Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Food should not be patented.

We live in a world that has some really weird approaches to some things - such as thinking it would be possible to patent seeds. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Monsanto and its ilk are going for - which, if successful, would be restricting rights for farmers in ways that can only be deemed "not good".

The food, and with it the seed industry, have become something rather weird anyways. Food is shipped around half the world because it's cheaper to ship, process, package, and ship again than to just get it to a neighbouring facility and process it right in the country where it was grown. Or it gets weirdly imported: A good while ago, we tried to buy potatoes and onions in our local supermarket... only to find they offered onions from Egypt and potatoes from Egypt and somewhere else ridiculously far away. I'm living in Franconia, and typical crops here? Potatoes and onions. Really. So typical that folks living in Bamberg still have the nickname "Zwiefeltreter" (those that step onto onions - treading down the onion green a while before harvest was done to further improve crop quality). Why on earth would one want to import owls to Athens, or onions to Franconia? Oh, right - profit. How could I forget. (Fun fact aside: You know where we got those locally grown onions and potatoes? In the Turkish grocery shop. Take that, xenophobes!)

It's even similar for seeds for home gardening. I can totally get that not everyone is willing to grow and harvest their own seed material, and buying it is a viable alternative. But the stuff you can buy? These days, it's mostly F1-hybrids: plants that will not breed true, so even if you take seeds from them, you can end up with about anything. Which might be nice if you are experimentally inclined and like surprises, but not if you are going for a reliable crop of something with a taste you liked from the original produce.

Another weird story connected with the rights to using and distributing a certain variety of plant is the story around Linda. Linda caused an uproar back in the 2000s, because the protection on this variation ran out and the potato was to be taken out of agriculture. Taken out as in "it is not allowed to grow this potato anymore" - and Linda was one of the, if not the, most popular variety at that time. You can read the story here (there's links to two updates at the bottom of the article) or, in another version, here.

Long story short - this should not happen. It's weird, it's absurd, and it is cutting down on variety and possibilities to adapt crops to a region, as well as putting a burden, financially, on farmers. So please go and sign this petition for the European governments to close the loopholes that will still allow the big companies to patent crops and thus restrict access to them.

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