03 May 2013

Please Help Save Open Source Seeds Now

Seeds have much in common with code.  Indeed, I wrote an entire book about how genomics parallels the world of software.  In particular, they suffer from the same problem: patents.  Patents give control over key technologies, which makes the corresponding commons even more valuable for the freedom it offers.

And alongside open source code, there are open source seeds.  These are those that have been developed over thousands of years by nameless farmers, and are owned by no one.  Anyone can sell them, or use them to develop new seeds.  They form part of humanity's greatest heritage.  And yet an ill-advised European regulation threats to consign open source seeds to the dustbin of history.

I've written a detailed explanation of what the issues are over on Techdirt.  Here I'd like to concentrate on what we can do about it.  Basically, we need to contact the European Commissioners before Monday, asking them not to take this step.  Here are their email addresses:

Viviane.Reding@ec.europa.eu, joaquin.almunia@ec.europa.eu, Siim.Kallas@ec.europa.eu, Neelie.Kroes@ec.europa.eu, Antonio.Tajani@ec.europa.eu, Maros.sefcovic@ec.europa.eu, Olli.Rehn@ec.europa.eu, Janez.Potocnik@ec.europa.eu, Andris.Piebalgs@ec.europa.eu, Michel.Barnier@ec.europa.eu, Androulla.Vassiliou@ec.europa.eu, Algirdas.semeta@ec.europa.eu, karel.de-gucht@ec.europa.eu, Maire.Geoghegan-Quinn@ec.europa.eu, Janusz.Lewandowski@ec.europa.eu, Maria.Damanaki@ec.europa.eu, Kristalina.Georgieva@ec.europa.eu, Johannes.Hahn@ec.europa.eu, Connie.Hedegaard@ec.europa.eu, stefan.Fule@ec.europa.eu, Laszlo.Andor@ec.europa.eu, Cecilia.Malmstrom@ec.europa.eu, Dacian.Ciolos@ec.europa.eu, Tonio.Borg@ec.europa.eu

I'm sorry for the extremely short notice, but I found out about this just a few weeks ago, and have been trying to get my head around what is really going on.  Basically, this would give control of Europe's food supply to the multinational giants like Monsanto, and ensure that our food is increasingly "owned" through the presence of patents.  That's insane for the reasons that I note below.

Here's what I've sent off:

I am writing to you to urge you to object to the regulation of the licensing and sale of seeds, which I believe you will consider next week. 
Although I appreciate that the impulse behind this was laudable enough – to ensure that plant material that is available in the EU is safe, and that problems can be tracked back to their source – the way it is being implemented seems fraught with problems. 
First, there is the huge bureaucratic burden that is being imposed upon seed suppliers. These will fall especially hard on small and medium-sized enterprises, a group that I know you are keen to promote.

Perhaps even worse, it will mean that thousands of ancient varieties that are unencumbered and in the public domain will never be registered or certified, and thus will fall out of use. That is a terrible loss of thousands of years of European culture – civilisation was built on seeds, which made cities and all that they bring possible.
That will result in a loss of diversity at a time when European agriculture is facing unprecedented challenges thanks to climate change. The seed licensing proposals make it likely that fewer, less varied seeds will be used; this will make food supply in Europe far less resilient, and more vulnerable to diseases. It will also make European farmers dependent on a small group of large seed suppliers who will be able to exercise oligopoly power with all that this implies for pricing and control. 
Finally, these changes will result in tens of millions of ordinary citizens across Europe – the ones who delight in the simple pleasures of gardening – finding themselves limited in the seeds that they can buy and sow. At the very least this is likely to lead to an increasing disillusionment with the European project, something that we all would wish to avoid at a time when many are expressing their doubts on this score. 
In summary, I ask you to reject the regulation in its current form, and to insist that it be modified to allow Europe ancient seed heritage to be preserved and enjoyed by future generations, and to ensure that European agriculture remains strong and independent.   

 Please help if you can: this is important.

No comments: