LATEST UPDATE 24 July 2014
In 2012 a terrible new draft seed law was drawn up by the European Commission (unelected civil servants in Brussels). If passed, it would hugely restrict the vegetable varieties that can be sold.
The only people who had any input into drafting this law were large multi-national businesses who supplied 'technical experts' to 'help' them write the law, which is why it completely ignored the needs of small farmers and home growers, or even just common sense.
What we have been up to...
Together with many NGOs and independent seed companies across the EU, in the background we spent a lot of time lobbying MEPs, to make sure they understood the problems with the law.
We have also been working with DEFRA - the UKGovernment regulator of the seed industry - who have been really helpful and supportive. They too want to protect the UK seed industry, and make sure UK gardeners have access to whatever plants they wish to grow.
Together with DEFRA, the various NGOs and independent seed houses have been asking for a total exemption from the law for seed for home gardeners and small growers, and several of the UK MEPs supported this idea.
Your letters REALLY helped...
At the start of December 2013, the law was reviewed for the first time by the MEPs (your elected representatives in the European Parliament) on the ENVIRONMENT and AGRICULTURE committees.
Due to the huge amount of public objection - all your letters and emails and calls - the MEPs realised that there was a problem and the law could not be passed as it stood. When the list of amendments for this law has was released incredibly there were 1144 detailed alterations, deletions and additions suggested from MEPs of every political affiliation.
This is amazing - and it shows that the campaign has really had an effect.
Where are we now?
Two committees have a say in this law, the Environment committee, and the Agriculture committee. On January 30th, the Environment Committee voted unanimously (49:0) to reject the law entirely, and send it back to the Commission for redrafting from scratch. Then, in February, the Agriculture committee also voted (37:2) to reject the law and send it back.
Its not clear how this will go. The status quo (ie the already existing seed laws) have lots of problems, and potentially a new law that takes full account of the needs of the environment, organic growers and home gardeners could be an improvement. In some ways a 'worst case' scenario might be if the new law was abandoned entirely, and the EU pushes the UK Government to enforce the existing laws much more strictly. However, the thousands of suggested changes to the draft law were not all compatible with each other, and even spending just 10 minutes discussing each one would take forever.
At the moment, we are waiting to see what will happen once the new Parliament is settled in, although there probably won't be any further movement until the new team of Commissioners come into office later in 2014. (The term of the current Commission expires on the 31st October 2014.) We will keep you posted as soon as there is any further news!
(If you'd like to read them, the Agriculture and Environment draft reports are both available on the EU website.)