Brussels rules against seed diversity
24 July 2012
The choice of what crops are available for gardeners to grow has been dealt yet another restrictive blow, according to leading organic charities Garden Organic and the Soil Association.
In a recent ruling in the European Court of Justice in Brussels  a small French seed company, seeking to defend its sales of old unregistered varieties of vegetables, lost its case. The company, Kokopelli, argued that the basis of the EU Marketing Directive was unlawful and curtailed the right to trade seed freely. However the court opposed this and ruled in favour of the current legislation, which restricts what seed can and cannot be marketed and sold.
Current seed regulation has meant that many once freely available varieties have disappeared along with the useful traits that breeders and growers may wish to utilise in the future. Garden Organic works to protect such ‘at risk’ varieties through its Heritage Seed Library – a collection of almost a 1000 unregistered vegetable varieties - and distributes seed amongst members, rather than selling it. The decision to rule against marketing these seeds means that once again many varieties will not be available and many more will be at risk.
Whilst some international directives  openly encourage the protection of biodiversity, this recent ruling against Kokopelli appears to go against this.
Bob Sherman, Chief Horticultural Officer at Garden Organic said:
“It is disappointing that the EU has neglected to unravel this controversial Directive to give amateur gardeners freedom of choice. Very few people believe that trade in traditional and endangered varieties threatens the commercial seed world. Despite some recent slackening of the regulation of ‘amateur’ and ‘conservation’ varieties, it appears it is still possible for large corporate businesses to control the market with no hesitation in resorting to law against the minnows of the sector. Fortunately Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library is not a seed company and we will continue to work at protecting the availability of many ‘at risk’ varieties by allowing our supporters access to seeds.”
Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture for the Soil Association said:
“For both amateur growers and commercial producers, the resilience of our farming systems depend on a wide range of genetics within the food chain. It is vital that these varieties are maintained as a living collection amongst growers. Every variety lost weakens our ability to create an effective food system that can cope with the increasing challenges of climate change and resource scarcity.”
We support the statement by the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) EU Group  and hope that the review of the legislation taking place in Brussels at this time will finally take into account traditional varieties and those bred on farms and will put in place a legal framework that will allow the marketing of these without the current restrictions and thereby protect this important resource.
Notes to editors:
 Summary of the judgment in Case C-59/11, Association Kokopelli v Graines Baumaux SA: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2012-07/cp120097en.pdf
 ITPGRA – International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture http://www.planttreaty.org/content/sustainable-use
 IFOAM EU Group Press Release http://www.ifoam-eu.org/
About Garden Organic
Garden Organic, the UK's leading organic growing charity, has been at the forefront of the organic horticulture movement for 50 years. Dedicated to promoting organic gardening in homes, communities and schools, it uses innovation and inspiration to get more people growing in the most sustainable way. Garden Organic’s charitable work delivers the organic growing message through renowned projects such as the Food For Life Partnership, the Master Composter and Master Gardener schemes and the work of The Heritage Seed Library. Ryton Gardens is the celebrated home of the UK’s leading organic growing charity, Garden Organic. Over the past 25 years, the charity has developed the ten acres of organic demonstration gardens into a beautiful and educational place to visit. The charity also runs the Kitchen Garden at Audley End in partnership with English Heritage. To find out more visit www.gardenorganic.org.uk
About the Soil Association
The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by farmers, scientists, doctors and nutritionists to promote the connection between the health of the soil, food, people and the environment. Today the Soil Association is the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. To find out more visit www.soilassociation.org