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'If You Own the Seeds You Own the Food System': Campaigners Demand Public Ownership to Counter Big Ag Privatization

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/12/28/if-you-own-seeds-you-own-food-system-campaigners-demand-public-ownership-counter-big

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In their book “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal”, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollen argue that the global Green New Deal must occur in the current capitalist economic structure. In arguing against public ownership, Pollen states:

Globally, 90 percent of fossil fuel assets are publicly owned. So if we say the problem of climate change is private ownership of fossil fuel assets, and we need to transition to public ownership, well, we’re 90 percent of the way there! So that clearly is not a solution. Source=https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/21446383/noam-chomsky-robert-pollin-climate-change-book-green-new-deal

I disagree with Chomsky and Pollen, but I think Pollen’s statement touches on an important concern. Governance around the world is largely anti-democratic. Therefore, public ownership is meaningless if it equated with government ownership. So, my friendly amendment to the call for public ownership of seeds, is for the call to be for authentically democratic public ownership of seeds. Perhaps, such governance can occur through grassroots community based structures that are not part of official nation governmental bodies.

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Interesting points but as far as the US federal and state governments go (which is all I’ve ever known outside of goofing off bicycling and rock climbing for a few months over the years in Canada), I am satisfied by many existing public structures - libraries, post office, the limited number of public energy utilities in the state of CA (I lived under one thankfully during the Enron scandal), from what I know about the one state public bank we have, people are happy with that. I’ve heard good things about public internet utilities too. So while I grant you that many state oil companies in other countries are corrupt (though not Norway - @SuspiraDeProfundis has detailed how well they manage that resource for public benefit - not counting the greenhouse gas issue), I’m not automatically concerned when I hear about a public effort in the US.

FYI - Pollin is a big enough name in these circles because of his work on M4A financing that you may want to keep an eye on autocorrect changing it to Pollen if that’s what happened.

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I remember reading that farmers in India were killing themselves when they were forced to buy their seeds from corporations-----and the expense was high too - If the crops failed the farmers were ruined—death seemed to be their only escape. : (
Corporations should not own farmers and never be allowed to drive them to death with their inferior and over priced products.

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I think that had/has to do with proprietary seeds, genetically engineered that have additional requirements that are also quite expensive and subject to specific farming practices.

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Sorry, I don’t agree with this article at all. There are plenty of seeds for farmers to choose from. But if they are serious about running their farms on a commercial basis, they have to get hybrid seeds that have the characteristics of high yield and pest resistance the farmer needs and the nutritive content that the market wants. Saving seeds is a quaint practice of a bygone era when it comes to conducting agriculture on a commercial scale. Commercial farmers, both conventional and organic, gladly pay a premium for top quality hybrid seed that agrobusinesses have spent millions on to breed through genetic engineering or other breeding methods in the case of organic farming. Such crop breeding agrobusinesses should receive a fair return for their research and development costs. Is the author opposed to all copyrights and patents or just those secured by agrobusinesses? Farmers in developing countries are clamoring for high quality seed with the same characteristics that farmers in developed countries use. This is shown by the fact that many genetically engineered seeds are traded illegally in developing countries despite ill-conceived bans on GE seeds. Seed saving may be fun on a kitchen garden scale, but it would mean starvation and famine if farmers could no longer get the highly specialized seed they need and were forced to go back to primitive agricultural practices. I wish city slickers would stop romanticizing primitive farming and spend some time hand weeding and fighting off insects and blights on a farm in a developing country. I think they would change their minds very quickly.

Hi fern:
But what happened to the seed that farmers in India used before the Corporations came?

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I think that is a complex story, Vandana Shiva speaks to this issue much better than I do. I think they have native seed collectives.

“Vandana Shiva : Seed Freedom is an Ethical and Ecological Imperative. Seeds are the first link in the food chain and the repository of life’s future evolution. As such, it is our inherent duty and responsibility to protect them and to pass them on to future generations. All life begins in seed.”

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Hi Dara. First, regarding my misspelling of Robert Pollin’s name, I did go through a few bouts with my cell phone autocorrect. In the end, kind of like the bugs bunny daffy duck routine regarding rabbit/duck season, I thought the phone autocorrected to Pollin, so I changed it to Pollen.

I suppose I didn’t make clear enough that I support the demand for public ownership - from agriculture to utilities. However, in much of the world, including the US, present day governmental structures are not authentically democratic, so it’s important to emphasize the “public ownership” does not equal present governing power structure ownership.

Along with you, I support public ownership of institutions such as the post office, libraries, energy utilities, schools, and banks in the US. Dejoy made clear, it does not take much for the post office, a publicly owned federal agency, to be undemocratically politicized. Additionally, my experience in marginalized communities of color has made clear how, even institutions run by state and city governments, such as libraries, municipal utilities, and schools, can be run anti-democratically and in ways that further disenfranchise populations that lack officially sanctioned political power. In the US, democracy is more than just changing which Party is in power. Even if the political process were to be opened up to include alternate Parties, there would still be a need for a profound changes to democratize governance.

