed savers, universities, churches, journalists and many relevant NGOs attended the conference with more than 120 participants. Main conference aims were to discuss the European seed legislation proposal and its consequences, the situation of SME breeders (especially in organic farming), the question of agro-biodiversity (i.e. the use of landraces instead of genetically uniform varieties), food sovereignty, research needs, but also new models like the Commons and citizens’ participation concerning seeds.   
Whereas Päivi Mannerkorpi from the European Commission (DG Health and Consumers) suggested that the legislative proposal on plant reproductive material offers sufficient new possibilities for more diversified production, relevant policy decision makers and stakeholders had their reservations. MEP Martin Häusling (The Greens/EFA) stated that seeds are a public good and therefore of public interest. Their regulation must be further discussed in public, not only in the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission’s proposal tries to put the seed market in order, but doesn’t really initiate a development for more sustainable farming and agro-biodiversity. Consequently the present proposal doesn’t fulfil sufficiently the needs of organic farming. Moreover, the EP was given far too little time to find a satisfying consensus. At present, one should not favour a hasty reaction of the EP to push through this important seed regulation before the coming European Parliament elections in May.      

Antje Kölling from the IFOAM EU Group outlined needs for changes in seed legislation, emphasizing that appropriate rules must apply for varieties which are adapted to organic conditions. Work with genetic resources by non-professionals must not be regulated, but remain free. Gebhard Rossmanith, CEO of the biodynamic breeding company Bingenheimer Saatgut AG in Germany, stated that organic breeding of open pollinated varieties needs fair access to market. This means adapted criteria for the registration tests with the focus on special aspects of organic farming and the needs of farmers and consumers. Pierre Sultana (Arche Noah, a seed savers’ association from Austria) was concerned about the consequences of EU policy and legislation concerning free exchange of seeds and agro-biodiversity. The Commission’s proposal is very well polished from a first point of view, but when going into the details, it would further endanger agro-biodiversity in Europe. A shift from a compulsory system of registration and certification to a voluntary one is needed and would really offer a “better regulation” while protecting biodiversity. Guy Kastler (Réseau Semences Paysannes, a French seed exchange network) commented on the current legal and seed market situation in France and analysed possible advantages and disadvantages of the proposed European seed law. Some issues like for instance the legal option of free exchange of seeds among farmers and gardeners would be welcomed, while some other parts of the regulation could not be accepted.  
Edith Lammerts van Bueren (Wageningen University) gave an overview on the state of the art with regard to seed research and development. To develop our seeds we need to involve not only farmers and breeders, but also other stakeholders in the food chain including citizens. We need to develop plant breeding into farmer-based and citizen based breeding models (i.e. “systems breeding”). Véronique Chable (INRA, France) emphasised the importance of more participatory research (with farmers and citizens) for new locally adapted and open pollinating varieties. For achieving this goal it is decisive to work on the local level in as many places as possible. Roikos Thanopoulos (Peliti, a Greek seed savers and exchange network) pointed out that landraces, created by farmers, are a very important component of European agro-biodiversity and in parallel excellent material for organic farming. Landraces should have their well-defined and appropriate place in the new seed regulation. Silke Helfrich, author and co-founder of the Commons-Strategies-Group, presented an innovative concept Commons vs. commodities – a new framework for seed handling. She said that the current legal and political framework is based on the idea of seeds as commodities. But what we really need is legal protection of seeds and breeding as commons.  
Carsten Berg (Expert for European Citizens’ InitiativesECIs) emphasized the importance of citizens’ participation. We could only save seeds and biodiversity for the future, if we succeeded to create much more awareness of citizens and consumers in this field. The establishing of a broad European citizens movement is urgently needed. Million Belay (Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa - AFSA) reported about the threats of African seed law harmonization for farmers, consumers and food sovereignty in African countries. He stated that the conference in Brussels was helpful to understand the European context and to articulate the African case. Africa should not follow Europe’s way, i.e. that farmers would lose seed sovereignty. In the final session of the conference it was concluded that Europe is not at the end of the seed legislation process. It goes on and further engagement of citizens and NGOs, representing civil society, is of eminent importance. The broader picture of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) shows still a too dominant priority setting on competition in agriculture and in the seed market. Therefore it is very difficult to achieve seed conservation and enhance agro-biodiversity within the current system. However there is hope for a beginning paradigm shift, if civil society and more and more consumers will express their demand for a European agricultural system and practice, in which seed and cultivated plant diversity is one important basic element.

On Wednesday, 29 January 2014, at 10:30, a press conference on the seed conference in the afternoon will be held at the European Parliament in Brussels, Room ASP A1G3. From 3 pm to 6:30 pm, the public Greens / EFA conference entitled Seed diversity and food security threatened by an overly concentrated EU seed market will take place at the same location.

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