Enslaved seeds

October 2014

picture of different varieties of rice seed in glass containers
Different varieties of rice seed. CC photo by IRRI photos on Flickr
There is a huge natural genetic diversity in all seeds, which has evolved over millions of years.Only this complex whole has the ability and the reserves to change in harmony with its ever-changing environment.
This is a resource we can't afford to waste, destroy, or compromise.
Without it, we will starve.
Realising our dependence on seed quality, and the profits that can attach to dependency, business has been grabbing control of seeds: wild seeds, commercial seeds, national and global seed markets, and the farmers who use them.

Laws have long been in place in the developed world to ensure that large-scale supplies of seed are of good quality.

However, this system hasn't worked to maintain diversity or farmer choice: it has promoted consolidation of the seed market, dependence on agri-chemicals, and high seed prices.

The net result is that world commercial seed development is now overwhelmingly controlled by four big biotech companies (Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta and Dow Agrosciences). Between them, these four own 80 percent of the huge US corn market, while three corporations now control 53 percent of the global seed market, and 98 percent of soyabeans planted each year contain Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM trait.

This whole situation has spiralled out of control in the last few years because of patents allowed on any technique involving artificial DNA manipulation. Patent-holders can 'own' the life-form whose DNA has been changed, including its descendants (deliberate or accidental), and products produced from it.

Farmers lured into buying value-added GM seeds become trapped on the biotech-industry treadmill through anti-seed-saving contracts. These contracts are enforced by industry policing, by neighbours in the same boat (who could incriminate them by genetic contamination), and by the lack of availability of any alternative seed.

Without market-controlling competition, seed prices of soya increased 325 percent between 1996 (just pre-GM) and 2011, while corn seed prices grew by 259 percent.

In the developing world the whole situation is worse. Once farmers become dependent on a non-seed-saving system, they become dependent on the seed suppliers and on moneylenders, which in many cases are one and the same. In the Philippines, some 270,000 small-hold farmers are being forced by the lack of credit for any other seed to grow GM corn, and are ending up in debt. The status quo is maintained by its Department of Agriculture which wrongly claims that farmers 'prefer' planting GM corn. Philippini farmers' true view of GM is evident in their rebellion against GM 'golden rice' field trials being held in their country [1].

The ramifications of patented DNA are huge: farmers can't use up spare grain not intended as seed; livestock fed GM can be included in patent control; natural genes (even human ones) have somehow become patentable [2].

And, the impact on plant-growers everywhere is getting worse.

One Pennsylvanian county library in the US set up a seed library to lend out heirloom varieties to locals who then replaced the seed at the end of the season. However, the Feds stepped in and “told the library system that they would have to test each individual seed packet in order for the facility to continue, an impossible task, which meant that the seed library was shut down”. The library was told that the US Department of Agriculture would “continue to crack down on seed libraries that have established themselves in the state.” Apparently, “allowing residents to borrow seeds could have led to acts of 'agri-terrorism'.


Who are the agri-terrorists here? The man-in-the-street growing tomatoes in his back-yard, or the biotech industry holding our seeds in shackles?

Keep up to date with information and actions on patents, check out

[1] THE GOLDEN RICE BLAME GAME - November 2013

  • More pesticides Coming to Our Food: Heirloom Seed Library Shut Down by Feds to Stop Agri-Terrorism, 19.08.14
  • Philippines: GM corn bankrupts farmers, Consumers International, 18.09.12
  • Ken Roseboro, The GMO Seed Cartel, Non-GMO Report 1.02.13
  • As Challenge over Seed Rights Approaches Supreme court, New Report Exposes Devastating Impact of Monsanto Practices on U. S. Farmers, Center forFood Safety Press Release, 12.02.13
  • Jack Kaskey, DuPont Sends in Former Cops to Enforce Seed Patents: Commodities, Bloomberg, 28.11.12
  • Amy Corderoy, Mutation of breast cancer gene can be patented, says Federal Court,,
  • Richard Schiffman, Evil Monsanto Aggressively Sues Farmers for Saving Seeds, 20.06.13

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