Garden Organic and allies have issued a seven step Save Our Seeds plan and a call to "turn back the tide" over the latest amendements to damaging EU proposals on plant reproductive material.
The call from the alliance of concerned UK organisations which includes UK NGOs, small seed producers, plant breeders and trade associations, comes in response to a draft report issued by the EU’s chief rapporteur for agriculture, Sergio Sylvestris.
In the report, Italian MEP Sylvestris seeks to repeal many of the exemptions for amateur growers and small producers that had been won in the original Regulation on Marketing of Plant Reproductive Material (PRM) draft directive, issued in May.
The new recommendations include exemptions only for statutory gene banks – only two exist in the UK – and not the living gene banks with community networks of growers such as Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library (HSL).
Exemptions for smaller seed growers are also being removed as are exemptions for open pollinated niche market varieties developed after the directive – a move that threatens future plant breeding and biodiversity.
In response, a seven point Save Our Seeds Plan has been launched outlining what needs to be included in the new draft directive. The group has also consulted with DEFRA on the plans, launched a letter campaign targeted at MEPs, and a Save Our Seeds social media campaign aimed at the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) and Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENVI), Chief and Shadow Rapporteurs.
Garden Organic development director Brett Willers said: "The new proposals being suggested in Mr Sivelstris’s report are very concerning and raise key issues. They include adverse effects on small businesses specialising in producing niche market varieties who will not be able to afford the costly licensing fees and as a result could go out of business.
He added: "There is also the anti-competitive nature of these proposals as they make it more difficult for imports of plant material into the EU and risk similar restrictions being imposed upon EU growers exporting outside of the EU. Farmers, growers and the consumer will also be faced with limited choice as a large number of varieties are eliminated from potential future production.
"Food security will be threatened with less genetic variation available for future plant breeding and a loss of biodiversity as costly registration procedures and exemptions limited to statutory seed banks restrict the development of new varieties. We therefore urge the EU Rapporteurs to ‘turn back the tide’ on these new proposals and implement the right decisions when formulating the new directive."
The Save Our Seeds Plan outlines seven key asks to be implemented as part of the Regulation on Marketing of Plant Reproductive Material (PRM) directive. The seven asks are:
1. The Regulation on Marketing of Plant Reproductive Material (PRM) only be applied to major food crops and the agricultural market. It should not apply to the activities of gardeners, those in amenity horticulture, wildlife conservation or smallholder and allotment growers.
2. Recognise the value and importance of living seed banks like the Heritage Seed Library (HSL) and seed exchange networks by exempting them from the regulations. This enable heritage and niche plant varieties to adapt to change over time and thus ensure they remain viable in the future.
3. Not limit exemption from the DUS ruling to open pollinated varieties developed before the Directive comes into effect. Instead it should allow commercial activities to continue in the further development of open pollinated varieties for niche markets, as this will enhance biodiversity and food security.
4. Reconsider the requirement for DUS testing as many plants especially ornamentals and a number of vegetables do not conform to distinct characterisations.
5. Apply restrictions to the marketing and sale of seeds and plant reproductive materials only where large quantities are sold above a certain level for large-scale horticultural and agricultural use. All seed companies regardless of their company size (employee and turnover) should be exempt from the regulations if selling plants material that is destined for use to either:
a) cover a limited area or
b) have a packet size below a certain number or weight.
If the larger seed companies were concerned about the smaller companies having exemptions from licensing and registration (note the removal of the exemption for companies with ten employees or less than 2m Euro turnover) this approach would satisfy their concerns.
6. Not restrict the development of exempted varieties of plants to their locality of origin but allow for their use in developing new acclimatised plants elsewhere e.g. the Latvian Pea although originating from Latvia has a UK variety that has become acclimatised to our conditions in the UK over time and is different from the original Latvian Pea.
7. Not be anti competitive. As it stands at the moment it would restrict the movement of plant material into and out of the EU resulting in likely restrictions coming into effect in other trading block areas as retaliation to the EU Directive
A declaration has been signed by 20 European organisations as part of a Pan-European co-ordinated campaign lobby aimed at securing the important amendments and exemptions for new Regulation on Marketing of Plant Reproductive Material (PRM) seed regulations.