Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Patent the Planet or Food Sovereignty.

We're all familiar by now with the fact that GM seeds are designed to be bought new every year, and now this applies increasingly to hybrid seeds. BUT DID YOU KNOW that it is illegal in Europe to swap or sell old seed varieties(heritage seeds) that are no longer registered on any approved lists? So even if you sold at a local market, a small box of saved seeds from your garden, of an old variety of bean for example, you could be taken to court. Blimey, what is the world coming to?...basically to a handfull of multinationals.
In the 1970's Europe passed laws which required all seeds to be put on a national list...anything not on the list should not be sold. It is not commercially viable to put heritage seeds on the list because the cost of registration is so high. Many gardeners and small farmers prefer some of the old varieties because they have particular qualities of perhaps more taste,or are more robust in different soil/weather conditions,etc.
Anyway, it's a grey area, the business of 'marketing' seeds, which is the term the legislation uses. Some enterprising gardening enthusiasts see the word 'marketing' to mean 'selling', so they use a system of 'swapping'...voila! The members of Garden Organic, near Coventry exchange their saved seeds, at the Organisation's library, and this is covered by the membership fee.
Happily there are parallel counter movements around the world. Seeds and knowledge are exchanged between communities. Small farmers(who still feed the majority of people in the world) are keen to reclaim use of traditional varieties of seeds, which have largely disappeared. They might have seven or eight different criteria for selecting different seeds...what tastes better, what keeps hunger away longer, what have more nutritive and medicinal properties etc. It takes four or five years to collect traditional seeds and so local seed banks have been set up in some areas, eg the Jarkand area of India. In Rwanda there are similar collaborative approaches, bringing farmers back into the debate with scientists.
This is in stark contrast to the system of privatised plant breeding by the agro chemical companies where the scientists aren't allowed to talk to other companies' scientists.
If we want to regain any say in what we eat, and what we can grow ourselves, it's mad to hand over control of our food production to a handful of companies.

If interested in the above, listen to the audio from 'The Food Programme', available until 14th Feb, at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I just blogged about a fairly similar issue, or at least referred to it. Vandana Shiva's excellent article on the enclosure of the commons and intellectual property rights is very much worth a read on this topic... http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/com-cn.htm