20. SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION
Some little known legislation in Washington, D.C., may lead to the
disappearance of many vegetable varieties and a dangerously increased
dependency on pesticides.
An obscure bill planted in Congress by Senator Frank Church, D-Idaho,
and Representative E. (Kiki) de la Garza, D-Texas, is sprouting into
a controversy that pits major seed companies against plant scientists
and small farmer advocates. The bill, a packet of amendments to the
Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, would allow patenting of new varieties
Critics charge the amendments will lead to outlawing thousands o£
varieties of common vegetables as has happened in Europe. They say it
will create monopolies in the seed industry at a time when many seed
companies are being bought out by corporate giants.
Scientists are concerned that plant breeding programs have led to the
replacement of a multitude of traditional crop varieties with a few
high-yield brands. The National Academy of Sciences has reported most
such crops are impressively uniform genetically and impressively, vulnerable.
This uniformity derives from powerful economic and legislative forces.
While few Americans realize it, many seed companies have been taken
over by the petrochemical industry -- the manufacturers of pesticides
and chemical fertilizers such as Upjohn, Union Carbide, Monsanto, Purex,
Diamond Shamrock, ITT, and Sandoz.
Permitting patenting of new varieties of vegetables will pave the way
for the U.S. to join the European dominated international organization
that promotes and coordinates plant patenting laws. Most of the nations
belonging to this organization have found it necessary to outlaw many
vegetable varieties in a desperate attempt to enforce their plant patents.
The future of agriculture depends on the genetic diversity in food
crops. This future is threatened by laws that require genetic uniformity
and a reduction in the number of varieties allowed to exist.
Without genetic diversity, agriculture loses its primary defense against
pests and diseases, thus creating absolute dependency on pesticides.
The lack of media coverage given to the threat of genetic uniformity
and its potentially dangerous impact on our future food supply qualifies
this story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories
CoEvolution Quarterly, Winter 79/80, "Plant Patenting," by
Cary Fowler; The World S.F. Examiner/Chronicle, Oct. 14, 1979, "Washington's
Seedy Battle," by Margot Hornblower.