Seed politics

USDA – Stop the release of GE trees!

The USDA has opened a public comment period about whether or not to allow “field trials” of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in southeastern US. What the USDA decides in this case will set a precedent for other GE tree species. Pine and poplar are in the works, and one of the major traits the eucalyptus are being bred for is cold hardiness. I urge all US citizens that have any concern about a healthy diverse ecosystem and the continued survival of native species (plant, animal and fungi) in the future to read more at the Global Justice Ecology Project and sign the petition. This is truly a Pandora’s box situation – if “field trials” are allowed, pollen and seed will be released into the environment.
The public comment period closes February 18, 2010.

Heirloom plants Seed companies Seed politics

The unScientific American on heirloom tomatoes

In which the Extreme Gardener’s buttons get pushed…

How to Grow a Better Tomato: The Case against Heirloom Tomatoes

The product of archaic breeding strategies, heirloom tomatoes are hardly diverse and are no more “natural” than grocery-store varieties. New studies promise to restore their lost, healthy genes ….by Brendan Borrell

Famous for their taste, color and, well, homeliness, heirloom tomatoes tug at the heartstrings of gardeners and advocates of locally grown foods. The tomato aficionado might conclude that, given the immense varieties—which go by such fanciful names as Aunt Gertie’s Gold and the Green Zebra—heirlooms must have a more diverse and superior set of genes than their grocery store cousins, those run-of-the-mill hybrid varieties such as beefsteak, cherry and plum.

No matter how you slice it, however, their seeming diversity is only skin-deep: heirlooms are actually feeble and inbred—the defective product of breeding experiments that began during the Enlightenment and exploded thanks to enthusiastic backyard gardeners from Victorian England to Depression-era West Virginia. Heirlooms are the tomato equivalent of the pug—that “purebred” dog with the convoluted nose that snorts and hacks when it tries to catch a breath.

read the full article at the Scientific American.

Whose toady are you Borrell?

First of all, clarify your use of the term “heirloom” tomatoes. The statement “heirlooms are actually feeble and inbred…” is about as scientific as saying “Americans are obese.”

Are you trying to say that open pollinated tomato varieties are universally inferior to hybrid and genetically modified varieties?

And, what do you mean by “archaic breeding strategies?” Your pug analogy could be relevant to particular open pollinated or heirloom tomato varieties, but once again, it’s a foolish statement applied to the broad category, as is stating that heirlooms typically bear only 2 fruits per plant. It sounds to me like you are using the Brandywine tomato as a representative of all heirloom tomatoes. That’s not good science.

Open pollinated and heirloom tomatoes have come through the hands of thousands of breeders, who run the gamut from backyard gardeners to those who derive a salary from breeding plants, and the quality of their work is diverse, reflecting diverse needs, goals, abilities and intentions.

I have been involved in growing (and seed saving) open pollinated and heirloom vegetables for 30 years, and this includes tomato varieties of fine culinary quality and excellent plant vigor. I am not a luddite, and I don’t have romantic delusions about heirloom varieties. There are robust heirlooms and yes, there are feeble heirlooms.

It’s a good idea to try to improve disease resistance using some of the more primitive lycopersicon species. However, I do not care to have Monsanto deciding for me what constitutes a better tomato, and I certainly don’t want to have to buy seed from them every season in order to grow tomatoes. We grow all the tomatoes we eat all year, and have very specific needs and preferences that may not be relevant to anyone else. Our varieties are adapted to us and our garden in our little corner of the planet.

The Seminis/Monsanto toadies may, with their manipulations, increase genetic diversity within some tomato plants. What scares me is the lack of diversity of people doing plant breeding. That this activity is becoming increasingly centralized should set off alarm bells for anyone who is concerned about the future of food and who will control access to it.

Seed politics

Where have all the farmers gone?

It’s been very disturbing to me lately to read about how much farmland is being bought up around the world by transnational corporations. Here’s a really scary example of what is going on in the name of globalization and free trade:

Daewoo Logistics is a subsidiary of the South Korean conglomerate Daewoo Corporation. In November 2008, world media reported that it was securing rights to 1.3 million hectares of farmland in Madagascar — half the country’s arable soils. The company intends to produce corn for export back to Korea. Daewoo said the deal is meant to assure Korea’s food security. They described food as a weapon, and boasted that their job was to be able to ship food to Korea in case of crisis. A lot of people around the world were shocked by this news and called it neocolonialism.

Here’s the full article at .

Seed politics Seed saving organizations

Seedy justice

If you follow the politics of genetics in agriculture, you probably have heard about Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser.
If you don’t know about this, please check it out. It will help explain why some of us seed-saving gardeners are so concerned about multinational corporations becoming the primary breeders of plants (and animals, for that matter).

Anyway, big victory for the little guys here. Monsanto settled out of court with Percy Schmeiser yesterday. It’s not the money involved – this round was just $660 in small claims court. However, it is a big deal, because in settling, Monsanto is admitting liability for the genetic contamination of Schmeiser’s canola in 2005, which is what should have been happening 10 years ago. Instead, this all started when Monsanto went after Schmeiser because samples they took from Schmeiser’s canola showed that it had been contaminated with Monsanto’s patented canola genes. The Schmeisers had been breeding their own canola for 40 years, and never planted anything from Monsanto. It seems obvious to me that they were the injured parties here, however somehow the courts didn’t see it that way.

So, what rights and liabilities do holders of plant patents have, or should they have? I am uneasy with the patenting of living things, but at the same time I can understand that people or corporations who invest their time, money and energy in breeding need to be compensated for their investment. However, I really feel that the planet’s genetic resources, especially our legacy of at least 10,000 years of humans breeding domestic plants and animals, should be a commons, and really a sacred trust.