the struggle for the seed
Just as dramatic is the struggle for the seed. More than 1,000 independent seed companies were swallowed up by multinationals in the past four decades, so today just three—Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta—control about half the proprietary seed market worldwide.
Fueling the consolidation were three Supreme Court rulings since 1980—including one in 2002, with an opinion written by former Monsanto attorney Clarence Thomas—making it possible to patent life forms, including seeds. And in 1992 the Food and Drug Administration released its policy on genetically modified organisms, claiming that “the agency is not aware of any information showing that [GMO] foods…differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”
The government’s green light fueled the rapid spread of GMOs and monopolies—so now most US corn and soybeans are GMO, with genes patented largely by one company: Monsanto. The FDA position helped make GMOs’ spread so invisible that most Americans still don’t believe they’ve ever eaten them—even though the grocery industry says they could be in 75 percent of processed food.
Even fewer Americans are aware that in 1999 attorney Steven Druker reported that in 40,000 pages of FDA files secured via a lawsuit, he found “memorandum after memorandum contain[ing] warnings about the unique hazards of genetically engineered food,” including the possibility that they could contain “unexpected toxins, carcinogens or allergens.”
Yet at the same time, public education campaigns have succeeded in confining almost 80 percent of GMO planting to just three countries: the United States, Brazil and Argentina. In more than two dozen countries and in the European Union they’ve helped pass mandatory GMO labeling. Even China requires it.
In Europe, the anti-GMO tipping point came in 1999. Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, expects that the same shift will happen here, as more Americans than ever actively oppose GMOs. This year the “non-GMO” label is the third-fastest-growing new health claim on food packaging. Smith is also encouraged that milk products produced with the genetically modified drug rBGH “have been kicked out of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Yoplait, Dannon, and most American dairies.”
Around the world, millions are saying no to seed patenting as well. In homes and village seed banks, small farmers and gardeners are saving, sharing and protecting tens of thousands of seed varieties.
In the United States, the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, estimates that since 1975 members have shared roughly a million samples of rare garden seeds.
In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh—known as the pesticide capital of the world—a women-led village movement, the Deccan Development Society, puts seed-saving at the heart of its work. After the crushing failure of GMO cotton and ill health linked to pesticides, the movement has helped 125 villages convert to more nutritious, traditional crop mixes, feeding 50,000 people.
On a larger scale, Vandana Shiva’s organization, Navdanya, has helped to free 500,000 farmers from chemical dependency and to save indigenous seeds—the group’s learning and research center protects 3,000 varieties of rice, plus other crops.