Seeds Are About Control.
Why do we need open pollinated seeds? It all boils down to control. Like all other businesses, agriculture has been merged and merged again until a small number of corporations own most of the crop seeds in the world. It’s hard to tell if there are sinister motives behind it or if it’s just a symptom of the corporate structure to maximize profits at all costs. Either way, we’re all getting screwed in the deal.
People Used To Save All Of Their Crop Seeds.
Before modern times, people weren’t as mobile as they are now. People that grew plants and saved seeds were more likely to live and work in the same area for longer periods. They grew their plants in the same area year after year. By saving seeds from the best and healthiest plants, a person would inevitably be selecting for a strain that was well adapted to the location. If you plant a variety of corn in heavy soil, some plants will do better than others. From the entire population of plants, you select the healthiest, most delicious, most prolific ones to save seed from. If the plant was a good variety, say a tasty and prolific bean, other were likely to grow it as well. Given several years in the same conditions, a plant species will develop into a “land race”, adapted to a specific area’s climate and soil.
Seed Companies Emerge In The 19th Century.
Toward the end of the 19th century, transport and communication systems became well developed. People started companies that sold seed by mail. Eventually, as these companies became national in scope, they eliminated varieties that didn’t perform well across a wide spectrum of climates and soil types. The Seed Savers’ Exchange did a study in the late 20th century and found that 97% of the fruit and vegetable varieties available in 1900 were gone.
Large Companies Harness Genetics To Develop Uniform Vegetable Varieties.
The rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s theory of genetics led to a plant-breeding boom in the 20th century. Plant breeders used the knowledge to create new varieties. This was exactly during the rise of petroleum-driven large scale agriculture, so most of the breeding work went into creating varieties that would ripen evenly, grow to a uniform size, and withstand mechanical harvesting, not to mention be resistant to chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Seed Companies Work To Control Hybrid Varieties.
Companies that developed new varieties wanted to keep a monopoly on the seed sales. At this time, the only way they could do that was to keep their breeding programs secret. Their weapon was the F1 hybrid. By cross pollinating two different parent plants of, say, bell peppers, they would get seed that would be a first generation hybrid. They would sell these seeds. But if you save seeds from the F1 plants, the next generation of plants will show all the variability of the parent plants, and not grow like the plant you saved the seeds from. However, it is possible to stabilize an F1 hybrid by growing it out for several years and selecting the plants that possess the desirable traits. Then it will grow true to type.
Now They Have Genetically Modified Seeds.
Now there are genetically modified seeds. It’s a lousy story. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, for reasons one can guess at, chemical companies bought up seed and biotechnology companies in a worldwide merge-fest. Scientists now understood genetics enough that they could fiddle with the genes in a plant variety, call the thing a new invention, and put a patent on it to protect their “intellectual property.” The sordid story is too long and complex to recount here. The point is that now, on the industrial food production level, which is where most people get their food from, a handful of companies own and control most of the seeds that feed the world. One of the more creepy things about genetically modified seed is that in order to splice the desired genes into the targeted DNA they also have to insert a suppressor gene so that the host seed doesn’t reject the foreign genes.
Government Complicity in Theft Through Genetic Engineering.
Of course, the government sidesteps, backpedals, and dodges responsibility for this travesty they have subsidized with our money through the land grant universities. They allow the industry to self regulate. But they won’t allow anyone to put the simple label on a package of food that reads, “This product contains genetically-modified organisms.” They say it would be discriminatory against producers of GMO food since GMO food and regular food are the same. Hmmmmmm? They splice a bacteria gene into a potato, along with suppressor genes, then grow it with tons of chemicals, and they’ll have us believe it’s just the same as an organic potato grown from seed handed down for generations?
Chemical Companies Own The Seeds.
Maybe the worst thing about these GMO seeds is that the companies that produce them own them. A farmer isn’t allowed to save seed and grow it again. Courts have fined some growers from doing this. The circle has been broken, and like the spliced bacteria genes, the treacherous multinationals have inserted themselves into our lives.
They Can’t Control Open Pollinated Seeds.
They can’t control open-pollinated seeds though. These are seeds that you can save and grow again. Even though open-pollinated seeds only grow a fraction of a percent of the food in this country right now, we see it as nurturing a spark during dark times, waiting for the time when it will again roar as a flame of food freedom.
My source for organic, non-GMO, open-pollinated seeds is Siskiyou Seeds.
This article was originally printed in the zine Backwoods Hipster, May 2006, Issue #2. The image, from the cover of the zine, is of Pablo Picasso.