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

    Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Video Canine Reading Buddies Help Students With Literacy

    Idea behind reading program is that sharing book with nonjudgmental companion boosts students' confidence and helps instill love of reading

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora