Both the frugal pioneers, who saved garden seeds like gold, along with a government seed-distribution program can be credited for creating initial food supplies for the United States. The first advances into seed technology came when fledging companies produced hybrid seed, which improved crop quality and generated repeat customers.
Agriculture was forever changed in 1960, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that plant life could become patented and owned. This opened the gates to a big business free for all, and only decades later the impacts are creeping into headlines.
The ruling changed agriculture history and food on a worldwide level, creating a recipe for billions in profits, political power, unknown health and environmental consequences and even questions on life itself. All of this has stirred a heated following of moral crusaders, health and environmental protesters and enormous business monopolies claiming to be the superhero’s for world food solutions as they corner the market on food and maybe nature itself.
While relaxing at your next meal consider these new harvests coming from Green Valley, home of the Jolly Green Giant and nine other multinational companies who control over 75 percent of the world’s seed supply, with three dominating over half of this. Their profits are in the billions from seed patents, which are closely guarded by legions of lawyers and their stacks of intellectual property law books. These big three are Monsanto, DuPont (Pioneer) and Syngenta (Switzerland-based and Monsanto’s biggest overseas competitor).
If you combine seed patents, fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide sales these companies reach into trillions of dollars. More than enough money to lobby government for eliminating pests like GMO labeling.
The giant that dwarfs all giants is Monsanto, which is one reason why they are the biggest newsmakers. MSN money, in their “Who is The Top Seed” (July 26, 2013), reported Monsanto’s financials in U.S. market shares alone are in key crops like soybean (29 percent,) corn (36 percent) and cotton (41 percent).
And according to ETC Group as far back as in 1988.
“Monsanto, the world’s second largest pesticide corporation and has become the worlds largest seed company. Chemical and pesticide companies have vaulted out of nowhere to be transform themselves into powerful world giants of seed to monopolize food at the source,” ETC said.
Let’s never forget the ways of political persuasion and what provoked that Supreme Court ruling. Small business, farmers and government now have a real live Jolly Green Giant to contend with, and this one comes packing an iron fist filled with lawyers. Welcome to a new era in farming and creating cartels on nature.
How did we not see this coming and allow nature to slip into being classified as an owned commodity? It happened when we stopped paying attention to the natural world as we bought into Twinkies, McDonalds and Froot Loops. Fueling busy and important schedules with microwaved meals and fast-foods’ buck-making trifecta of sugar, salt and fat. Meanwhile, we as a nation grew fat, unhealthy and as equally alarmingly disconnected with what real food was. How could we have forgotten that farmers (not factories) supplied food for their families and communities for centuries?
Recently, we are hearing a lot about genetically modified seed and food. Yet, improving on nature and food is an age-old practice. Take the citrus industry as an example and their long time grafting varieties to the sour orange rootstock. Combining a sturdy rootstock with one that produces excellent fruit is sensible. Hybrids, using another example, are seeds cross-pollinated from pure strains in a controlled environment. A process that guarantees desirable traits, and if you saved seed from a hybrid you will not harvest the same results. Hybrids allow the grower to repeatedly plant the best with predictable results.
Where GMOs cross the line for most is when technology is allowed to reach into a plants heart, the DNA, and tweak it for patenting rights to gain ownership. Move over hybrids and eliminate thoughts of seed saving, it is now a crime to collect and plant seed from a GMO crop; even if you were unaware you had it. One of many reports of this happening was in The Los Angeles Times on February 19th 2013, covering a lawsuit between Monsanto and a 75-year-old farmer. Their story was concluded with this thought-provoking closing.
“When arguments from both sides have been presented, the Supreme Court justices will have to thoroughly consider the many complexities of patent law as it pertains to self-replicating organisms. But taking a few steps back from the microscope and the law books, they may find that there is a discussion to be had about a much deeper question: the appropriate role of ownership and control over the very elements of life.
Coming in the next Farms Finest, a third story on seed will look at who owns which brands and where the non-GMO seeds are still found.
Jonie Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, visit www.farmsfinest.com, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.