"Threats to tomato biodiversity of traditional varieties 2022/2023" was the original title of this publication, which I have been preparing for some time. Now I should change this title to: "Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development - the biggest enemy of Polish farmers?". Why? You will find out below. If you are reading this publication, it means that you care about preserving real, old, traditional tomato varieties, and that our work and its fruits are illegal. Usually I take great pleasure in sending out more news and newsletters, because talking to you gives us a sense of purpose in this really hard work. This time, however, in this message, there is not an ounce of pleasure. There is bitterness, anger and a whole lot of feeling hurt: we just received a ban on the sale of seeds, which reads exactly:
At this point, most normal people's jaws are probably dropping, and probably a few people are going to open the champagne. As probably the last major player, we are about to disappear from the market. If you want to know exactly what the problem with seed sales is - read the text below. It's long, but it explains why the situation is so dire and who is responsible, with plans for the future at its end.
Not long ago, another seed season began, and with it come the return of PIORiN inspections and more bans on seed sales. As a result of them, 1,064 entities disappeared from the market in 2021 alone, and 116 were imposed sanction fees or fines (source: PIORiN). At the same time, the inspectorates are only executors of the current regulations, and the initiators of the changes and the action, which has been going on for a year, are physical entities (companies), who take advantage of the created situation to monopolize the market. The Ministry of Agriculture is also a direct party, actively forcing GIORiN and provincial inspectorates subordinate to them to close down all activities similar to ours, in no way supporting domestic producers, aiming only to destroy them, increase unemployment and at the same time directly working to the detriment of the general public and directly - to the exhaustion of the genetic pool of crops. I emphasize - the only villain here is the Ministry and its bad will. Why is it possible to sell seeds of traditional varieties in France, Germany or Belgium, but not in Poland? We are bound by the same rules. However, according to the Ministry, a Belgian selling seeds in Poland is good, but a Pole who dares to do so is a criminal.
In the following publication I will try to present the current situation in the seed market, its consequences, as well as possible ways to solve the problem. I invite you to read it.
For the past year, I have been closely following the threads appearing on the Internet and have interviewed many aggrieved parties (greetings to Zbyszek of Tomato Valley and Joannah of Allegro, among others), getting a clear picture of the whole situation. It is clear that we are dealing with a coordinated, nationwide, centrally controlled action aimed at blocking any sales of seeds of established varieties. To date, dozens, if not hundreds, of entities engaged in the cultivation and sale of seeds of traditional varieties have been eliminated from the market. In statements in online forums and comments on various publications, two arguments are cited as the primary element "in favor" of banning the sale of seeds: copyright, and the risk of transmitting agrophages. In most cases, people who publish such posts have registered an account only for the purpose of publishing these comments, and once the comments are published, the accounts become inactive, which is a typical scenario for artificial media campaigns. Later in this publication, I will refute both theses raised.
Definitions we need to describe so that it is possible to accurately understand the nature of the problem itself:Established variety - from English "Heirloom" - legacy, heritage, tradition. This is a variety that repeats the characteristics of its parents every year. These are both varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation, often with a history dating back more than 100 years, and those whose licensing rights have expired, and gardeners have established their traits through the breeding process. Buying the seeds of such a variety once, we can take the seeds and grow them ourselves every year. Basic characteristics:
- repeat characteristics of parents, no need to buy new varieties every year
- a huge variety of varieties with a full range of characteristics
- no single copyright owner - rights have expired or belong to the general public
- various yields, from low to very high (depending on the variety)
- various fruit sizes (depending on the variety)
- very high commercial value
- children do not repeat the traits of their parents, necessitating the re-purchase of seeds every season.
- protected by copyright
- commercial, aligned fruit - basic characteristics are transportability, not taste
- often (not always) laboratory genetically enhanced
- balanced yield and fruit size
. Community catalog - (after the law) "(...)means the list of agricultural and vegetable plant varieties of the European Union and associated countries, the seed of which is authorized for marketing in the territory of the Member States;(...)", in Poland it is registration in COBORU.
Now that we have established a common dictionary of basic terms we can define the problem. The vendor must obtain an entry in the register of producers kept by the WIORiN. The next step is to obtain authorization to passport one's own varieties - it only requires passing an exam. Now, in order to be able to market (according to the understanding of the Law) the seed, it is necessary to carry out its certification. For it to be possible to carry out the certification, the variety must be registered in a national or Community catalog. And here we get to the crux of the problem. Traditional (established, heirloom) varieties should be registered as amateur varieties - so let's look at the Act:Article 3.1.5 of the Law of November 9, 2012 on Seed Production (Journal of Laws 2012, item 1512, as amended): "Amateur variety (variety uncovered and derived for cultivation under special conditions) - means a variety of vegetable plants uncovered and derived for cultivation under special agrotechnical, climatic or soil conditions, which is not important for commodity vegetable production, but is important for the preservation of biodiversity;"
Remember that we are now speaking in the context of tomato varieties and look at the above definition. How can a tomato (lac. solanum lycopersicum) be made to grow under specific agrotechnical, climatic or soil conditions? It can't. It's a tomato. It grows everywhere, as long as there are no frosts. From Finland to the south of Brazil. At the same time, it is not an invasive variety - it dies easily and quickly in nature and is not in competition with any other native varieties. Traditional varieties (heirloom, established, traditional) meet only one feature of the above definition: "they are important for the preservation of biodiversity." This is not enough for a variety to be listed in the catalog. Without an entry in the catalog, no qualification can be carried out. Without qualification, a variety cannot be marketed. Without marketing a variety, it cannot be conserved. We have tried to register several hundred of our varieties, but without success. We have incurred a lot of money, but at least now we know that we are not able to legally sanction the existence of traditional varieties through this route.
