21st Oct 2016

Seed industry to benefit from new EU regulation, NGO says

  • The value of crops grown in the EU is worth €205 billion annually (Photo: freefotouk)

The European Commission on Monday (6 May) tabled an extensive package covering plant and animal health it says will strengthen standards for the whole food chain, but others call it a victory for the seed industry.

EU commissioner for health Tonio Borg told reporters in Brussels the proposal will increase the traceability and surveillance of seeds on the EU market.

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National authorities currently use certification and tests to identity seeds and ensure their health and quality before it is marketed in the EU. Such tests come with a fee that small businesses will no longer have to pay under the proposal.

Derogations aside for small business, the German-based NGO Save our Seeds (SOS) says the regulation is an open door for big companies like the US-based Monsanto and Dupont Pioneer to effectively certify, test, and inspect the seeds themselves.

Together, along with three other companies, they control between 50 to 60 percent of the global seed market.

“For the first time, the certification of commercial seeds can be done by the enterprises themselves,” Benedikt Haerlin of SOS told this website.

Haerlin says the regulation reduces the work of inspectors down to shuffling through paperwork and applications.

“At the end of the day, the authorities just sit at their desk and go through the paperwork submitted by the applicant,” he says.

A line in the proposed regulation calls for “more flexibility” to so-called professional operators.

It entitles the seed industry to carry out the necessary examination for registration, inspections, sampling and analysis of plant reproductive material for certification themselves but under the official supervision from authorities.

Haerlin says the regulation is laying down the future framework for the largest companies to trace down the intellectual property rights of seeds.

He says the commission’s proposal is putting in place a system that forces companies to keep records of their seeds, what has been planted and where, what has been sold, to whom and how.

“The regulation forms a perfect basis for controlling seeds that are patented. It is not a concern today but it increases the control of the seed market substantially,” he says.

Monsanto ranks amongst the world’s largest seed companies. The giant has patented a number of GMO seeds in the United States.

It says the patents encourage and reward innovation.

But the company is a jealous guardian of the seeds and has issued 145 lawsuits against US farmers - or about 11 every year on average - since 1997.

“To date, only nine cases have gone through full trial. In every one of these instances, the jury or court decided in our favour,” states the Monsanto website.

Greenpeace says Monsanto and some other companies in the Monsanto group have applied for more than 100 patents on seeds in Europe. About two dozen, notes Greenpeace, have so far been granted.


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