Since the start of human agricultural practices, seeds have been traditionally saved and shared between farmers – used and passed down from one season to the next. And Mother Nature actually supported that natural cycle of propagation from one season to the next. But with corporate control of seed, genetically engineered crops and chemical farming, we are seeing centuries-old heirlooms replaced and wiped out. The consolidation of this industry has resulted in more profitable varieties at the disastrous cost of biodiversity and farmer independence.
Corporations now have a patent on life itself, and it’s dangerous effects are only just now beginning to reveal themselves. It all began in the late 1970’s with the first patent of a living organism, and since it is estimated that Monsanto and its subsidiaries own more than 463,173 separate plant genes and controls more than 80% of seeds around the world today – not to mention a monopoly of the vegetable seed market!
Due to corporate controlled seed-patents, many farmers are now dependent on genetically engineered seeds and are required to buy year after year from companies like Monsanto. Saving these seeds is actually now illegal, and farmers run the risk of patent violations if they do. That means that farms are not saving seeds like they used to, or even purchasing real seeds. Modern commercial farming now requires buying a sort of license or lease to use commercial seeds for an agreed upon amount of time. This is usually only one growing season.
Furthermore, since most of our food is made or grown from plants that contain patented genetically engineered varieties, the need for chemical dependence has actually increased. This is where the “Round-up Ready” crop comes into play. In fact, most commercially available seed now will only perform well if it is used in combination with synthetic fertilizer, chemical additives, or further pesticides or herbicides. This is awful for the soil and by extension, truly disastrous for the health of consumers.
Seed Saving = Preserving Biodiversity
A major concern with corporate control of seed varieties is that they focus on varieties that support their interests – not varieties which support health, ecosystems of nature’s process. In 80 years (between 1903 and 1983), we lost 93 percent of the variety in our food seeds. According to Rural Advancement Foundation International, we have lost 93 percent of our food seed variety in just the past eighty years. Sweet corn varieties went from 307 varietes to 12, beets dropped from 288 varieties to 17, and 497 lettuce varieties are now at just 36 today. Even the tomato has taken a staggering hit; it is estimated that tomatoes have lost up to 80 percent of its diversity – in the last century alone!
Where do we go from here? The facts may be staggering, but as consumers, backyard gardeners and farmers who believe in regenerative practices, we have quite a lot of power. Start by educating others about the risks and impact of the current seed industry today. Support local farmers who are fighting to keep heirloom varieties alive. Begin by purchasing from seed banks or saving your own seeds from the garden!
Stay tuned for our forthcoming post – it’ll be a how-to guide for starting your own practice of seed-saving in your home garden or backyard farm!
Be Well. Be You.
The Farmer’s Footprint Team