Preserving Seeds for the Commons
By Guest Blogger, Lyn Howe, Beach Road Farm, HI
Presently over 75% of proprietary seeds are owned by 10 companies, but a new Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), introduced by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, seeks to provide an alternative to this system of corporate control.
These corporate-controlled seeds include designer GM seeds, as well as non-GM seeds, that are considered intellectual property of a company. Although, for companies like Monsanto, many of these seeds are likely to be genetically modified. The commercial seed market in 2011—the most recent year available—was worth $34.5 billion. The incentive to own and patent seeds is driven by economics. The grip of the seed industry on the food system is very alarming. In the last century it is estimated we have lost more than half of the world’s food varieties. Seeds are much more than the genes they express, they hold the memory of heritage and tradition.
In response to this corporate seed monopoly, UW-Madison recently introduced an effort designed to keep newly developed seeds free for all people to grow, breed and share for perpetuity. Known as the Open Source Seed Initiative, OSSI was established in 2011 by public plant breeders, farmers, non-governmental organization staff and sustainable food systems advocates from around the nation. The goal of OSSI is to protect the plants from patents and other restrictions.
In April 2014, scientists, farmers and sustainable food systems advocates came together on the UW-Madison campus to celebrate an unusual group of honored guests: 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains that are being publicly released using a novel form of ownership agreement known as the Open Source Seed Pledge.
The pledge is short and will be printed on all OSSI seed packets: it basically says that the seeds are free to use in any way you want. When you open the packet, you signal your commitment to keep the seeds, and plants derived from them, in the public domain thereby expanding the germplasm for future plant breeders .