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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid