Friday, October 17, 2008

Seed Slavery. Doan Want.

We have a covenant w/ creation to carry on our responsibility, as those who have two legs, in relationship to our relatives that have fins, wing, hooves, and roots. And so we have this food. Manoomin, which means "the most wonderous seed." This food is a central part of our culture as Anishinaabeg people. We have cared for those rice beds, for our lakes and rivers for as long as we have been Anishinaabeg.

When the University of Minnesota cracked the DNA sequence for Wild Rice, that set us up for genetic engineering and genetic contamination. One of our chiefs said, "Who gave them permission?" And that is the ethical question, isn't it? Who gave anybody rights to change the DNA sequence of life forms?

I didn't understand what seed slavery was until I met up with Monsanto. And then I understood why we had to ensure that they did not patent our rice and they didn't own it. And so, we as indigenous people have formed this indigenous seed sovereignty coalition; with us are the taro farmers of Hawaii, who are saying taro is our relative and you can not patent it. Our relatives in New Mexico look at protecting the indigenous corn varieties as their relatives. These are essential parts of who we are.

Our traditional foods, those really old indigenous varieties, are much higher in antioxidants, fiber, amino acids than anything you can buy at the store. Those foods are medicine. those old biologically diverse seed stocks have the ability to adapt and will make it through climate destabilization. If we want to feed our people, we have to go back to our original heritage varieties, those original relatives that have roots.

~Winona LaDuke, Bioneers 2007 Conference, October 19-21, reprinted in the We'Moon 09 Calendar


nanoboy said...

Keep in mind that while companies like Monsanto and others can use patenting law and so on to abuse farmers, genetic engineering in crop plants has a lot of potential for good. I understand this, as I am currently a graduate student in Plant Science. I'll give an example of how this practice can make our lives better.

In the 90s, a virus was devastating papaya production in Hawaii. No one had a resistant strain on hand, and it seemed that Hawaiian farmers would have to abandon the crop. A team of scientists, however, engineered a variety that expressed the viral coat protein. This variety was immediately resistant to the virus through either the RNAi mechanism or changing the chemical equilibrium of the coat protein (or both.) Hawaiian papayas were saved.

Genetically modified organisms can be of great benefit for our society and our environment. By allowing crops to grow in places where they were previously excluded by pathogens and insects, we have more lee-way in choosing where to grow. Through higher yields, we can plant on fewer acres to feed the world. Through better pest and pathogen resistance, we can reduce the use of chemicals. Through better nitrogen efficiency, we can lower the amount of fertilizer that we spray.

I'm not saying that all genetic modification will be good, because the technology can certainly be misused, and companies like Monsanto can keep poor farmers under a yoke. However, as a member of the left, it frustrates me when my fellow liberals and progressives dismiss the technology from the start without giving it due consideration for improving our society and our environment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to go off topic on an important issue, but It's Don't talk like a sexist prat day.

Pass it on. And tell a sexist prat to can it.

Anthony McCarthy

Frater Servitor said...

There's one basic problem with the patenting of plants that are genetically modified:
YOu can't keep Nature from spreading the genes around. How can you possibly patent something when it's distribution is beyond your control? It's been a problem with yellow corn for several years now. Patents are claimed on genetic mods done to a plant that's insect and wind pollinated? How do you stop the wind?
How do you try to collect money from farmers who've grown a plant with "your" genes in it when you cannot prevent the spread of those genes to "unauthorized" growers?
I am stunned that some smart lawyyer someplace hasn't come up with this in defense of farmers. Holding a patent requires that the patentholder be able to defend his patent, and some of that involves being able to control the distribution of products of that patent. If you release something that can be spread by natural forces beyond you control, you should not be able to make claims on anyone who turns up with that someting. Neither side can control the distribution of that something, and the person possessing it cannot be held at fault.
What the hell is wrong with the lawyers? Some patents are, by nature, unenforceable.

nanoboy said...

Frater servitor, I absolutely agree that the patent system is inadequate for dealing with GMO's. Over-enforcement will lead to unfair prosecution against innocent farmers, but at the same time, the developers of the technology do need a reasonable protection against patent infringement. I think that laws need to be rewritten, but it will be very challenging for legislatures and courts to figure out exactly how to balance the situation well.

Gene movement between GMO's and non-GMO's can be a problem. It's probably not as big a problem as some have made out, though, certain modifications not withstanding. (Suicide genes are not cool in my eyes, but this is a critique of the application and not the technology of gene modification.) For the most part, the genes don't migrate to native species, though. You'll see that as a frequent criticism of GMO's, but I don't think it is generally fair. Horizontal gene transfer through pollen is very rare, and it is not clear to me that most of the genes in these plants are going to adversely affect our ecosystems were they to make it into native plants.