Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Open source seeds--Are they the end of GMOs?

While the defeat of GMO bans in three California counties yesterday may have been a setback for anti-GMO forces, there is another development that could spell the rapid demise of such crops. Back in May Wired Magazine reported on "smart breeding," which is nothing more than taking the latest advances in genetic mapping and using them to create new strains of crops using traditional breeding techniques. The upshot according to supporters: You get all the advantages of GMOs with none of the dangers posed by transgenic gene manipulation.

Another advantage is that the seeds are largely unpatentable. Even better, much of the work is being done by a foundation that plans to make seeds available to farmers in the same way that Linus Torvalds made his Linux computer operating program available to the public. In other words, the foundation would give free licenses to use the seed to anyone who wants one. Translation: farmers can keep their seeds and plant them again, something that is especially important in the developing world. And, researchers can try to improve or adapt the seeds to local conditions without having to get permission or pay royalties to do so.

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