Open Source Seeds


argylesock says… The Open Source Seed Initiative is a seed which deserves to grow and grow. Food sovereignty! It reminds me of the Heritage Seed Library here in Britain.

Originally posted on Global Food Politics:

seeds A group of researchers and plant breeders based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on Thursday announced a new initiative intended to break the monopoly control over plant genetic materials promoted by the use of patent law in seed research. The current system, rooted in intellectual property law, provides a 20-year exclusive patent to seed breeders who develop a new variety. Defenders of the current system argue it is necessary to encourage and reward innovation, and to make commercial seed breeding profitable.

But critics have long argued that this system rewards commercial seed breeders at the expense of farmers, undermines in situ conservation, denies the important role played in seed breeding and conservation by farmers, and undermines innovation by restricting access to seed.

So last week, a group of seed breeders launched a new initiative rooted in the Open Source Software movement.  The idea is that the genetic material…

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Stowaways in potted plants

Potted plants can seem so benign. Beautiful, fascinating, good to grow and give, but they may carry invasive species which are not benign. Tom Bawden at The Independent tells us about invasive species reaching Europe, including the New Guinea flatworm (Platydemus manokwari) which could be a threat to native snails. Here’s the first report of P. manokwari in Europe.

Mr Bawden tells us about other invasive species which are in Britain, or which could arrive here soon. Those species include:
- the New Zealand flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulatus or Artioposthia triangulata)
- the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)
- the Spanish slug (Arion vulgaris)
- the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina)
- the oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea)
- the lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii)
- the light brown apple moth (Epiphyas postvittana)
- the rosemary leaf beetle (Chrysolina americana)
- the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile)

Potted plants will never look the same now, will they? If you want to be even more afraid, you could explore the GB Non Native Species Secretariat.

Not all alien species are fearsome, of course. In fact living on a set of islands, we British people are used to sharing the land with aliens. And we get on just fine with people in the countries where many of the species we fear are not invasive at all. But sometimes ‘our’ species have become invasive on ‘their’ land. Invasive species are no joke when they invade in any direction.

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Western corporations carve up Africa

Originally posted on Allana Potash Blog:


A newly released report reveals how the British and American governments are facilitating the corporate takeover of African food systems.

Campaigners protest outside the UK Department for International Development. Photo: WDM

Campaigners protest outside the UK Department for International Development. Photo: WDM


Huge tracts of land in African countries with access to the sea and high economic growth are being targeted by corporations such as Monsanto and Unilever with help from the British and American governments –including millions of dollars that are intended for helping the poor, says a report published today by UK campaigning group World Development Movement.

The document, titled Carving up a continent: How the UK government is facilitating the corporate takeover of African food systems, explains that a G8 initiative called the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is using money intended for poverty reduction to instead ease access to key African locations for some of the world’s biggest companies, which already control…

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William Engdahl on GMOs: The Lies and Long History of the Poisoning of Humanity

Here are strong words against genetically modified organisms (GMO, genetically engineered organisms.) Carol Grieve’ at Food Integrity Now shows us an interview with German American journalist F William Engdahl in which he says that GM grew from eugenics in the United States.

‘How have we gotten to where we are now with 85% of all of our food in our mainstream grocery stores genetically modified? This just didn’t happen over night, it was well planned… [In] a closed-door meeting in 1992 between Monsanto and former President George Bush, Sr… President Bush made the decision that GMO corn [maize, Zea mays] was “substantially equivalent” to non-GMO corn. Keep in mind “substantially” means kind of or more or less and “equivalent” mean equal! This ordinance of substantial equivalency was pushed through and paved the way for Monsanto to take over the food supply with their GMOs with no safety testing and no government agency (including the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] or NIH [National Institutes of Health]) is allowed to independently test GMOs.’

You don’t have to agree with Mr Engdahl. He doesn’t pull his punches! I don’t have a fast internet connection where I am today, so I haven’t been able to listen to the interview, but I’m not entirely sure whether his perspective is mostly from the States or from Germany. Both, perhaps.

