a secure food-system : keeping seeds in the public domain

Food Advocacy Goal #2 : Keeping seeds in the public domain

From the very beginning of my interest in food-security, I realized that this was the scariest element of the assault on our food system. A handful of corporations control the majority of our food system.

For example, Monstanto alone owns:

  • 17 agricultural seed brands
  • 4 “traits, technologies & partnership” companies (whatever the hell that means)
  • 18 weed control brands
  • 2 vegetable seed brands
  • 4,000 individual vegetable seed varieties representing 20 species of vegetables

As if that’s not scary enough, they are aggressive about protecting their business interests.

Monsanto has sued farmers for patent infringement when pollen from their GMO crops CONTAMINATED the farmers field.  Monsanto also sues farmers who save seeds. You can see Monsanto’s explanation for why they sue here. Here’s some more scary details about Monsanto’s policies to protect their patents.

Why do they have the right to patent the seeds of life?

We’re not talking about owning a chicken or a backyard full of tomato plants. We’re talking about genetic code, the very building blocks of life.

The arrogance is staggering.

Thank goodness there is a bit of light in this insanity, right here at home in Canada! Percy Schmeiser took on Monsanto and won!

What can I do to keep seeds in public hands?

Although the patenting of seeds is one of the scariest assaults on our food security and food sovereignty with the widest, most serious implications, it’s also one of the easiest problems to address.


Grow heirloom varieties. Save your own seeds. Plant them. Enjoy them.

Share them.

Sharing is the most rebellious, political act you can undertake in a paradigm in which sharing is on par with treason. Really, I guess sharing IS a kind of corporate treason.

See, don’t you feel rebellious??

heirloom tomato

Heirloom seeds are essential to our food security for a ridiculous number of reasons.

Open-pollinated seeds, unlike hybrid seeds or GMO seeds, can be saved year after year and have the plant come true to the parent.

Instead of splicing frog genes or something equally ridiculous into the seed’s genes to “improve” them, a farmer can select for the tastiest, strongest, healthiest plants and gradually improve his crop year after year.

It doesn’t take any money, or a degree in bio-chem. All it takes is observation, patience and little bit of practical knowledge.

Saving seeds from your garden selects for a crop that will become uniquely suited to your particular location and micro-climate. We grow tomatoes from seeds saved by my mum’s neighbour, Ed, and his tomatoes are invariably the last ones standing in our damp fall garden. They are strong, productive, healthy and most importantly – delicious.

In our own little garden here in Vancouver we have a virtual Noah’s Ark of genetic material. From critically endangered Chantecler chickens to two dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes, we are saving and sharing that genetic information for future generations, and enjoying some wicked toasted tomato sandwiches in the meantime.

Who knows what cancer-fighting compound might be found in the genes of these tomatoes? What health benefits, what pest-resistence, disease-resistance . . .

We can’t know. Isn’t that worth saving?

If you really want to get serious about saving seeds and being a local genetic diversity hero, keep an eye on your local community centres for seed swaps in late winter, find your local Seedy Saturday event, or join Seeds of Diversity. Don’t have one close by? Start your own! All it takes is a few seeds changing hands between neighbours to help keep our invaluable seeds in the public domain.

7 thoughts on “a secure food-system : keeping seeds in the public domain

  1. julia christine stephen

    People just have to say Monsato and my blood boils! I look at the beautiful canola fields here in Alberta, and then I get mad because I know that it is more than likely that it is Monsato seed. 😦

  2. patsquared2

    Great post. Lots of good info. Monsanto is on my hit list along with Bayer (bee-killers banned in Europe) and Scott’s (makers of Miracle Gro, Round Up and others). They need to be stopped. One place where you can get great seeds (and advice) is http://www.seedsavers.org/ – I also like (and buy from) Hudson Valley Seed Library – http://www.seedlibrary.org/ – a small, upstate New York group who save seeds and make art, too!

