Over at the other place I've written about the history of European Union legislation on agricultural biodiversity and on a new draft that they think will put matters right. I don't think it will, and I'm saddened to be unable to find any reports of the discussions on the draft that were to have taken place this month. But rather than clutter up that space with polemic, I thought I'd take advantage of my manifold outlets to sound off here.

This is what I think they should do: exempt any seed sold exclusively in small quantities from any and all legislation pertaining to seed varieties.

That needs unpacking.

"Small" will obviously depend on the species. The draft makes a stab at that, distinguishing tomatoes from broad beans. I don't see any problem with establishing upper limits for all the commonly grown species, even cereals. Enough to grow a reasonable quantity for harvest. If your plans are for more, you will want to build up your own seed stocks anyway, adapting the variety to your growing conditions.

"Exclusively" is important. Few farmers, and fewer gardeners, realize how restricted the supply of seed really is. Company A sells a kilo of seed to Company B, who splits it into 100 gram lots that other companies then package into 1 gram envelopes, just like drug dealers. They're not the ones who should benefit from any relaxation of the rules. Only people who never buy or sell in bulk, who would almost certainly be growing their own supplies, should be able to market uncertified varieties.

As for quality, ordinary consumer legislation will suffice to protect people from seed that doesn't germinate. And if the growers are worried about the seed not performing, whatever that means, let them buy certified seed and see how much compensation that buys them.

Theft of intellectual property can be dealt with simply too; let the owner of any rights protect them by pursuing the putative thieves. It'll be easy enough to keep tabs on names, and without a good name there's no great benefit to be had in stealing the stuff anyway.

The big benefits will be a blossoming of biodiversity, as small growers find it worth their while to trade surplus seeds. Farmers and gardeners will enjoy the satisfaction of growing what they choose, and of developing the skills to make the right choices and then extract the best performance from those choices. The bureaucrats would have less to do. And the big seed companies could stop pretending they give a damn.

There must be a downside, but I'm blowed if I can see it.

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