Hope Shand: Seeds of trouble

May 24, 2014 

Regarding the May 18 news article “ Pirating seeds? The cost is high”: Public plant breeders are, sadly, an endangered species, and peanut breeders like N.C. State University’s Tom Isleib deserve ample recognition and compensation for their work. But there’s nothing inevitable or necessarily desirable about the privatization of publicly funded research.

Driven by public policies like the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, public institutions were encouraged to obtain patents on publicly funded research. Prior to a 1980 Supreme Court decision (Diamond v. Chakrabarty), the notion that seeds could be the subject of exclusive monopoly patents was unthinkable.

The intellectual property model is flawed. It would be far better to put adequate resources into our under-funded public breeding programs and to ensure that public varieties stay in the public domain. Patents are one of the reasons why three companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, now control over half (53 percent) of the world’s commercial seed market, a trend that endangers world food security.

Hope Shand

Durham

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