18 May 2011 | EN
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in February 2008
Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed Vault
When the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in Norway in February 2008, it was hailed as a 'Noah's Ark' for protecting biodiversity for future generations. But critics are concerned about the possibility of large corporations exploiting small seed banks' collections deposited at the vault.
Seed banks from around the world are encouraged to deposit their collections at Svalbard. But, according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, United States, by doing so the seed banks become subject to an international treaty on plant genetics that exposes their seeds to commercialisation by agribusiness companies.
Kimbrell likens the vault to a zoo because it does not protect the species in their natural habitats: "It's messianic but it doesn't make any sense. You want to protect diversity in the habitat where it lives.
"What they're doing for these corporations is putting them all in one place. This is one-stop shopping for the corporations," says Kimbrell.
Although the companies cannot patent the seeds, they can exploit and patent their genes, he says. Recent donations from some of the companies to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which manages the vault, and a complex seed deposit agreement — which small seed banks may find confusing — are two reasons to worry, he adds.
Small seed banks "don't have a bank of lawyers" to go through these contracts, he says.
Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, dismisses such fears.
He says that donations from large agribusinesses represent only two per cent of the trust's funding and come with "no strings attached".
The collection is already in the public domain anyway, so it does not make sense for companies to pay to access it, he adds.
Fowler also says that agreement to the international treaty is not a prerequisite for storing seeds at Svalbard — but collections covered by the treaty are given priority.
William Finseth ( MarketPower International | Canada )
23 May 2011
I agree with the author that the Global Crop Diversity Trust must prevent large agri-cultural corporations from gaining access to the seed population held by the trust. These corporations have shown that they are not to be trusted and that they are prepared to take advantage of others less well-equipped to fight them in the courts. Take the case of genetically modified crops in a field which pollinate crops in outlying fields which are not GM crops and then being sued by the corporations for illegal use of the output of their crops which have been GM-modified, without paying royalties to the agri-corps...or the impact that GM crops have had in India, affecting the lives of tens of thousands of small farmers. The intellectual property rights of small countries, as it applies to their natural seed stocks, need to be protected from the large agri-corporations which have been shown to act in ways that border on the unethical...modify a few genes...call the new plant your own...crowd out existing seed stocks...make tons of money...ultimately hurting thousands of small-scale farmers who have relied on the traditional seed stocks. A new profit paradigm for the pricing of GM-modified seeds should limit the profit to be made by corporations to the amount of money to be made by the countries from which the seeds originated on a proportional basis, the ratio being based on a percentage of the genes changed relative to the entire genetic string (the countries' ownership of the natural seed's genetic composition). A company cannot buy Ford vehicles, install a proprietary fuel-saving technology, rebrand the cars under their own label and eat up Ford's profits. That kind of theft would never be allowed to happen in the auto-industry and it shouldn't be happening with modified seeds.
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