Washington Post Misses the Mark on Molecular Breeding Story

John_Purple BroccoliA recent Washington Post article by Adrian Higgins, titled, “Trait by trait, plant scientists swiftly weed out bad seeds through marker-assisted breeding” (April 16, 2014) overstates the potential of marker-assisted selection (a molecular plant breeding method) and makes the dubious claim that it’s the most promising plant breeding method available today.

We agree that marker-assisted selection (MAS) has a role in crop improvement and has helped breeders for a quarter century understand the relationship between genes and plant traits. It is good basic research. But MAS is just one tool in a plant breeder’s toolbox, with clear limitations, which the article largely dismissed.

Amid this rush to the “trendy sphere of molecular breeding,” as Mr. Higgins put it, we are seeing a troubling de-emphasis on, and de-funding of, classical plant breeding that produces dynamic, genetically resilient crops across diverse – and changing – agricultural environments.

If the past century of agriculture has taught us anything, it’s that there are no silver-bullet solutions to complex problems, MAS included. The danger with this centralized, one-size-fits-all breeding approach is that it results in diminishing crop diversity, as well as the diversity of breeders representing different interests in creatively solving agricultural challenges at the regional level. These are the concerns voiced by Drs. Goodman and Tracy, two of today’s preeminent breeding theorists, who were given short shrift in Mr. Higgins’ article. In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations echoed this need for increased genetic diversity and decentralized breeding in creating the agricultural ecosystems of the future, while admonishing the “business-as-usual mindset.”

Classical breeding, rooted in field-based selection for the subtleties of a plant’s genetic response to environmental change, has proven to be highly effective for many traits that are more complex than can be discerned in a lab. Field-based selection can be practiced with limited resources and precision. Yet fewer funds are being directed to these breeding programs at our public institutions that for decades have delivered regionally adapted plant varieties to farmers and trained the next generation of breeders. We need to reprioritize classical breeding to help address our most pressing 21st century food and agriculture needs.

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Join OSA for ‘Open Sesame’ Movie Screening Tomorrow

4_6Join OSA’s Micaela Colley for a special screening of “Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds” this Thursday, April 24, beginning at 4:30 pm at Deer Park Cinema (96 Park Rd.) in Port Angeles, Washington. Open Sesame, from Open Pollinated Productions, is a groundbreaking film by award-winning filmmaker Sean Kaminsky. The film is currently screening at theaters across the U.S. and explores the issues affecting seed on a global scale, from GMOs to ownership to positive change. The film features renowned seed experts, including OSA’s John Navazio and Micaela Colley, OSA’s co-founder, Matthew Dillon, Vandana Shiva, and many more. Micaela will be leading a Q&A after the Port Angeles screening.

Here is a list of other screenings happening across the country this week:

April 23rd, Providence, RI

April 24th, Port Angeles, WA

April 25th, Hingham, MA

Request a screening in your community here. 

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Tell Congress You Support Mandatory GMO Labeling

Just Label ItLast week, a GMO labeling bill was introduced as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 (H.R. 4432). What may sound like a welcomed effort to enhance transparency in grocery aisles is in fact an attempt by large food, chemical, and biotechnology firms to further reduce the chances that consumers will see GMOs labeled in the U.S. As written, the bill mandates voluntary GMO labeling, and would also:

  • Preempt states from enacting their own GMO labeling laws
  • Preempt the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from requiring GMO labeling
  • Require FDA to define the term “natural” and allow GMO ingredients in “natural” foods
  • Tie the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) hands from instituting systems to allow absence claims, such as “non-GMO”

This legislation takes the opposite approach to labeling that Americans have asked for, and has therefore been dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. If you’re one of the 93% of Americans who support labeling GMO ingredients, call your representative today and urge him/her to reject H.R. 4422. You can also send an email here.

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Open Source Seed Initiative Launches ‘Free Seed’ Pledge

OSSIThis morning the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) is hosting a rally on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Madison to kick off the release of 29 plant varieties under a new open-source pledge. The initiative is inspired by open source software, and has the intention of protecting seed from becoming proprietary products. The event is being held in solidarity with the International Day of Struggle in Defense of Peasants’ and Farmers’ Seeds.

OSA has participated in OSSI for the last three years to explore alternatives to restrictive intellectual property practices in plant breeding. Utility patents and onerous licensing agreements have hindered innovation in the public and private seed sector, fostering concentration of market power, and removing valuable plant genetics from the pool of resources breeders rely on. Many breeders find themselves restricted in how they use protected varieties or traits, and sometimes are outright prohibited from using them.

The following pledge is printed on every OSSI seed packet:

“This Open Source Seed Pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users. By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives you will acknowledge the source of these seeds and accompany your transfer with this pledge.”

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Organicology 2015 Call for Agenda Input

Organicology Logo.7_08 3Planning for Organicology is underway and Organic Seed Alliance is a proud co-host! Mark your calendars to join us in Portland, Oregon, for this one-of-a-kind event on February 5-7, 2015.

We need to hear from you to ensure we are addressing topics that are important to participants. Please take five minutes to take this short survey that will inform the 2015 agenda. 

Organicology brings together a diverse group of the organic community to assess and act on important organic issues in a interdisciplinary framework. Organic seed is discussed within the context of the broader organic community at this biennial gathering that complements our Organic Seed Growers Conference, which focuses exclusively on organic seed.

Please complete this brief survey by April 15, 2014 or contact planners by email with any questions.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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