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Saving seed becomes illegal.

Mississipi-based Delta & Pine Land Co. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have received a U.S. patent on a new genetic technology designed to prevent unauthorized seed saving by farmers. The patented technology, called "Control of plant gene expression" allows seed companies to control the viability of progeny seed without harming the crop. In other words, the new technology genetically alters the seed so that it will not germinate if re-planted a second time.

The patent is broad, applying to plants and seeds of all species, including both transgenic (genetically engineered) and conventionally-bred seeds. If commercially viable, the patented technology could have far-reaching implications for farmers and the commercial seed industry. If the technology is widely licensed, it could be a boon to the seed industry - especially for companies marketing self-pollinating seeds such as wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, oats and sorghum.

If commercially viable, the new technology could mean huge profits in entirely new sectors of the seed industry. For farmers, the patented technology will undoubtedly mean greater dependence on the commercial seed market. If widely utilized, farmers will lose the age-old right to save seed from their harvest. And it appears that corporations are already moving in this direction. Recent reports say that Monsanto has hired Pinkerton investigators to identify unauthorized seed-saving farmers.

According to USDA spokesman Willard Phelps, Delta & Pine Land Co. has the option to exclusively license the patented technology that it jointly developed with USDA researchers. The USDA wants the technology to be "widely licensed and made expeditiously available to many seed companies," says Phelps. The goal is "to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and Third World countries."

Delta & Pine Land Co. is the largest cotton seed company in the world, with 1997 annual sales of $183 million. Monsanto is a minor shareholder in Delta & Pineland; the two companies have a joint cotton seed venture in China.

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Publication:Natural Life
Date:May 1, 1998
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