Los Angeles Times
Wall Street Journal
Open Letter to the Secretary General of the UN
Mr. Antonio Guterres
Dear Mr. Antonio Guterres,
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your new appointment as UN Secretary General.
The practice of genetically modifying seeds and patenting them as unique inventions has now been going on for decades. Some 60% of the world’s seeds are owned by a few corporations in the West*. Farmers in the US and Canada have been sued and bankrupted by some of these greedy corporations because their crops had been inadvertently cross pollinated by the wind, birds, bees, and butterflies which carry pollen from adjacent farms with the modified crops.
This is unadulterated greed in its highest form, and it has to stop. This is Corporate Vandalism supported by an equally barbaric legal system. When and how will this crazy development end? A solution on how it should be stopped will be suggested before the end of this letter.
Let us look at some examples of creative people and how they patent a product. If a tailor comes up with an exquisite fashion and it becomes popular, the tailor has the prerogative to use a name for the design, or use his/her own name. We are all familiar with names of some famous stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Coco Chanel, and the like used as brand names. The brand name protects the product from pirates and duplication. Other tailors are not allowed to use that name to sell identically cut clothes. If they do, that is fraud, and they can be sued and penalized. But nobody stops other tailors from copying these designs and making clothes, as long as they do not use the brand name. Anyone can make jeans and sell them as long as they don’t use the brand name Levi’s or Wrangler. The same goes for shoes, hats, perfumes, watches, etc. Making clothes or shoes of any style is not a crime, trying to sell it under a false brand name is.
In the case of seeds however, corporations send representative lawyers to farms with a warrant letter that states: “You are growing our uniquely patented seeds without a proper permission. You have to pay up so many thousands or millions of dollars!” and sue the farmer. This has happened many times in the US and Canada, and sadly the practice is still going on. The farmer could be totally innocent, and the cross pollination might be totally natural as explained above.
When Luther Burbank**, the world famous horticulturalist and geneticist, with barely a high school education, produced so many varieties of crops, he never had such a greedy idea to hoard crops and seeds to himself and protect his breed. No, he gave them to the world for farmers to grow. The Burbank russet potato and other crops still carry his name, God bless his soul. How then did greed take hold on this noble field of science? This has resulted in the ever expanding development of designer seeds by wealthy food corporations and the bankruptcy of poorer farmers around the world. What a shameful practice!
Imagine some illustrious TV cook on the Food Channel (Julia Childs, Wolfgang Puck, or Marcus Samuelson… etc, ) coming up with a new recipe of pasta or pizza, getting it patented, and then going around suing restaurants and pizza houses for copying the unique recipe, and bankrupting them. Who would put up with that kind of nonsense? But what is going on here is not far removed from the example.
The only ground for granting seed or a fruit patent should be for a corporation to go out into the wilderness, find a new species of grass or grain, never before used by anyone as food, develop it to an edible state, patent it and try to introduce it to world market. Other than that, to patent corn, wheat, rice, or any other already established seeds or fruits, is, to say the least, utterly ridiculous.
Patenting a bicycle or a car may be understandable. One can live without either of them. But patenting seeds and crops, which human beings have been consuming for food for thousands of years, and without which human life would be difficult, if not impossible, is giving corporations excessive power over our daily lives, and it has to stop. It should have never been permitted in the first place.
First of all, seeds and food crops have gone through thousands or years of modifications by the selective breeding in the hands of our farming ancestors, who freely passed them on to our generation without this kind unfettered greed which has reared its ugly head in the West these days. So, when corporations demand payment for patented seeds and crops, how about our Human Family at the UN demanding a payment for the seeds they are starting with? We suggest at least a thousand fold of what they want to charge for their modification. That is only fair.
The simple solution is this: The UN has been designating many historic sites as “World Heritage” in order to protect them for the safekeeping of future generations. The next order of business at the UN needs to be to designate all seeds and crops as “World Heritage” and with the stroke of a pen, render all past and any future patents of seeds and crops as null and void. That is how it should be solved once and for all.
Would this not discourage the corporations and prevent scientific progress? That is hardly likely, as there will always be hundreds of new Luther Burbanks that will strive to produce new breeds of crops, not for financial greed but for the love of farming, and to feed the people of the world.
G. E. Gorfu
* Center for Food Safety: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/1881/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1365749
** Luther Burbank https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther_Burbank
G. E. Gorfu is an author, a poet, a philosopher, and a freelance writer. You can send your opinions to:
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