The Milkweed Diaries

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are Monsanto seeds in YOUR favorite seed catalog?

The various and sundry evil deeds of Monsanto have been thoroughly documented and much discussed in a variety of media over the past decade. The sprawling corporation is an agent of harm in so many diverse and horrifying ways that their name has become synonomous in many circles with profit-driven destruction of living systems.

Monsanto is considered by some to be the single most unethical and harmful investment possible. They are known, among other things, as the corporation that sues farmers for inadvertantly growing food contaminated with gene drift from Monsanto's GMO crops. If Monsanto's genetically modified seed cross-polinates with a farmer's crops, the farmer becomes a victim of GMO pollution, and then to add insult to injury Monsanto sues the farmer for theft of the corporation's intellectual property. The absurdity is almost laughable if it weren't so scary.

If you need any MORE evidence of Monsanto's evil: they are the world's leading promoter of "frankenfoods" - genetically modified food plants, as well as so-called "terminator technology," Roundup, Roundup Ultra (sprayed indiscriminately in the drug wars in the Andes and Colombia), and Roundup Ready plants. They are also the proud owners of rGHB, the bovine hormone that contaminates most commercial milk and dairy products. I could go on.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Monsanto seeds are being sold in a number of my standby seed catalogs, including: Territoral Seeds, Cooks Garden, Burpee, Johnny's, Shumway, and more. Here is a great thread on Freedom Gardens with information about all of the seed companies that carry Monsanto seeds--this thread is a really informative discussion with lots of factual information about which companies and which varieties are coming from Monsanto, and what we can do to avoid buying them.

For more information about why we should avoid buying them, here is the Fedco Seeds backgrounder on Fedco's decision not to carry any seeds from Monsanto subsidiary Seminis. I will be buying all of my seeds from Fedco, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), Baker Creek, and Seeds of Change this season. Southern Exposure, Baker Creek, and SSE are always my main sources, but this year I'm cutting out any catalogs that do business with Monsanto.

"No to Monsanto" crop circle cut in protest of Monsanto by farmers in the Phillipines.

Image courtesty of Vanity Fair

For more information on the evils of Monsanto, and organized resistance to their actions and policies:

"Millions Against Monsanto" campaign of the Organic Consumers Union

"Monsanto's Harvest of Fear" Vanity Fair article, May 2008

A great post on Monsanto from "We don't buy it", an excellent blog about "one family's quest to quit buying new stuff."

And finally, here is the fabulous Vandana Shiva on Monsanto and intellectual property:

"When seed, for example, becomes patented by Monsanto, when a farmer saves seed on their own land--a duty in an ecological world view--that saving of seed is now an intellectual property crime. It is treated as theft. And it fact it is because of this extremely outrageous action that I started to save seeds. . . .Seed exchange is treated as theft. If I give you seed so that you can grow a nice vegetable in your garden, that is treated as theft of intellectual property.

But what is worse: . . .when your genetically engineered seeds are introduced, you know, they hybridize, they pollinate, so they contaminate with the genetic traits. Now in environmental law, when I spread pollution, I must pay. . . .But when you have patents on seeds, when the genes spread, you don't have to pay, you in fact own the other person's crop now. This is what happened to a Canadian farmer called Percy Schmeiser. It has happened to 1,500 American farmers who have been sued by Monsanto after Monsanto contaminated their crops."

~Vandana Shiva


Anonymous said...

Hi! High Mowing Organic Seeds is another great ethical seed company; family owned, certified organic, from Vermont
check it out!

Martha said...

Is there any difference between Monsanto's seeds and the other company's that you list?

What about germination rates, virus protection, pelleted seeds, number of seeds in packets, cost per seed, shipping charges, selling last year's seeds this year, and other very real concerns for gardeners?

Can you give us compelling information for those real issues?
By the way, I'm not diminishing your concerns about mega chemical company ethics and their imact on the world.

Milkweed said...

Thanks for the recommendation of High Mowing, Anon ... I have impulse-bought their seeds before off of retail racks and been impressed, but didn't know anything about the company.

Martha, good questions and I don't know the answers. Really testing all of those qualities would take some careful work, and good record-keeping. And I would think for true comparisons, you would need to test the same varieties under the same conditions and record results meticulously. Sounds like a study someone should do, or at least a good science project for a teenager.

All I can offer is that as a gardener, I have always been more than satisfied with the seeds I have grown from Baker Creek, Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Seeds of Change. Fedco is still a new source for me, but I've heard lots of glowing reports from growers.

My (totally unscientific) sense is that these relatively small companies (compared to Seminis), companies run by plant lovers and seed lovers, would have a higher-quality product - much like a handcrafted homebrew is better than Bud Lite.

Anyone have any experience or thoughts to share on this?