3. Current status
After the changes in the Seed Act, which came into effect in 2020 - any online sale of such seeds is illegal. Until now, it was possible to sell directly from one's own farm, but from the latest information we received from WIORiN, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, this is no longer allowed either! This limits the access of seed producers of this type to the market, clearly favoring only large players and creating conditions for the monopolization of the seed market. Selling only on the local market means access to only a proliferation of customers, to which the entities favored by the law and its interpretation by the Ministry of Agriculture and its subordinate - PIORiN - have access.
It is also worth mentioning that the sale of seeds of established varieties is legal in Belgium or France - European Union countries, among others. Poland, despite being under the same Community regulations, has adopted an extremely unfavorable interpretation of the legislation. This also means that entities from other EU countries can offer such products in Poland, but Poles not only cannot offer such varieties abroad, but also in Poland. As you can see, this is not an act of bad faith on the part of the European Union, but a clear action of lobbyists for changes in Polish law, and they are responsible for the current situation, not the Union.
This is also where it is worth distinguishing between sellers and producers. Many sellers of seeds of established varieties present on Allegro are mere traders. Buying larger batches of seeds abroad, they pack them in Poland then into small packages and thus offer them at a huge margin. They cannot issue passports for their varieties, as they are not even farmers or producers. Nor can they conduct phytosanitary inspections of their crops, as they simply don't grow them. Producers, on the other hand, take care of their varieties, breed them and obtain the seeds themselves. They obtain authorizations to issue passports and conduct inspections of their crops taking care of phyto-sanitary safety. Our farm has undergone such inspections several times and there have never been any objections before.The current situation is favorable:
- Creating a gray zone of trade in seed material of traditional (heirloom/established) varieties. Without phytosanitary control as well as without passports.
- Monopolization of the market by large corporations, by blocking the entry of smaller players.
- Loss of biodiversity-valuable varieties (exhaustion of the gene pool).
- Limiting free market access for farms producing traditional varieties.
- Increasing unemployment.
Note, text change: After a preliminary analysis of the issue, it turned out that my findings were flawed (with regard to the problematic provision in the act.) At the moment, the best solution seems to be the path adopted by France in this respect. In 2020, the market of amateur varieties intended for non-professional entities was released. Since then, there is no requirement to register amateur varieties in the GEVES database (equivalent to COBORU). Full text, in English:
Let's not be misled - it's not about customer welfare. Behind the cloak of fine words - caring about safety, about not spreading diseases - is something else entirely: money. And only money is at stake. Everything else is just a game of appearances and a cover-up. All currently ongoing and completed proceedings took place on the basis of denunciations, which clearly indicates a ruthless fight and removal of competition from the market. The solutions I have indicated allow the current situation to be legally sanctioned. Our farm passed phyto-sanitary inspections, and yet a verdict was issued against us. Just so there is no doubt - not only our store and our 40 years of work is illegal, it is illegal to exchange seeds, transfer them and any form of trading. Note: the ban on sales applies not only to seeds, but also to seedlings obtained from such seeds.
Customers are free to choose what they grow, what varieties they spend their money on and what they buy. Now that choice is being taken away from all of us. Established, traditional varieties, whose documented history often goes back more than 100 years - they are the competition. Only and exclusively and as such - they must disappear. It's time to thank the Ministry of Agriculture and say "goodbye" to the varieties of our grandfathers and grandmothers. This is exactly how the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development takes care of us farmers and you - our customers. We have repeatedly proven that we want to register these varieties, we are ready to incur high financial expenses to grow them legally in accordance with the regulations. However, both the Ministry and WIORiN do not give us this opportunity.
The obvious question now arises, "What next?" We certainly can't give up - the situation that has arisen is bizarre. As farmers, we can't sell the fruits of our land? What next, the right to breathe? A ban on digging our own land with a spade? A ban on growing dill without proper training and authorization? Maybe from next year we won't be able to sell fruit at the market because it doesn't meet standards?
My parents should have long since enjoyed a peaceful retirement, which they earned through hard work on the farm. Instead, they are now going out of their minds and are very upset about the situation. Their life's work is about to sink their son. Our workers will add to the ranks of the unemployed. Only... that I have no intention of letting that happen..
It is possible to register some of our varieties, but this will entail a cost exceeding 5 million zlotys. In addition, if we register them, only we will be able to grow them! And such an attitude is in clear contradiction to all our goals and objectives. Seeds are supposed to be a public good, they do not belong to us. On the other hand, if we do not register them, all these varieties will be lost, and gardeners in Poland will be condemned only to hybrid (F1) varieties.
Our store is up and running and will continue to do so - although there are bound to be some changes. All the funds we raise this season will be allocated to the defense of traditional varieties. In addition, an association with the same goal will be registered in the coming days.
You can find out about all the changes and news from our home page and our Facebook profile. If possible - send the link to this publication to as many people as possible. Only when there are more of us - we will be able to make a difference. At the same time, I would love to hear your opinion on this issue. Do you have any ideas on how to solve this situation? Would you like to give us some encouragement? Do you know a good lawyer or someone with legislative experience? Either way keep your fingers crossed for us and get back to us:.