"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Monsanto and Haiti and terminator seed

Yesterday the God's Politics Blog in my Blogroll reported the protest by Haitian farmers to the gift by Monsanto Corporation of "conventional hybrid" seed. This seed, the farmers point out, is sterile and the farmers therefore have to buy more seed every year, not being able to harvest their own seed from the first year's crop. This obviously increases the farmers' ongoing costs substantially and traps them into further costs.

The story on Monsanto's own site seems to paint a rosier picture. They say they have donated "conventional hybrid" seeds to Haiti - $4million's worth. That sounds very generous. But is it as generous as it seems?

What exactly is a "conventional" seed? Conventional in my dictionary means following custom or convention - from a customary practice. I suppose if anything is followed for long enough it becomes conventional, but surely that does not necessarily endorse it as a "good thing?" Because hybrid seed cannot be used to breed more seed for the next crop, it has been called Terminator seed.

It seems to me that these seeds donated to Haiti are Terminator seeds by another name. And the Haitian farmers clearly think so too.

But see Monsanto's own take on this. They seem to be congratulating themselves on their generosity. And they remind us that in 1999 they made a commitment " not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops." Making a gift of such seed to earthquake-stricken Haiti may not be commercialization but is surely a cynical exploitation? Or am I misunderstanding something?

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