by Marion Nestle
Apr 28 2009

No patents on seeds!

Carmelo Ruiz, who blogs about agricultural issues from his bilingual base in Puerto Rico, sends information about the “no- patents-on-seeds” coalition.  This group of European advocates for open sharing of seeds and breeding methods has produced an excellent new report: The Future of Seeds and Food.  Here is a terrific summary of the current patent situation, the growing concentration of the seed industry, the legal situation (not pretty), and ideas for doing something about it.

Patents, says the report, block innovation and access to essential genetic resources, and they “foster market concentration, hamper competition, and serve to promote unjust monopoly rights.”  To address world hunger, open systems of plant and animal breeding would work much better.

If you, as I do, find issues of genetic patenting uncomfortably arcane, check out this report.  It makes clear why such patents matter and why something urgently needs to be done about them in Europe as well as in the U.S.

  • Sylvia Bernstein

    Thanks for putting the spotlight on this extremely important issue, Marion! The loss of plant species in this country over the past 50 years is truely alarming, and that trend will only be accelerated by the strengthening of plant patenting laws.

  • Jon

    It’s not just seeds. Clinton’s Commerce Secretary tried to patent human genes to “preserve” indigenous peoples, and I can’t even study BRCA1 without paying royalties to a patent holder. These biotechnology concerns quickly cross into ethical boundaries.

    Of course, Obama picked Vilsack for the USDA, so we can’t expect any trends except for even more aggressive attempts to market GMOs. Maybe Michelle Obama should’ve run for President; her organic garden proves that she’s very anti-GMO.

  • Anthro

    Oh, Jon, I don’t think you can conclude that the First Lady is opposed to GMO just because she’s growing an organic garden. They are separate issues.

    I am opposed to patenting living things, but I don’t think the case has been made for banning GMO’s outright. I am no fan of Monsanto, et al, but not against improving plants to feed an out-of-control population. Cuba does intense organic farming, but their dairy industry provides only enough milk to give each child a pint a day; adequate, but little surplus. We all need to look at the larger picture and all the factors that go into forming an opinion on these issues.