Tag: seed-saving

…effectively outlaws the saving of seeds from one season to the next

While the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were kept secret from the public and policymakers during negotiations, US negotiators relied heavily on input from the corporate insiders who populate the US government-appointed Industry Trade Advisory Committees.

[Seed industry lobby group] BIO spent roughly $8 million on lobbying each year while the TPP was under negotiation, paying firms like Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld $80,000 annually to lobby for patent provision in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.

The results of this lobbying blitz were unknown until the final text of the agreement was released in November of last year… Experts have called the TPP a ‘big win’ for the biotech seed industry, and many warn that the trade deal will further enrich seed companies at the expense of farmers’ rights.

[The Trans-Pacific Partnership] effectively outlaws the saving of seeds from one season to the next, a practice the majority of the world’s farmers rely upon. Farmers are prohibited from saving, replanting, and exchanging protected seed, and breeders* are granted exclusive right to germplasm**.

– Exerpted and adapted from The Trans Pacific Partnership will hurt farmers and make seed companies richer by Alex Press, in The Nation, June 10, 2016.

* In this context, “breeders” means large-scale corporations or other institutions that carry out plant breeding to develop new crop varieties. It excludes small-scale farmers, or local seed sellers or coops, who don’t have the money to pay for lawyers to register and apply for patents for their seeds, or the time, money and extra land that would be required to carry out the seed trials that would be required for the patent application to even be considered.

** “Gerplasm” technically means the DNA or genetic material of a particular plant crop; practically it means seeds.

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How corporate agribusiness prevents small farmers from saving and exchanging seeds

This post is an exerpt from the report Seed laws that criminalise farmers: resistance and fightback, published jointly by Via Campesina and GRAIN.

Almost all farming communities know how to save, store and share seeds. Millions of families and farming communities have worked to create hundreds of crops and thousands of varieties of these crops. The regular exchange of seeds among communities and peoples has allowed crops to adapt to different conditions, climates and topographies. This is what has allowed farming to spread and grow and feed the world with a diversified diet.

Corporations’ ongoing struggle to control all food production

Seeds have also… given rural people the resolute ability to maintain some degree of autonomy and to refuse to be completely controlled by big business and big money. From the point of view of corporate interests that are striving to take control of land, farming, food and the huge market that these factors represent, this independence is an obstacle.

Corporations have deployed a range of strategies to get this control, but farmers and indigenous peoples have resisted and continue to resist this takeover in different ways. Today, the corporate sector is trying to stamp out this rebellion through a global legal offensive. The result is that seed laws are constantly evolving and becoming more aggressive. Through new waves of political and economic pressure – especially through so-called free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties and regional integration initiatives – all the ‘soft’ forms of ownership rights over seeds were hardened and continue to be made more restrictive at a faster pace. Seed laws and plant variety rights are being revised again and again to adapt to the new demands of the seed and biotechnology industry.

How seed laws make farmers’ seeds illegal

Marketing laws: are often justified as a means of protecting farmers, as consumers of seeds, in order to ensure that they are only offered good seeds – both in terms of physical quality (germination rate, purity, etc.) and of the variety in question (genetic potential). But whose criteria are used? In the countries that have adopted the system of “compulsory catalogue”, seeds are allowed on the market only if they are “distinct”, “uniform” and “stable” (DUS criteria). This means that all plants grown from a batch of seed will be the same, and that their characteristics will last over time. Peasant varieties do not fit these criteria, because they are diverse and evolving.

Intellectual property laws: applied to seeds are regulations that recognise a person or an entity, most often a seed company, as the exclusive owner of seeds having specific characteristics. The owner then has the legal right to prevent others from using, producing, exchanging or selling them.

Plant health and biosafety laws: Such laws are intended to prevent health or environmental hazards that can arise from seeds… The problem lies in the fact that these laws actually serve to protect the interests of industry. For example, sometimes small-scale exchanges of seeds among farmers are prohibited, or their seeds are confiscated and destroyed, because farmers are held to the same standards as multinational corporations, which sell seeds in far greater amounts and to more distant locations – with a corresponding increase in the chance of spreading disease. Under such laws, farmers’ seeds may be viewed as a potential risk or hazard while industry seeds are hailed as the only safe ones, even though they play a huge role in spreading disease and contamination.

There is no such thing as seeds that are free in the abstract

Seeds are the heritage of peoples; the two have evolved together and are not isolated entities floating in a social void. Seeds are not things, nor are they merchandise or computer programs. They cannot remain in circulation without the stewardship and care of peoples and communities. They are not a resource waiting to be grabbed by the first to come upon them. In other words, there is no such thing as seeds that are free in the abstract. They are free thanks to the peoples and communities who defend, maintain and care for them so that we can enjoy the goods they provide.

– From Yvapuruvu Declaration: seed laws – resisting dispossession

Patent monopolies on plants, animals, and micro-organisms

Black and white graphic: a large seed with cross bones, reminiscent of a skull and cross bones but with a seed instead of a skull. At the top it says "SEED SHARING IS KILLING FARMING" and at the bottom it says "AND IT'S ILLEGAL".
CC BY-SA, derived from Home sewing is killing fashion by Bo Peterson. The image is a take-off of a famous 1980s anti-copyright infringement campaign which had the slogan Home Taping Is Killing Music. The original graphic from that campaign, a casette-tape-and-crossbones, is also incorporated in the Piratebay logo, on the sail of the the pirate ship.

The 1994 WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was the first global treaty to establish common norms of private property rights over seeds. The goal is to ensure that companies like Monsanto or Syngenta, which spend money on plant breeding and genetic modification to bring new seeds to market, can make a profit on those seeds by preventing farmers from re-using them – a bit like the way Hollywood or Microsoft try to stop people from copying and sharing films or software. The very notion of “patenting life” is hotly contested and so the WTO agreement is a kind of compromise between governments. It says that countries may exclude both plants and animals (other than micro-organisms) from their patent laws but they must provide some form of intellectual property protection over plant varieties, without specifying how to do that.

Free trade agreements negotiated outside the WTO, especially those initiated by powerful economies in the global North, tend to go much further. They often require countries to (a) patent plants or animals, (b) follow the rules of the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) to provide a patent-like system for seeds and/or (c) join the Budapest Treaty on the recognition of deposits of micro-organisms for the purpose of patent protection. These measures give strong monopoly powers to agribusiness companies at the expense of small and indigenous farming communities. For example, UPOV and patenting generally make it illegal for farmers to save, exchange or modify seeds from so-called protected varieties.

– From Trade agreements privatising biodiversity (PDF) by GRAIN, November 2014.

Please, don’t try to buy a survival-stash of seed for the zombie apocalypse!

The other thing that we continue to see year after year is people who come to us worried about social breakdown and who want to buy large amounts of seed to store ‘for an emergency’… suppose you do find you’re in a nightmare situation where you suddenly need to grow your own food – it will be too late to start learning then! So if tempted by one of these ‘survival packs’, just picture yourself hungry, standing there in front of your powerless defrosting freezer, with your now-out-of-date seeds in your hand… The best thing to do is to start your garden now, while you have spare time and money – and start learning now to grow veg well on your plot, maybe try to learn about storing it without electricity overwinter, and – even better – learn how to save your own seeds for future years.

The Real Seed Catalogue: ‘How long will seed last?’