The Open Source Seed Intitiative

I have just completed reading Lisa Hamilton’s aptly titled article, Linux for Lettuce, in VQR: A National Journal of Literature and Discussion. The article explores the beginnings of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) by a handful of practical farming academics and plant breeders in reaction to companies like Monsanto and their unscrupulous race to patent life.

 Fueled by both frustration and outrage, Myers, Morton, and Goldman helped establish a subtly radical group called the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) in 2012. Operating under the radar, its mission was to reestablish free exchange by creating a reservoir of seed that couldn’t be patented—“a national park of germplasm,” Goldman called it. By 2013, the group had two dozen members, several of them distinguished plant breeders from public universities across the country.

OSSI’s de facto leader is Jack Kloppenburg, a social scientist at the University of Wisconsin who has been involved with issues concerning plant genetic resources since the 1980s. He has published widely about the concept behind OSSI, and his words are now echoed (even copied verbatim) by public plant-breeding advocates in Germany, France, and India. As he explains it, for most of human history, seeds have naturally been part of the commons—those natural resources that are inherently public, like air or sunshine. But with the advent of plant-related intellectual property and the ownership it enables, this particular part of the commons has become a resource to be mined for private gain. Thus the need for a protected commons—open-source seed. Inspired by open-source software, OSSI’s idea is to use “the master’s tools” of intellectual property, but in ways the master never intended: to create and enforce an ethic of sharing.” 

Please take the time to read what is a very well written and informative article on the issues of plant patents versus seed sovereignty.