by Chloe Ward
Do you like the sound of this bean? Want to grow it too? I could sell you some seed for a quid. Bargain? Sadly, though, the law does not permit it. It is illegal to sell my bean seed. Why? Do the seeds yield an illegal drug? Is it an invasive species likely to wreak havoc on our natural ecosystems? Does the plant contain some kind of hazardous toxin? No – it’s just a sweet, innocent, harmless bean, a Climbing French bean with the botanical name of Phaseolus vulgaris. But French beans come with cultivar names too, like ‘Neckar Queen’ and ‘Blauhilde’ and mine hasn’t got one. It’s got no birth certificate. This is the problem. Ever since the passing of the Seed (National List of Varieties) Act 1973, a vegetable seed can only be sold if it is on a special list. To get on the list it has to pass a DUS test. It must be Distinct (different from all other varieties), Uniform (all the plants grown from a pack of seed must be the same) and it must be Stable (the plants should not change from generation to generation). The vegetable seeds for sale today are all on the list. The ones your neighbour gives you may not be.
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This article was first published in CAT’s Clean Slate magazine.