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Hi fern:
Thank you----that is a wonderful answer! ; )

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GMO crops have allowed humans to reproduce far beyond Earth’s carrying capacity.(about 6Bn) Too much food = too many people! Then there’s the problem that some GMO’s have that get toxic when it gets too hot. No biodiversity in seeds spells instant failure of ALL crops when an unforeseen crisis situation arises. Besides the remaining soil will be depleted of vital nutrients in just another generation, or two at most, for humans. Food is far less nutritious today than when I was born in '54. Factory farms equates with all loss of life in the not-too-distant-future.

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Humans absolutely do not need GMOs to overpopulate - where did you get that idea? Just when do you date the start of GMO and what do you consider overpopulation?

Humans can overpopulate with basic agriculture though discovering fossil fuels and learning how to use them sure sped things up.

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My memory tells me that they were Monsanto seeds and that they had to use Monsanto products (Roundup) to spray on their fields. That stuff is poison–I once used it for white fly and my hand was numb for a week. These poor farmers may be committing suicide because of pain, sores, asthma, lack of medical care as well as financial ruin. Plus a feeling of utter helplessness.

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I think , just as it is with Socialism there too much focus on the “Government Ownership” part when it comes to such details. Lenin perhaps said it best when he stated that the USSR was in fact running a system of “State Capitalism” rather then Socialism in the truest sense.

Governments owning a resource rather then individuals is really another form of Capitalism for the reasons you outlined. Governments tend not to be Democratic so the majority of the people have no say as to how those resources utilized. Inevitably the Government uses them to favor a certain group and to concentrate power.

True Socialism would distribute power to the people.

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Overpopulation could be defined as the rate of population growth that exceeds the ability to sustainably support the population with basic needs. In that case agriculture is a key element of survival. Innovation is a factor with both positive and negative consequences.

Why does our government promote the GMO monopolies? Look at the personal campaign contributions that can be taken into retirement tax-free and SC Justice Clarence Thomas, an ex-Monsanto lawyer who wrote the majority opinion concerning seed saving when he should have recused himself because of conflict of interests since his wife and he are owners of huge blocks of Monsanto stock and she lobbies for them using her political contacts. Promoting GMO’S when they have never been studied well enough is beyond risky, but then the multitude of corporate lawyers that threaten suit when anyone in America shows an interest in broadcasting about them so nobody knows the full truth about them and the problems associated with their being used as food, feed or seed and the dangerous agrochemicals used in their cultivation that always end up in our drinking water and of course there are the tens of thousands of court cases that are winding through the courts and the government has had to step in limiting awards because the supported monopolies are suffering from the truth about the “flagship” herbicide Roundup that is toxic enough to kill and maim everyone downstream. So much corruption at every step of the process to control seeds that have lost our agriculture sector many export markets because they know what we are denied knowledge of because there is so little truth in news reporting any more except in England and Europe where they hear regular reports unlike in the U.S. Every step is all about the money and influence that translates into a lot of graft that parades as personal campaign contributions. The need for campaign contribution reform would be solved with publicly funded elections thus keeping graft out of the political process and any politician accepting money would find justice quickly and the American people who have a toxic cocktail in their diet will find in a hundred years if ever decent drinking water and food, but that is wishful thinking as the problem has become too bad to clean up. It’ll be with us forever and it’s because of the corrupted government that is greedy and they can afford organic food and distilled water free of the toxic agrochemicals that are not regulated because of graft and corporate insiders in the agencies that are responsible for regulations and policies and lobbies that lie with money for the greedy politicians.

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gwayne for President.

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“I wish city slickers would stop romanticizing primitive farming and spend some time hand weeding and fighting off insects and blights on a farm in a developing country.”

DO NOT mistake impoverishment for inherent incapacity.

I wish twaddle short cuts could be set in front of agroforestry and crop practices that are countering the financial usurpation and rape by agribusiness - of course not to mention the dead-head / dead end of toxicification of waterways and poisoning of entire regions. Agriculture for sustainability NOT corporate profit and monopoly

I encourage folks to take a peek at Stolen Harvest:
~https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaShEN1-m-I

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“Control the oil, you control nations. Control the food, you control the people.”–Henry S. Kissinger

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When you buy patented seeds, it is illegal to save the seed from your crops. You are required to buy new seeds each year.

What is worse, is that if the pollen of patented plants blows into another farmer’s fields, the big ag corp can sue the farmer whose crops were contaminated. Big ag can ruin an organic farmer’s entire crop by making it not-organic, and then sue the farmer for “stealing” a patented plant.

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