Winning the Battle, Losing the War: Patent Roses, Agribusiness and the Rise of GMO Bans.

The New York Times ran an article today discussing the Big Island's ban, effective this year, on GMO crops (Rainbow papaya, developed here, will be allowed with a $100 per year license). The article is critical of the fear and doubt spread by GMO crop opponents on the island, correctly pointing out that much of the evidence for GMO's negative effects does not stand up to skeptical inquiry.

About a third of the American population grows some of their own food, according to the National Gardening Association. In my experience, most home gardeners have a liking for good varieties of their vegetables, and will buy specific varieties of seed for planting. Yet these same gardeners are often firmly opposed to GMO varieties of their favorite crops, and "organic" style farming seems to exclude GMO seed from the start, even if those varieties are grown organically.

As long as people have lived on Earth, viral vectors have moved genes between species, and mutations have made new DNA sequences in abundance. Since both spontaneous and deliberate changes have occurred in our crop plants for thousands of years, one might feel reassured about any disastrous consequences to our planet from GMO tech, but instead there is much fear.

Unfortunately, the stance that GMO seed companies have taken has aggravated the issue. If someone creates a better colored rose by hybridization, and patents the rose, seedlings from the rose's flowers are salable without royalties, even if they carry the genes which give the better coloration from their parent. The patent stays with that particular variety, not with parts of its genome. But not with the GMO blue rose. The Supreme Court has made sure of this, for now.

Here, I believe that agribusiness made a strategic error. If they had made their new genes utilizable by others via seed pollination, as a free (in the offspring) contribution to the horticultural gene pool for improvement by others, as is the case with a patent tomato or rose variety, there might have emerged a trend toward incorporation of the best GMO into home use, and all but the most fearful would accept GMO varieties as just another variety. But instead, we have a segmentation of GMO planting into an isolated segment of agricultural practice, isolated from most voters. So, the bans will spread.

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