New EU Seed Law threatens gardeners’ right to grow plants



Updated Thursday May 9th …

Well, what a hectic fortnight. Everyone we know has been lobbying hard, and thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been emailing and writing about this, there were some important last-minute changes to the proposed law.

While it is still a terrible law, it is less bad than the earlier drafts. This is only because so much pressure was brought to bear on them! We must remain vigilant, and fight for improvements to the law as it goes through the EU, and then is translated into UK laws. For now, here is a summary of the current situation. The law itself is linked at the bottom.

WHAT IS THIS LAW?On Monday May 6th a draconian new law was put before the European Commission, which creates new powers to classify and regulate all plant life anywhere in Europe.
The “Plant Reproductive Material Law” regulates all plants. It contains immediate restrictions on vegetables and woodland trees. (It also creates powers that can be used to restrict any other plants in the future, but the details of how this will work are left for later.)
Under the new law, it will immediately be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been tested and approved by a new “EU Plant Variety Agency”, who will make a list of approved plants. Moreover, an annual fee must also be paid to the Agency to keep them on the list, and if not paid, they cannot be produced.
Officially, it is to simplify and bring up to date lots of old laws , and ‘increase consumer protection’.
In reality, it seems to be mostly about the globalised agribusiness seed industry needing new laws to cope with gene patents and plant patents, and to be able to register ‘their’ industrial varieties or genes safely and securely before selling them in large quantities to industrial farmers, who might otherwise save the seed and sell it or use it themselves without paying a royalty fee.
The needs of the millions of people who grow normal vegetables on a normal scale have been overlooked.
The early drafts of the law were badly written. They really did imply that people couldn’t even swap their own saved seeds with their neighbours for free. (This may have been simply poor wording, or deliberate, it was not clear which.) And subsequent drafts got more restrictive, not less.
Following a huge outcry and intense lobbying from consumer groups, small-scale farmers, genebanks, and even some member-state governements, some last-minute changes were made, which have reduced the impact slightly. It is still a bad law, just not as bad as they initally proposed.
The law starts from the premise that all vegetables, fruit and trees must be officially registered before they can be reproduced or distributed. This obviously is a major restriction on seed availability, as there are all sorts of costs in both time and money dealing with the bureaucracy of a central Plant Variety Agency. Then, after making that the basic rule, there are some exceptions made in limited cases:

  • Home gardeners will be permitted to save and swap unregistered seed without breaking the law.
  • Small organisations can grow and supply unregistered vegetable seed – but only if they have less than 10 employees
  • Seedbanks can grow unregistered seed without breaking the law (but they cannot give it to the public)
  • There might be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation – maybe.

No, not really. These concessions might be helpful, but are still limited. They are subject to all sorts of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in the small print. And the small print hasn’t been written yet, and in fact won’t written until long after the law has been approved.
So we have no idea if they will survive into the final version in any useful form. Remember, they only made these changes after a huge public outcry – and given what they thought was a good idea to start with, our confidence in the process is not high.
And the rest of the law is still overly restrictive – there are all sorts of rules about labelling & sealing packets for example – and in the long run will make it much harder for people to get hold of good seeds they want to grow at home or for small scale sustainable agriculture.
For years the availability of freely reproducible open-pollinated seedsuitable for sustainable agriculture has been shrinking due to the seed laws, and this new law doesn’t address the problem. It just considers the needs of the agri-tech industry and makes it easier for them to market their industrial seed on a big scale.
The real problem is having a starting point that all seeds are prohibited unless officially tested and registered, and then adding some small exceptions as an afterthought.
This is really back to front – testing and registration should be voluntary. Then some people (like massive industrial farmers) who might want the sort of seed that can pass certain types of test – they can choose to use the ‘officially registered’ seed.
And normal people would be free to choose freely what they want to grow from all the myriad of normal seed in the world.
There are also clauses that mean the above concessions could be removed or reduced at any time in the future without coming back to the Parliament for a vote.
This is a starting point – it is a draft law, not the final thing. Next it must go to Parliament for modification or approval, so there is still the chance of changes for better or worse. All the competing and vested interests will try to change it for their own benefit.
And almost everyone involved – either as a lobbyist or a bureaucrat – is only thinking about the needs of industrial farmers, not small-scale agriculture – even though they have applied the law to both types of seeds. So we must all campaign for small farmers’ and home growers’ rights, to make sure only improvements are made!
This law was written for the needs of the globalised farm-seed industry, who supply seed by the ton to industrial farmers. It should not apply at all to seed used by home gardeners and small market growers, who have very different needs.
Freely reproducible seeds are an inalienable part of our heritage. Listing and official certification of vegetable seeds might be helpful for industrial-scale farmers, but it should be a voluntary scheme that people can choose to use if they need it.
So we are calling for registration and testing to be voluntary for all non-GMO, non-patented, non-hybrid seed. That would fix all the problems with the law, while still allowing the giant agri-companies to protect their business the way they want.
But if that does not happen, if we must have a seed-registration system, then this law really needs improving – because allowing tiny organisations to supply seed outside the regulations is a good start, but it is not sufficient.
Only in this way will we have a broad supply of quality seed for the needs of home gardeners and small growers.



There are several petitions organised for this. The biggest is the Arche Noah petition which you should sign here. 200000 signatures so far!
Another one is the English-language version of the Seed Sovereignty petition (there is one for each EU language, so the total numbers are lower for each.)
Please sign both and share these links.


We will post updates on our Facebook Page as we get more information.

The Tap Blog is a collective of like-minded researchers and writers who’ve joined forces to distribute information and voice opinions avoided by the world’s media.

3 Responses to “New EU Seed Law threatens gardeners’ right to grow plants”

  1. you are invited to follow my blog

  2. Anonymous says:

    Non hybrid non GM seed from the link below.

    You may also be interested to know that Bill Gates, Rockefeller and the GMO giants know something we don’t

    I recall having read a similar article many many years ago of a world plant seed bank having been built in Norway but can’t remember what year that was.


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