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Killing Seeds

Gene Giants mandate new Serf Age
2001 | 45 min | Recommended min. age: 16 y

On a farm in Canada’s wheat belt, farmer Percy Schmeiser is sued by agrochemical and seed giant Monsanto for damages worth a quarter of a million dollars. Schmeiser is accused of patent violation – because wind and birds have carried Monsanto’s genetically modified canola onto his fields.

But Schmeiser isn’t cowed. He responds with a countersuit, citing libel and contamination of his property. His case catches the public’s attention and Schmeiser finds himself in demand around the world as a figurehead for the farming, environmental and civil rights movements opposing Monsanto. His message? Stand up and defend your own seed supply!

In Europe, Klaus Buschmeier, a farmer in the German Extertal valley, is mobilizing his fellow farmers in a revolt against the German Farmers’ Association. They condemn an agreement between the association and plant breeders on charging fees for seed saving. The agreement, they say, is nothing less than a betrayal. The District Court of Munich is forced to establish a special panel to deal with the thousands of lawsuits filed against the agreement. In front of rolling cameras, Bavarian farmers speak their mind to an Association official, with the two sides almost coming to blows.

In their efforts to force through their gene technology, agrochemical multinationals have swallowed up most of the leading plant breeders. Genetic engineering does not solve hunger in the world, as its proponents claim. What it does do is increase sales of agrochemicals. Gene technology makes crops resistant to pesticides. Farmers may raise plants from the seeds they have bought, treat the crops with chemicals, and sell them – but no more. Any farmer’s attempt to save their own seed or breed plants themselves is either forbidden, or subject to fees. In the eyes of Buschmeier and Schmeiser, this is nothing short of a return to a system of serfdom.

The height of biotech cynicism is known as “Terminator” technology: a crude but effective way of using genetic engineering to secure farmers’ dependence on multinationals. Seeds are manipulated so they can germinate only once. Saving your own seed becomes pointless. The seed, as we understand it, has been killed.

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