|Multinational corporations have succeeded in gaining patent rights over new crop varieties. In 1970 the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act was passed. Plant protection regimes offered opportunities for profit and created the incentive for corporate interests to buy control of the seed industry. Thousands of patents have been granted on plants. Indigenous plants that have been used for centuries have been patented, this practice has been termed biopiracy. Commenting on the international property (TRIPS) of GATT which will enforce patents and intellectual property rights internationally, James Enyart of Monsanto stated "Industry has identified a major problem in international trade. It crafted a solution, and sold it to our own and other governments".|
Reliance on chemical inputs
Chemical fertilisers are needed for the increased energy demands of the modern varieties. Rows of uniform crops grown in the monocultures present any easy target to pests. Pesticides are relyed upon to compensate for lack of resistance to pests.
Before the 1940's very few pesticides were used on crops. Now 800 million pounds of pesticides alone are used on US farmlands each year and yet crop losses from pests are on the increase. The big producers of agro-chemicals have bought control of seed companies in order to produce seeds that require doses of their chemicals.
farm saved seed
An estimated 1.4 billion of the world's poorest people now depend for their survival on farm saved seed. Hybrid seeds and their required fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation systems have trapped many of the world's poorest farmers into a cycle of debt.
| In the US Monsanto are vigorously
pursuing their proprietary rights. Using investigators to identify farmers
suspected of saving their seed, Monsanto threaten criminal charges and damages
in excess of $1 million.
out the small producer
The high capital costs involved in industrialised agriculture, purchasing seeds, chemical inputs, irrigation systems, machinery and fuel, favour large scale producers. While capital costs escalate, the prices farmers receive for their produce are in decline.
|Costs to US farmers of seeds and
agro-chemicals rose 86% between 1987 and 1997.
The centres of genetic diversity of all major food crops lie within countries of the tropics. The International Agricultural Research Centres (IARC's) are publicly funded institutions which have a pivotal role in setting the agenda for agriculture in the south.
|The IARC's pass large quantities
of crop varieies from the south to the north's breeders. In 1982 the UN
OECD estimated that the south's wheat genes are worth $500 million a year
to the US.
of agricultural biodiversity
Thousands of years of evolution resulted in a massive diversity of landraces adapted to differing localised growing conditions. This diversity is rapidly being lost, a process which began in the nineteenth century, and has accelerated rapidly in the last 30 years.
|Although it is impossible to know
how much diversity has been lost, a survey by the Rural Advancement Foundation
(RAFI) found that approximately 97% of US Department of Agriculture lists
had disappeared in the last 80 years.
Modern commercial varieties are static, that is, bred and sold to farmers each year, rather than being replanted from farm saved seed. Replanted seed is dynamic, co-evolving with an adaption to the local ecosystem.
|There is a lack of commercial
incentive for breeders to develop new open
pollinated varieties. Such varieties could be replanted from saved seed
allowing localised adaptations.
In landraces hundreds of genes may be involved in conferring resistance against a pathogen. Plant and pathogen co-evolve in the local environment, resistance is thereby dynamic and not stabilised.
|Modern plant varieties often rely
on the same single gene to confer resistance. Large areas planted with these
crops exert strong selection pressure on pests to overcome the defence mechanism,
and the gene is then effectively used up.
The substitution of chemical fertilisers for organic methods of returning nutrients to the soil, such as composting, crop rotation and manure creates lifeless dusty soils prone to soil erosion.
|An estimated 24 billion tonnes
of soil are eroded from the world's agricultural land each year. Dust levels
in the lower atmosphere have tripled in the last 60 years.
Modern hybrid seeds require large amounts of water often necessitating the construction of irrigation systems and dams. In poor countries the experience is that dams service the rich minority and disrupt the natural watersheds essential to poorer farmers.
|To build these dams, fertile soils
in river valleys have been flooded and millions of people have been forcibly
moved from their homes creating a social and environmental disaster.
GE is a dangerous and unnecessary technology that is driven by corporate demand for profit GE will exacerbate all the problems of chemical industrial agriculture and bring new problems like genetic pollution.
| This sort of future
would be disastrous for ecosystems, small farmers and food consumers.
Commercial interests currently dictate the path of research and development of new crop varieties. There is a chronic shortage of research looking at the adverse effects of, and the alternatives to, the chemical paradigm. Scientists are discouraged from co-operation and publishing their work by the secrecy required for patenting.
It is a myth that large, intensive farms growing modern high response seed are efficient. Such measures of efficiency exclude social and environmental costs. Numerous studies indicate that utilising practices such as mixed cropping, small farms practising alternatives to chemical agriculture can produce greater yields.
the Good Earth", by Micheal Ableman, published by Harry N. Abrams