Who Owns Nature’s Genes? How Secure is Your Food Supply?

By B. McPherson

This is the time of year when avid gardeners are pouring over seed catalogues planning for the summer’s bounty. Few people who are not gardeners and farmers are aware of the diminishing variety and number of seed houses. Regulations enacted by the US government now prevent seed suppliers from sending specialty seeds from Canada to the US, further restricting the supply of specialty and heritage seeds.

Some gardeners are dealing with the dwindling varieties by saving seeds from open pollinated(plants that will breed true) varieties and activists have arranged for seed exchange days. There are small companies that offer heritage seeds over the internet. Some of the older seed houses in Canada still cater to the farmer who is planting fields, but the really big industrial farms are increasingly turning to the big seed producing corporations.

These large seed manufacturing corporations have in a few decades come to dominate the commercial seed industry. Monsanto is perhaps the best known of these, but there are other large corporations that engineer gene altered seeds. The gene altered seeds(GMOs) are sold with the promise of higher yields and little competition from weeds if sprayed with Roundup(glyphosate).

Those corporations selling GMO seeds retain ownership by asserting that the genetically engineered seeds are their intellectual property. The farmer who plants GMO seeds is obligated to sell all of his crop to the corporation. Inspectors on site ensure that no seeds are saved for the following year. Representatives of the corporations will prosecute other farmers who happen to have their crop infiltrated with the GMO plants. Some seeds have now been so altered that when a crop grown from them matures, none of the fresh seed will germinate. These have been dubbed “terminator seeds” by their critics.

The thousands of years old cycle of saving seed from a good plant is broken with the signing of a contract to sell all the crop back to the vendor. The farmer loses in two ways: he is at the mercy of price raises by the corporation and is unable to save seed from good plants which leads to fewer and fewer varieties.

Seeds are at the base of our food chain. Without the healthy competition among commercial seed growers, the varieties needed to flourish in our changing climatic conditions may not be available when conditions dictate a change. The increasing similarity in the genetic makeup of major food crops puts them at risk for a catastrophic epidemic should one occur.

GM Watch is an organization that tries to education people about this centralization of control of our seed supply. The GMO seed industry is a multi-billion dollar business.

The following was taken from their web page, based on 2007 figures. The revenues are in US millions of dollars and show a market share.
1.Monsanto (US) - $4,964m - 23%
2.DuPont (US) - $3,300m - 15%
3.Syngenta (Switzerland) - $2,018m - 9%
4.Groupe Limagrain (France) - $1,226m - 6%
5.Land O' Lakes (US) - $917m - 4%
6.KWS AG (Germany) - $702m - 3%
7.Bayer Crop Science (Germany) - $524m - 2%
8.Sakata (Japan) - $396m - <2%
9.DLF-Trifolium (Denmark) - $391m - <2%
10.Takii (Japan) - $347m - <2%
Top 10 Total - $14,785m - 67% [of global proprietary seed market]
Source: ETC Group

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