Apple Fanboys and Agricultural Hardware: Proposed changes to EU seed law

Right, I get it, I’m the odd one for thinking the proposed changes to EU seed law are important and interesting. There is almost no news coverage, Twitter is pretty quiet (apart from the very vocal protest lobby, but they tend to be sharing the same links between each other) and I have failed to find any significant discussion or forum for debate. Perhaps to people in the know, these laws look like a necessary and obvious extension of the existing legislation, legislation that is already pretty aggressive when it comes to the marketing of seeds (i.e. farmers can’t save seed each year without paying a fee to the original breeder). So like I said, perhaps I am just a bit odd. Or am I…?

“Perhaps people just don’t get what it means?” I say to myself in a desperate and pitiable moment of vanity, before following with the patronising thought that “Perhaps what they really need is an analogy!” So here is my analogy. I know it’s patronising, honest.

Apple Fanboy. Original image from acidcow.com

People who like Apple computers often like to boast about them. Such boasts can range from how aerodynamic they are when balanced on a scooter, to how good they look in a tagine. These qualities aside, most people recognise that the fact that it is practically impossible to get a virus on an Apple is a pretty big selling point. It is for this reason that everyone on the planet now owns only Apple computers and it is illegal to sell anything other than Apple hardware. Say whaaaat!?

That of course isn’t true. But I would say that in essence, and only speaking in slightly melodramatic terms, this captures what the proposed seed law will achieve. Farmers at the moment have the right to buy any computers they want. Why don’t all of them buy top of the range Apple computers? Well, the most typical answer is because they can’t afford to. But what about other reasons? Like being able to experiment and explore the options available to them, making economic choices of their own? This doesn’t stop numerous organisations trying to influence their choices and giving them plenty of advice and guidance, but that’s what Which? magazine is for.

What about alternative computers being more hackable and crackable? Now, as a cautionary point, it is quite popular to discuss the transfer and movement of plant varieties as analogous to the sharing of software or digital media. I think this analogy is flawed and plays into the hands of certain Intellectual Property bods, precisely because it focusses on the ‘information’ element of the plant. It is for this reason I have discussed these proposed EU laws in terms of hardware. In plants, the delivery system is just as important as the information, indeed – to my mind – trying to separate the two is to fall down a rabbit hole. This being said, should farmers be entirely separated from the development phase when bringing a new product to market? Isn’t sharing and modifying an important part of the whole system?

But what about those nasty viruses, and crafty merchants out to sell shit computers? Depending upon your perspective, these might seem to be acceptable dangers when discussing home computing, but utterly unacceptable when it comes to ensuring food security. Alternatively, they might be considered the price one pays to live and participate in a certain kind of economic system. I would also add that – sometimes – even Apples crash.

As a final point, I should say that if you know more about economics than I do, and don’t like the terms within which I have discussed consumer choice, then don’t fear, my main beef with all this kind of legislation remains the problem I wrote about in my previous blog post. Perhaps you could offer better terms for the discussion? Or perhaps you could go on living your life as though you hadn’t even read this. That’s what you’ll do…That’s what you all do!

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