Talking Point: Paolo Arrigo: March 2021

Each month we invite a Guild member to launch a discussion on a subject that matters to them. If you have something you’d like to shout about, email with a quick note about your idea

Everything you eat comes from seed either directly or indirectly, and yet seeds were not discussed during the EU referendum, though I was very vocal about the problems the sector would face outside the single market and customs union. And here we are with a mountain of previously unknown red tape from Phytosanitary certificates and PEACH, to Plant Passports and ‘Place of Destination’ certificates to name a few. Add to that that the UK seed industry can no longer ship to EU countries and not even to Northern Ireland. What could possibly go wrong?

Before the Second World War there were more than 40 packet seed companies that produced their own seeds for their own packets. None of them exist today and it is estimated that less than half of the seed in seed packets comes from the UK – the EU is a massive contributor, along with China, India, Israel, USA, Kenya, Australia and others. During the whole month of January, we didn’t receive a single delivery from any Italian supplier, not through lack of trying.

93% of heritage varieties have been lost in just one century. Franchi specialise in endangered, heritage and ethical varieties but only 5,000 varieties were allowed to be transferred from the EU seed list to the new National list, mostly mass produced corporate varieties. That leaves scores of specialist seed companies without their varieties listed, and this will cause less choice in a nation with the first botanical gardens and the first horticultural societies in the world, Victorian plant hunters and a passion for horticulture. Our fear is that like hormone-fed beef and chlorinated chicken, those heritage and specialist seed varieties will face even more pressure, a biodiversity disaster.

And all this in the context of a 6,000% increase in demand last spring from lockdown veggie growers – we entered 2021 already with shortages as you can’t manufacture seeds and Covid hit March to May, when seed crops were already in the ground.

My message is to support those passionate small specialist seed companies and producers like us because you reap what you sow.