seeds

A recent seed program launched by a group of scientists, plant breeders and food activists may bring about change to the way seeds are governed.

The group is releasing 29 new varieties of seed crops under what they’re calling an “open source pledge” that will allow farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share the seeds without any costs.

“It’s inspired by the example of open source software, which is freely available for anyone to use but cannot legally be converted into anyone’s proprietary product,” reports NPR’s The Salt.

The Open Source Seed Initiative launched last week on campus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The campaign distributed 29 new varieties of 14 different crops including carrots, kale, broccoli and quinoa, The Salt reports. “Anyone receiving the seeds must pledge not to restrict their use by means of patents, licenses or any other kind of intellectual property. In fact, any future plant that’s derived from these open source seeds also has to remain freely available as well.”

“If other breeders asked for our materials, we would send them a packet of seed, and they would do the same for us,” said Irwin Goldman, a vegetable breeder who helped to organize the campaign. When he started breeding plants more than 20 years ago, open sharing was the norm, he said. “That was a wonderful way to work, and that way of working is no longer with us.”

Today, seeds can be—and often are—patented by multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta. Under the patent rules, seeds cannot be replanted in following seasons. Doing so has brought lawsuits against more than 100 farmers in recent years for patent infringement. “If we don’t share germplasm and freely exchange it, then we will limit our ability to improve the crop,” said Goldman.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: CGIAR Climate