Deep within a sandstone mountain on an Arctic island, an irreplaceable inheritance is preserved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The so-called Doomsday Vault securely stores more than 740,000 of the world’s estimated 1.5 million seed varieties, protecting each strain from both the wrath of nature and folly of man.
In this crystal cocoon, the seeds are safe from global warming, nuclear war — and GMO corporations. In the outside world, monopolistic hazards are today the most immediate threat to plant diversity. Nature’s original designs face existential pressure from biotech companies whose ownership of patented seed varieties gives them tremendous control over which non-GMO seeds survive commercially.
According to the new study GMO Myths and Truths (Antoniou et al.), the situation is bad for farmers, and ominous for the planet:
“U.S. farmers have grown increasingly concerned about the high price and poor performance of GM seed. A 2011 media report said that the seed companies had responded by withdrawing a high-performing non-GM variety of maize, which gave higher yields than GM varieties. The report added that the companies are hiking the prices of herbicides used by non-GM farmers to artificially increase the cost of non-GM production.
“Farmers have little choice but to tolerate such price hikes because of consolidation within the seed industry. In other words, the GM industry dictates which seed varieties are available. In 2008, 85% of GM maize patents and 70% of non-maize GM plant patents in the U.S. were owned by the top three seed companies: Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. Even these three companies are not independent of each other but increasingly network to cross-license GM seed traits.
“The largest of the big three companies is Monsanto. In 2010 Monsanto raised its prices for its RR2 soybeans and SmartStax maize seeds so steeply that the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the consolidation of agribusiness firms that has led to anti-competitive pricing and monopolistic practices. Farmers actively gave evidence against companies like Monsanto.
“The same pattern has been reported in India. Moreover, as prices of GM Bt cotton seed have escalated, non-GM varieties — in some cases better-performing than the GM varieties — have been withdrawn from the market. The result is that farmers are forced into dependency on the GM industry.”