Mr Engdahl’s words about GM scare me as a European. Europe’s leaders and US leaders are negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which aims to ease ‘trade barriers’ by ‘harmonising’ our rules. As I’ve mentioned before, some fear that this will mean changing to the lowest common denominator.

Let me tell you, if the TTIP will mean that we all have to accept GM the way Mr Engdahl says the States have accepted it, I’m one of many Europeans who say ‘No thank you.’ Are we Europeans cautious about GM? Damn right we are.

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Australian crops with or without genetic modification

Steve Marsh is a Western Australian farmer who sued his neighbour Michael Baxter for ‘reckless’ harvesting of GM (genetically modified, genetically engineered) canola (oilseed rape, rapeseed, Brassica napus). Some GM canola seeds ended up on Mr Marsh’s land.

Mr Marsh doesn’t grow canola but due to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, he lost organic status from 75% of his land. He farms at Eagle Rest, having gained organic status because he saw that it would be good for business. Mr Baxter farms at Seven Oaks using conventional methods. Neither seeks fame.

The GM canola was Roundup Ready, meaning that Mr Baxter had the option of spraying weeds with Roundup (glyphosate) weedkiller. Roundup, and Roundup Ready seeds, are made by the chemical and biotech giant Monsanto.

The Marsh vs Baxter case has attracted attention around the world because it challenges Monsanto’s power.

Before these neighbours faced one another in court, Ian Walker at the Global Mail told us why people care about Marsh vs Baxter. He’s amended what he said there, removing a claim that the problem arose from stormy weather, but apart from that I recommend his article. He shows us how these two ordinary people found themselves under a global spotlight. ‘The outcome of Marsh vs Baxter is being anticipated by GM debate watchers around the globe… While there are previous instances of water, fire, foot and mouth disease and even potato blight causing damage to a neighbouring farmer’s property, this case is pioneering legal territory.’

The court case finished several weeks ago and we’re waiting for the verdict. Meanwhile the anti-GM True Food Network tells us that Roundup Ready canola is one of only three GM crops permitted in Australia. The others are varieties of cotton (Gossypium herbaceum): a Roundup Ready cotton and a Bt (insecticidal) cotton. Like the Roundup Ready canola, these cotton varieties are by Monsanto.

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Food security and biofuels

Biofuels are renewable because they’re made from plants or animals, which grow. But sometimes biofuels are produced in ways that are not sustainable. Hungry people sometimes pay the cost. Can food security and biofuels go hand in hand?

Today Léna Durocher-Granger at CABI (‘Improving lives by solving problems in agriculture and the environment’) shows us a summary of thinking about food security and biofuels. I like the way Ms Durocher-Granger explains the ideas and suggests solutions.

[Edit] Here’s something I said a few months ago about funding for developing ‘advanced’ biofuels fed on algae.

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Genetic engineering in agriculture

As the European Union and the United States approach agreement on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), now’s a good time for us Europeans to approach understanding of USian farming. And vice versa.

Today I’m looking at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a Stateside non-profit.
Definitely Stateside! The UCS ‘puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country…’ Not around the whole world then, eh? Oh well, I’m not xenophobic. That wouldn’t be very British ;-)

Three years ago, UCS called for sustainable agriculture in the States. Among other things, that article invited us to think about genetic engineering (GE, genetic modification, GM) in agriculture. I like this summary of GM and whether it can, or whether it should, be part of sustainable agriculture.

‘All technologies have risks and shortcomings, so critics must always address the question: what are the alternatives?

‘In the case of GE, there are two main answers: crop breeding, which produces traits through the organism’s reproductive process; and agroecological farm management, which seeks to make the most of a plant’s existing traits by optimizing its growing environment.

‘These approaches are generally far less expensive than GE, and often more effective. The biotechnology industry has acknowledged the value of breeding as a complement to GE. But at the same time, the industry has used its formidable marketing and lobbying resources to ensure that its products—and the industrial methods those products are designed to support—continue to dominate both the seed marketplace and the policy conversation, at the expense of ecologically based, diverse farming systems.’

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