EU seed legislation, a turning point for peasant agriculture

It’s a rainy day but two teams are preparing for a football game in Brussels, just in front of the European Parliament. The result of the game will decide if our local traditional seeds will have a chance against the big seed industry. On one side, the Peasants are warming up, singing. There is no other option for them, but to win. Their opponents, wearing shorts and suit jackets, with stacks of money falling out of their pockets: the Biotech team lines up. We can recognize some of the players: Syngenta, Pioneer, Monsanto, KWS and Bayer. The referee of the game enters the field. It is the well known European Union. The game didn’t even start, but the referee already shows his true face. He is covering the eyes of the peasant goalkeeper and holding the shoe laces of another peasant. This is not going to be a fair game. And the ball starts to roll…

photo from 'La Via Campesina: Our Seeds, Our Future'

The new legislation on the marketing of seeds (EU Plant Reproductive Material Law), animal and plant health and official controls on food production proposed by the European Commission is currently being debated in the European Parliament and soon a decision is expected to be taken. On the 20th of January, responding to a call for action initiated by the European Coordination Via Campesina, hundreds of farmers, gardeners, seed-savers, organic farming organizations, associations supporting traditional farming and concerned consumers from all over Europe gathered in Brussels to exchange seeds, debate on the new law proposal and demand their rights.

What they are asking is to freely use, exchange and sell their traditional seeds on the market. The new proposal is a gift for the industry, as it leaves the door open to unrestricted marketing of patented plants, favouring big operators through a heavy and expensive process for accessing the system. This will lead to the genetic pollution of our fields through contamination and loss of biodiversity. Royalties will have to be payed by the farmers to the industry, discouraging small producers and making them turn to industrial seeds.

Bogdan Buta, Coordinator of the Seed Campaign at the Romanian peasant association Eco Ruralis, participated in the mobilization to give a voice for peasants in Romania and Eastern Europe. “The new legislation must put the peasants in the center of the debates, which represent the majority of food producers, not the big agricultural corporations. The peasants in Eastern Europe feel threatened by this law proposal because they are not able to go through all the bureaucracy in order to register their varieties and also they are not able to pay for private testing in order to prove that their seeds are safe for the consumers and not contaminated from their neighbors. We need regulations that work for the people, and protect the European patrimony of traditional seed varieties, not put them in a niche”, highlighted Buta during the demonstration.

And the peasants score against the Biotechs’! But the referee turns a blind eye and imagines a fault. He is showing the red card to one of the peasants while smiling and winking at the other team. This is not fair play. The two teams regroup and the game continues…

Two days later, on the 22nd of January, Demeter International organized another conference debating the legislation on seeds. Farmers, researchers, organic breeders, organizations, and representatives from the European Comission presented and debated the new seed law proposal. Their conclusion was that a lot of aspects concerning small scale farmers were not addressed and that the debate should continue with the active involvement of European citizens, consumers that demand good food and support the protection of plant diversity.

Recent developments show that on the 30th of January, the recommendation on the seed regulation of the ENVI committee for the European Parliament was in favor of rejection, with 49:0 votes. On 11 of February, the AGRI committee will also give their vote on the law.

Two scenarios are most likely to happen in the near future. The proposal could be rejected and sent back to the Commission for a complete redrafting, or it could be postponed until after the European Parliamentary elections in May. The first option is preferable only if the whole package proposed by the Commission is rejected, because control and sanitary regulations will be a burden for small scale farmers which cannot afford to comply with them. The second option is very dangerous because there will be very little time to inform and discuss with the new MEPs until a final vote of the Parliament.

The game is far from being over. Peasants are doing their best, fighting hard against the influence of big corporations and their aggressive tactics. Just before the end of the match, with supporters watching from the side, gardeners, seed-savers and consumers realize who they should root for. They are entering the field to run together with the farmers, for victory. Be part of the game! It’s a match for our seeds, our food, our future.

See also:

Briefing notes: Seeds

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About Attila Szocs 15 Articles

Attila Szocs is based in Romania. He works with Eco Ruralis, a grassroots peasants association. Eco Ruralis is a member of Via Campesina, currently made up of 500 members from all regions of Romania, who practice organic and traditional farming based on environmentally conscious principles. Urban and rural gardeners as well as conscious consumers are also involved.