The sad history of our patented seed culture

PatentedSeedCultureThis post is an updated version of a much earlier one, which we believe it is time to revive.

In a January, 2011 issue of AcresUSA article entitled Seeds of Sustainability, Bill McDorman and Stephen Thomas tell how America’s third president, seed-saving Thomas Jefferson, set the stage for the principles of agricultural diversity and regional adaptability that were the very foundation of this country.

For many years, the primary function of the early U.S. Department of Agriculture was to collect, breed and distribute seeds from every part of the new nation in order to ensure the most favorable production in each climate and region.

No one owned our seeds. They were part and parcel of freedom, independence and the public trust.

They were saved, replanted and shared—as farmers across the globe have done for eons.

Today, the culture of seeds and food could not be more different. Jefferson would weep.

The majority of seeds are patented private property, owned and sold by a tiny group of global corporate interests.

Nearly all seeds are hybrid (unpredictable) or terminator (designed to not reproduce, forcing farmers to buy new seeds).

Only three companies, led by Monsanto, control 56 percent of the global seed market. 96 percent of the commercial vegetable varieties available in 1903 have all but disappeared, as the independence and regional diversity that served humans for thousands of years gave way to the one-size-fits-all marketplace established by the seed giants.

According to Acres, the ‘ownership’ of seeds began in 1930, with the Plant Patent Act, which allowed only plants propagated through cloning to be patented. Seed-propagated plants were specifically exempted.

This changed in 1970 with the Plant Variety Protection Act, which extended intellectual property rights to plants grown from seeds.

The crop that started it all was corn. In 1920 the U.S. was growing more than 1,000 varieties of locally adapted, open-pollinated corn.

Today, almost all those varieties have vanished from the larger market.

Stephen Lendman, in his well-researched Nexxus magazine article of Feb.-March, 2008, provided an abbreviated history of how GMOs—and Monsanto—took over our foods.

It started in U.S. research labs in the 1970s, and the technology was enthusiastically embraced by the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Reagan was determined to make the U.S. the world leader in the biotech agribusiness industry.

His goal succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Other companies followed Monsanto in the race to develop GMO plants, livestock and GMO-based human and animal drugs.

George Bush the elder’s administration made sure that no unnecessary testing and regulations would hamper the biotech dominance of U.S. modern agriculture. Presidents that followed went along, and trade agreements with other countries featured the introduction—sometimes by the force of U.S. power– of GMO seeds and pesticides around the world.

Fast forward a couple of decades to today when tens of millions of once seed-saving peasant farmers are displaced, hungry and suffering from new diseases.

India scientist Vandana Shiva, who has spoken all over the world, writes for Global Research (—“Patents on seeds are illigetimate, because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not ‘creating’ or ‘inventing’ a plant.

“(GMOs) are seeds of deception… Seeds are the source of life. Control over your seeds is the first link in the food chain.”

Thomas Jefferson and those early USDA folks would certainly agree.

The good news is—the rebellion of seeds is underway, as seed-saving farmers rescue and grow the historic varieties, and garden and small-scale farmers and farmers markets work to steer our food away from the controllers, and their dismal imitation of real, nutritious food.

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