  3. pds0711

    I understand where the anti-Monsanto sentiment comes from, but I also get frustrated when the whole story isn’t told. You hinted at the long process of hybrid and variety development, but it sounds like you don’t respect the work of the breeders and geneticists at Monsanto. Sure, they have more sophisticated technology, but plant breeding is a long process, wherever you are. My undergrad minor at Oklahoma State was in Agronomy, and got to know several of the crop science professors. Stillwater happens to be the home to the oldest continuous wheat plots in the US, so they’ve figured out a thing or two about crop production. To suggest that Monsanto, a land grant university, some other private company, the USDA, or any individual farmer should spend decades developing a plant variety that will withstand disease, increase yield, or tolerate less than perfect soils, and NOT give those scientists a legal right to profit from their hard work… Well, it just makes me sad. I’m not saying Monsanto is perfect. No one is. But I firmly believe that a scientist has the right to claim an innovation as his (or hers!). Preventing farmers from retaining seed is an extension of that right, as well as a protection against liability for the breeder. You also mentioned that seeds of hybrids should not be saved, and that the offspring (of hybrid seeds) is not true to the parents — this is true! However, that doesn’t stop farmers in LDC’s from saving seeds, and replanting, and facing terrible stands and significant losses. They were too poor to buy new hybrid seed, so they broke laws and saved what they had, and WASTED their time, energy, space, and water the next crop year. If farmers in more developed country, especially with the crack-pot logic some Americans have, Monsanto would be sued left and right for inferior seed if they didn’t have the right to prevent fools from trying it.

    Is hybrid crop production the way to go? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to argue with the tremendous increases in food production as a result of selective plant breeding, but you do have the burden of replacing your seedstock every year. If everyone would farm their yard like you do, farmers around the globe wouldn’t face the dilemmas we do today. For the large scale production that is necessary to feed the global urbanites, hybrid seeds are a useful tool in the farmer’s toolbox.

    Loving your blog — love the opportunity for intelligent discussion!!

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      I appreciate your point of view and contribution to the conversation.

      I understand that I take a strong, often polarized point of view. I’ve been writing about and debating the topics for a while now, and I’ve discovered an extreme point of view is necessary, even though I sometimes have to simplify issues to express myself. And I admit, the longer I write and the more I read, the more pissed off again. Double that since becoming a mum.

      Anyway . . .

      A case of desperate times . . . You know how it goes.

      Plant breeding is a long process! All the more reason to protect and share our endangered heirloom varieties.

      I don’t have a problem with hybrids, perse. I agree that they have a place in the future of agriculture. Hybrids and GMOs are two different animals. Crossing two types of wheat, or chickens, or squash very well can produce helpful (and ecologically benign) results. It’s a long stretch from there to splicing genetic code from other species.

      I also don’t have a problem with scientists making a profit from their work. Although wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t have to? Jonas Salk gave the world the Polio vaccine.

      I do have a problem with companies like Monsanto (and there are many more, they’re just the most well-known big target) contaminating genetics of our food crops with unknown consequences, and contributing to the crippling of our food system. It ads insult to collective injury when they sue farmers whose fields have been contaminated by their products.

      I absolutely do not believe anyone, for profit or not, should have the right to own the seeds of life. It just does not jive with my personal ethics.

      Seeds are for sharing. Period.

      I also worry about the concentration of this kind of ecological wealth in one place, away from the commons.

      I’ve said it before but I think it bares mentioning again. The entire system we’re talking about here is built on a paradigm of scarcity.

      A seed is the epitome of the paradigm of plenty. Like the magic penny – lend it, spend it, you’ll have so many they’ll roll all over the floor! Companies like Monsanto, and really our socio-economic system in general, benefit by convincing us that this isn’t the case.

      We have to start questioning the underlying assumptions surrounding food. Do we really need large scale farms like we have now? What if we ate less meat? What if we moved to pasture-based systems? What if had more urban farms?

      I hope that my writing will help people ask these questions, and start imagining a new future for food that is good, clean and fair.

      Thanks for your comment – I always enjoy readers who can make me think. It helps me refine my writing and clarify and question my own views. Appreciate it.

  4. Pingback: food advocacy goals : decentralizing our food-system | The Slow Foods Mama

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