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Open Source Seed Initiative threatens farming biotech monopoly

Open Source Seeds
Adam Hirsch/WPR

If you've heard of Monsanto or Dupont Pioneer and you're not a farmer, you've probably heard about them in a negative light. Foodies, local food activists, farmers and others are concerned about the monopoly that these biotech giants have on selling seeds to America's farmers. Many are concerned about the genetically modified nature of the seeds and food produced. And now geneticists with the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) are really making changes in this public conversation.

On April 17, the OSSI released the first ever "open source seeds" during a "Free the Seed Rally." Borrowing the term from computer programmers and their open source code ethics, OSSI wants to fight against genetic seed material being closed to civic usage. OSSI is selling seed packs of open source, newly bred varieties of zucchini, barley, kale, lettuce, mustard, carrot, celery, quinoa, squash, peppers and more. Food leaders Michael Pollan and Michelle Obama were sent seeds for free, of course. The Initiative wants anyone to be able to plant, breed and share them without restriction, unlike constraints put on farmers when using Monsanto seeds.

OSSI was founded in 2011 by genetic scientists, sociologists and food advocates associated with University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW). Jack Kloppenburg, UW sociology professor, and horticulture department chair and professor at UW, Irwin Goldman, lead the effort. “These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage, and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future,” said Goldman.

The new seed varieties shared through the OSSI project won’t change the way industrial farms operate or where they obtain their seeds any time soon, but it is a big first step. Buy a pack and free your own seeds.

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