A group of scientists, seed growers and breeders have launched a new campaign in an effort to keep seeds in the hands of farmers. The new website was launched with much fanfare, including an interview on CBC radio’s As It Happens.
The goal of the initiative is to prevent genetic resources from becoming private property. By declaring seeds as “open source”, the group hopes to prevent a company from making the seed illegal to save, propagate and share. In much the same way as the open source software movement has generated a movement to keep individual efforts to improve software, farmers and breeders are doing the same with seed: genetic resources open for sharing removes barriers on developing new genetic material and eventually, new plant varieties.
The movement is in the wake of a frightening number of cases of farmers being sued by large seed companies for allegedly violating licensing agreements by saving seed grown on their farm and replanting it. This has led to many farmers being concerned about saving seed, and from large seed companies patenting genes that are in the seeds they already grow, and therefore violating patent laws.
Breeders are also seeing the impact. Increasingly, plant breeders are complaining that restrictions around the free exchange of genetic material amongst themselves (i.e. breeders that work in universities or private companies) make it difficult to move new varieties forward. This is largely driven by the increasing demand to make more income from seed breeding, but if new varieties are becoming bottle-necked by the regulations set out to bring in revenue, new varieties will be harder to release without infringing on patents.
So far the initiative consists simply putting a statement on seed packages that reads:
This Open Source Seed pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users. By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives they will also be accompanied by this pledge.
Read the CBC story here
Read the NPR story here