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

    Turkey, West in Standoff Over Syrian Refugees

    Turkish government refuses to admit refugees, the first in a wave of civilians fleeing offensive by Assad regime in northern Aleppo countryside

    Jailed American Testifies About Islamist Involvement in Mumbai Attacks

    David Headley testifies via video link that Pakistan-based Islamic terror group made two failed attempts to mount strikes in Mumbai in months prior to coordinated assault

    These Are the 10 Smartest US States

    A new report breaks down the nation's best and brightest

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.