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Biotech Earth Science

Plant Breeders Release 'Open Source Seeds' 136

mr crypto (229724) writes "A group of scientists and food activists are launching a campaign to change the rules that govern seeds. They're releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new 'open source pledge' that's intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely."
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Plant Breeders Release 'Open Source Seeds'

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  • The wrong license (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Friday April 18, 2014 @04:09AM (#46785949) Homepage

    The license used is:

    "It basically says these seeds are free to use in any way you want. They can't be legally protected. Enjoy them."

    This is a GPL type license. There is nothing to stop Monsanto from going to a farmer who is using these seeds and saying:

    Pollen from one of our products blew in last year and so these seeds now contain some of our genes, so you now owe us for using these seeds and can't give it away to anyone.

    The only way to deal with Monsanto is to beat them at their own game. One way would be to develop a seed with some novel genes (call them NoGe) and copyright these under something like the GPL. Then grow these seeds upwind of a Monsanto development facility; when, later, Monsanto then sue someone for illegal use of their seeds a NoGe 'owner' could testify that the Monsanto seeds must be allowed free to everyone use due to the 'viral nature' of the GPL. That legal punch up would be interesting to watch!

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Friday April 18, 2014 @04:36AM (#46786013)

    One thing that's sort of buried in the article is this movement is also anti-hybrid, which is not all that surprising. But hybrids offer a definite, measurable benefit to the farmer - not only are they more uniform (important for commercial harvesting), they are invariably more vigorous than open pollinated varieties. Greater vigor per plant means greater profit per plant.

    As a gardener I understand and applaud attempts to develop and improve open pollinated varieties of vegetables and fruits. It's fun to save your own seeds, and OPs have more diverse genes - so they are important to the continued existence of plant species. But it's going to be an uphill battle trying to convince farmers to give up hybrids, if that's really the movement's goal. And I don't think it's really what they should be focussing on. But plant purists can be every bit as inflexible as the most ardent GPL zealot, so I expect philosophy will win out over practicality.

  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Friday April 18, 2014 @05:53AM (#46786191)

    Yep, seems to be about that way. I've got some blue tomato seed that has no patents on it (Dancing With Smurfs, actual name), and no one makes a fuss about it. I don't see what their point is here. I was about to mod you up but since I actually work with plant breeding think I'll give my own 2 cents instead.

    The claim in TFA about being worried about no more germplasm is totally ridiculous. With my blue tomatoes I've got a bunch of heirloom varieties of things (Blue Jade sweet corn, Dragon Tongue bean, Red Kuri squash, Giant Prague celeriac, Star of David okra, and lots more) that can in no way be patented. They are there, and as long as people keep propagating them they'll always be there, free to use. Furthermore, the patents on plants do expire; Honeycrisp apples used to be pateneted, but they're not anymore (by the way, that patent brought in tons of money to the program that developed it, allowing them to develop some other pretty amazing varieties [umn.edu]). And Monsanto (because everyone brings up Monsanto) is not an exception here; their first Roundup Ready soybean goes off patent [nytimes.com] in a few months. That means this very year, farmers can, if they choose, save that variety and plant it for the 2015 crop. I really can't see the problem people have with these sorts of patents, isn't that how things are supposed to work? Develop, patent, recoup losses, then the invention falls to the public domain, and the profit is reinvested for new innovations (ex. SnowSweet apples and DroughtGard corn). Don't like patented plants? Fine, don't grow them, problem solved. And with the 'farmers sued for cross pollination' thing being a myth (no, accidental cross pollination is not the same as intentional selection any more than making a home movie is the same as recording a film in a theater and selling it), so I really don't get the Monsanto hate people are inevitably going to flame up with this. The vast majority of the reasons they are demonized for are nothing but lies, and yet somehow, Monsanto is still the bad guy here, not the weasels lying and being emotionally manipulative to make an extremely important technology look evil via guilt by proxy.

    Additionally, I am envious of these guys if they have a program that has enough money to release things for free, although reading TFA it seems like they will be picking and choosing which is released for free and which is patented, indicating this is just a way to get some good publicity out of things that would otherwise be discarded. I work with a breeding project and you can bet whatever comes out of it will be patented, not because I'm out to get rich (we'd all go corporate if money was the prime concern) but because there is not enough funding for public agriculture research. You think we want to? We don't, but breeding programs need funding. That's a fact of life. Times are hard for funding, and sometimes it seems the only time the public stops long enough to pay attention is to demonize us for saying GMOs don't cause cancer, or autism, or whatever the hell the denialists and conspiracy theorists are prattling on about today. Maybe if everyone called up their local congresscritters and other politicians and demanded more funding for their land grant universities and public agriculture research that wouldn't be the case. Ever been to a corporate lab? Well I have, and it'd be great to have the equipment they can afford. But hey, go on attacking Monsanto and other private breeders for trying to support themselves (anyone think pluots just magically appeared? Someone [wikipedia.org] spend a hell of a lot of time and effort developing those, nice to hear from the anti-plant patent crowd that they deserve to get screwed over for it), I'm sure hurting them will make all the actual problems magically disappear.

    All that aside, its damned cool that they're working with quinoa bree

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2014 @09:14AM (#46786837)

    Posting AC because I know the standard /. dogma is that Monsanto = EVIL

    hese were volunteers from a neighbouring farmer's field that blew into his. He collected that seed and grew a subsequent crop of roundup resistant plants.

    IIRC, Monsanto demonstrated pretty clearly in the case that this guy was full of shit. He was just a cheapskate who was trying to claim that his huge crop grown from illegal Monsanto seed that he got caught with was just the result of some innocent accident. I believe they even traced it back to the dealer who had illegally sold the seed to him.

    Having grown up around farmers, this doesn't surprise me. Contrary to the popular image of the wholesome American farmer, you will not find a bigger bunch of penny-pinching, greedy cheapskate bastards this side of Wall Street. I've never met a farmer in my life who would hesitate for a second to hire an illegal worker, plant illegal seed, cut safety corners, or do pretty much anything else to make an extra buck. They're also great at pleading poverty to the public and sucking more subsidies from Uncle Sam while they make a fortune on every crop--sucking on government farm welfare and hiring illegals (all while voting Republican and crying to the public that they're broke).

  • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Friday April 18, 2014 @10:23AM (#46787227)

    Except for the EULA printed on their packets this is very similar to what the very well established Seed Savers Exchange [seedsavers.org] has been doing for decades.

    For reference the actual operative text of the EULA is:

    "By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives you will acknowledge the source of these seeds and accompany your transfer with this pledge."

    It is the actual work of the seed savers group - saving, reproducing, distributing seed - that is preserving these varieties for future generations. Imposing this transfer clause seems to make these OSSI varieties less likely to be redistributed, so it may actually have a negative effect on their propagation. I don't see that having someone taking an heirloom variety and developing a patented variety from it is impeding seed saving and exchanging.

    Heirloom varieties are under threat - the number of them in circulation is dropping, and strains are being lost since they do need to be periodically "grown out" to preserve the seed stock. But it is not being caused by heirloom varieties being patented - it is because commercially produced seed is being used by most gardeners for very real conveniences they provide.

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