News / Science & Technology

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

Jack Kloppenburg (left), professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, Irwin Goldman (center), chair of the Department of Horticulture, and Claire Luby (right), graduate student in the UW’s Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, fill envelopes with non-patented seeds in the Horticulture office in Moore Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, April 11, 2014.
Jack Kloppenburg (left), professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, Irwin Goldman (center), chair of the Department of Horticulture, and Claire Luby (right), graduate student in the UW’s Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, fill envelopes with non-patented seeds in the Horticulture office in Moore Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, April 11, 2014.

Related Articles

South Sudan President Launches Famine-Averting Initiative

At the launch of the National Food Security Council, President Salva Kiir announces that card and domino games will be banned during planting season, because they hamper productivity.

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population
Taking a cue from the software industry, scientists, farmers and sustainable food advocates have released what they’re calling the first open source seeds.
 
The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) is centered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and its stated goal is “to keep [its] new seeds free for all people to grow, breed and share for perpetuity, with the goal of protecting the plants from patents and other restrictions down the line.”
 
In other words, breeders and farmers can do what they like with the seeds, but they can’t turn the results into a proprietary product.
 
Last week, the group released 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains.
 
“We’re letting people know diversity is threatened,” said Jack Kloppenburg, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of community and environmental sociology.
 
He added that through the widespread use of seed patents, the world is facing a “freezing of a genetic landscape” for seeds. Until relatively recently, plant breeders regularly shared their plants and seeds openly and through this sharing, developed better breeds.
 
Andy LaVigne, the president of the American Seed Trade Association, which promotes the “research, development and movement of quality seed to meet the world's demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel,” didn’t agree with Kloppenburg’s assessment.
 
“I don’t think there’s any lockdown on any seed or diversity,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of competition.”
 
With regard to diversity, LaVigne said all you have to do is look at your dinner plate.
 
“Look at the colors on the plate when you eat at a restaurant,” he said. “I don’t remember that growing up.”
 
LaVigne did say that many seed traits such as pesticide resistance and resistance to common diseases are “dominated by the companies.”
 
Monsanto, along with other seed giants Sygenta and Dupont own a whopping 53 percent of the worldwide seed market, according a Center for Food Safety report.
 
Certain seeds, notably corn, soybeans and a handful of other large crops, contain so-called intellectual property in their specific traits. Farmers aren’t allowed to save these seeds for the next year’s crops. In effect, they’re leasing the seeds, said Kloppenburg.
 
“Genetically, we’re putting all of our eggs in one basket,” said Kloppenburg, adding that the giant seed companies mostly work with a “narrow range of crops and techniques, narrow varieties and narrow traits,” such as pesticide resistance.
 
Kloppenburg said that huge seed companies like Monsanto and DuPont are starting to use the same methods they used for big crop plants like corn and soybeans on vegetables, fruit and small grain seeds.
 
This, he said, could result in there being no valuable plant germplasm, the genetic information within seeds, available for public use.
 
“These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage, and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future,” said Irwin Goldman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison horticulture professor and plant breeder in a statement.
 
Many vegetable seeds sold on the market are hybrids, meaning that with repeated use, they will lose certain traits. Because of this they usually need no patent.
 
OSSI members first tried to develop a licensing system for the open source seeds but opted instead for a simplified approach, the Open Source Seed Pledge, which will printed on every packet of seeds.
 
"It's almost like a haiku," says Goldman. "It basically says these seeds are free to use in any way you want. They can't be legally protected. Enjoy them."
 
Like shrink-wrapped software, when someone opens a pack of open source seeds, they are agreeing to keep the seeds and any bred offspring of the seeds in the public domain.
 
"It creates a parallel system, a new space where breeders and farmers can share seeds," says Kloppenburg. "And, because it applies to derivatives, it makes for an expanding pool of germplasm that any plant breeder can freely use."
 
Goldman said open source seeds can provide economic opportunities for breeders.
 
"You can sell these open source seeds just like you'd sell any other seeds,” he said. “The difference is that the recipients can actually do stuff with them, which is kind of fun."
 
While the OSSI remains a tiny initiative compared to a company like Monsanto, the members hope they will at least raise awareness
 
"Who knows what will happen, but even if the pledge does nothing more than help raise awareness about what's going on with seeds, that's progress," said Goldman.
 
For its part, Monsanto, the world’s largest seller of seeds, said it wished the OSSI luck.
 
“We believe that everyone growing vegetables – from home gardeners to farmers large and small, organic, conventional or using genetically modified seeds – have a choice when it comes to their seed purchase, said Monsanto spokesperson Carly Scaduto in an emailed statement. “We believe this University of Wisconsin project enables even more choices in the vegetable seed marketplace. We wish the University of Wisconsin project all the best in this new endeavor.”
 
For now, it remains to be seen if open source seeds have any economic viability, but the OSSI organizers would be satisfied if the movement provides an alternative to large companies selling patented seeds. In a world facing the daunting challenges of climate change, Kloppenburg said diversity will be key in feeding the planet.
 
“It’s inappropriate and foolish to allow the marketers and executives in five [seed] companies to decide how the world is going to eat,” he said. “Let the genes flow and tap into the creativity all around the world.”

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ken from: Asheville
April 23, 2014 5:49 PM
God created seeds...no one except God has the right to patent seeds.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid