Horsemeat Horror Brings EU Scrutiny to Plants


     (CN) – The European Commission announced sweeping legislation to enhance agri-food safety across Europe – but the plan is already taking fire from sustainable living proponents.
     Co-opting the “farm to fork” moniker typically used by advocates of organic produce and sustainability, commissioners said the plan will protect the health of EU citizens by ensuring food safety at every level in the chain. Specifically, the bill focuses on plant health, plant reproduction and animal health. It tasks member states with applying the bulk of the new controls.
     The commission admitted Monday that the recent horsemeat scandal in the U.K. and Ireland highlights the need for deeper controls at all points in the food chain. The legislation gives commissioners the power to require – rather than merely urge – member states to conduct unannounced tests and fine offenders of food-safety laws.
     Commissioners also admitted, however, that the horsemeat scandal was a case of fraudulent labeling rather than food safety, and the portion of the bill pertaining to animals largely focuses on health.
     “The proposal aims at providing a simpler and more flexible framework and significantly reduces the body of legislation that regulates animal health based on the principle that ‘prevention is better than cure,'” the commissioners said. “The proposal replaces a body of 40 directives and regulations with one piece of legislation which will ensure more risk-based approach to animal health requirements, enhanced disease preparedness and increased disease prevention for listed diseases, reduce administrative burden and economic losses due to disease outbreaks, define the roles and responsibilities of operators and veterinarians and put the primary responsibility for animal health on operators (animal keepers).” (Parentheses in original.)
     Farmers will pay for the enhanced controls with fees on nearly every test that regulators conduct, the commission said.
     The bill also establishes “a robust, transparent and sustainable regulatory framework” to protect plant health, commissioners said. In addition to tighter import controls, the proposal emphasizes the eradication of pests and even increases EU spending to battle what it calls “priority pests.”
     Sustainable living activists are in a tizzy, however, over a portion of the bill relating to seeds or, more formally, plant reproductive material. Theoretically, the proposal calls for all seeds to be registered, tested and subjected to tight quality and handling controls, and establishes yet another EU bureaucracy, the Plant Variety Agency, to oversee the new controls.
     Despite exemptions for home gardeners, who often save seeds from one year to the next to preserve heirloom varieties and guarantee the organic nature of their gardens, activists claim the commission’s proposal will eventually criminalize home gardening. Sustainable living advocates say they’re concerned that corporations like Monsanto are pushing EU lawmakers around, and cite the U.S. government’s complete deregulation of Monsanto’s Roundup-ready seeds as proof.
     “This law will immediately stop the professional development of vegetable varieties for home gardeners, organic growers, and small-scale market farmers,” vegetable breeder Ben Gabel told NaturalNews.com. “Home gardeners have really different needs-for example they grow by hand, not machine, and can’t or don’t want to use such powerful chemical sprays. There’s no way to register the varieties suitable for home use as they don’t meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers.”
     Gabel, who runs the U.K.-based Real Seed Catalogue, said on his website that there is no need for the new law, since the EU already tightly controls Europe’s seed industry. He insisted that the law creates “a whole new raft of EU civil servants” and caters to the industrial farming complex.
     “This law was written for the needs of the globalised farm-seed industry, who supply seed by the ton to industrial farmers,” Gabel said. “It should not apply at all to seed used by home gardeners and small market growers, who have very different needs.”
     Gabel also handed the commission limited, if not backhanded, praise for the bill.
     “The draft law was truly awful, and it is good to see that the commission has responded to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who raised their voices against it,” he said. “They have made important concessions for home growers and small farmers, though it is a shame they did not think of them in the first place.”
     Gabel added: “However, it will still have negative consequences. It will halt the professional development of vegetable varieties for home gardeners, organic growers, and small-scale market farmers. This is because the main registration system is no good for home gardeners. Varieties suitable for home use don’t meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers.”
     The 147-page bill must be approved by both the European Parliament and Council. If accepted, the commission expects the legislation to take effect in 2016.

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