What's the Problem?
The giant seed corporations are not competing with each other. They are competing with peasants and farmers over the control of the seed supply. Vandana Shiva, Great Seed Robbery
Concentration (or consolidation) of market power in the seed industry has quickly grown into a major risk to the development of organic seed systems and the ethical management of plant genetic resources. OSA is encouraged that the Departments of Justice and Agriculture are investigating competition problems in the seed industry. We are encouraging the agencies to broaden their scope beyond the corn and soybean markets to include an examination of vegetable crops and sugar beets.
We also advocate for changes to the current intellectual property regime. Utility patents on plant genetics facilitate concentration in the seed industry and threaten the free exchange of genetic resources, curtailing innovation and bolstering market power for the handful of agrochemical and biotechnology firms in control. Patents are supposed to be for novel inventions. Instead of increasing innovation and the competitive nature of marketplaces, patents have done the opposite. We had a much more diverse seed system when there were more seed companies and land grant universities actively breeding and releasing new varieties.
Those who invest in research and development need to recoup expenses, but not at the expense of farmers’ rights, such as saving seed, and narrowing available genetics through monopolistic control and the contamination of breeding material by patented genetically engineered traits.
What OSA is Doing
OSA facilitates a Concentration & Intellectual Property Working Group to influence policy decisions that enhance competition in the seed industry and support decentralized, farmer-oriented, organic seed systems. This includes developing an alternative intellectual property model that ensures sharing, continued innovation, and variety improvement in the public domain.
We believe that as humans, we hold an important responsibility to steward resources in a manner that is just, equitable and recognizes the needs of current and future generations. We believe this can be accomplished while compensating for the investment of breeders, research and development. To that end, we advocate for the following actions:
- The U.S. Departments of Justice and Agriculture should continue their examination of competition problems in the seed industry, including anticompetitive conduct and the consequences of concentration. Their investigation must include the impacts of concentrated market power on the organic industry.
- The federal government should engage in a full review and discussion of restrictive laws and practices in the seed industry, including: an analysis of the Bayh-Dole Act; federal workshops and hearings on the impacts of privatizing public research; and an analysis of the role patents play in seed industry consolidation.
- The federal government should also investigate the misuse of patents, particularly for traits, varieties, or techniques that have long existed in the public domain.
- Congress should clarify that the Plant Variety Protection Act is the sole protection for developers of sexually reproducing plants.
- Develop an alternative intellectual property model appropriate for plant breeders and farmers alike.
State of Organic Seed (Section 4: Risks of Concentration in Seed Sector)
Charting a Course for Seed Self-Determination (January 2011)
Out of Hand: Farmers Face the Consequences of a Consolidated Seed Industry (December 2009)
And We Have the Seeds (Monsanto Purchases Seminis: February 2005)