Genetically Modifying and Patenting Seeds isn’t the Answer

Posted on Oct 9, 2012
Genetically Modifying and Patenting Seeds isn’t the Answer

A Croatian translation of this article can be found here:


The great historian Lewis Mumford once described a patent as “a device that enables one man to claim special financial rewards for being the last link in the complicated social process that produced the invention”. He was pointing out that we do not produce inventions ex nihilo, but rather draw on the totality of the inventions and knowledge that came before us.

It is no longer just the fruits of a centuries-long social process that are targets of patent claims. Through genetic engineering, corporations can now create and patent new life forms. Physicist Vandana Shiva, in a video launching the global Seed Freedom Campaign, calls this ownership of entire new species a form of slavery, and calls upon farmers and consumers to fight the privatisation of the genetic commons.

Could it be that she is being naive? Facing the spectre of world hunger amid continued population growth, maybe we will have to let go of our sentimental attachment to traditional farmers saving seeds, and transition to high-tech agriculture so that we can improve yields per hectare. After all, we cannot clear much more cropland at the expense of forests and wetlands. And to finance the enormous long-term investment necessary to engineer high-yielding, drought-resistant, pest-resistant varieties, don’t we need to enforce a strong system of patents?