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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Turning the Tide Against Big Pharma - by Rebecca Veenstra


     It’s getting to be farmer’s market season. There’s nothing I love more than strolling through the rows of produce taking in the colors and scents of all the beautiful fruits and vegetables. It always seems like there are so many different varieties and colors. Even the local grocery store always seems to have a huge selection of all kinds of fresh grown goodies to delight my eyes and appetite. Imagine my surprise when I learned recently that over 90% of the varieties of fruits and vegetables grown on the planet have been lost in the 20th century. The last study to count seed variety in the USA was done in 1983.

     Of the 544 cabbage varieties, all but 28 are extinct forever. 9 out of 158 different types of cauliflower are available to us. Of 288 types of beets humans used to have access to all but 17 have become permanently extinct. The same goes for onions, peppers, lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, fruit trees… 94% of the varieties that used to exist are just plain gone forever. I can’t help but wonder how the heck does something so drastic happen without us realizing it?

     I think of the shelves at any dispensary and imagine the jars with all the different types of cannabis and it gives me chills. What have we lost there?
I’m guessing that people probably care about food on a more widespread level than cannabis. So, if we decimated our supply of food seeds to the tune of 90% in one century what has been the fate of the seed stock of a globally prohibited plant like marijuana?

     When I looked into the causes for the drastic reduction in the availability of our food seed supply I learned some disturbing stuff.

     In the 1800’s the USA had a program called the American Seed Trade Association. This organization provided free seeds to be distributed to farmers across the nation. Sounds good, right? Well… some guys got together one day and decided that wasn’t very profitable for them. So, they hired the very first government lobbyist to change the whole landscape of agriculture in the USA. By 1924 the American Seed Trade Association was completely shut down. People began to endeavor to create hybrids with the intention of patenting and creating ownership of seed stock, forcing farmers to have to purchase seeds.

     Fast forward to 2017… now chemical and pharmaceutical companies own 90% of all the seed stock available to farmers worldwide.  Chemicals and pharmaceuticals? You are wondering why they own seeds? Well, they now breed the seed to uptake the chemicals they make. Clever in an evil disturbing kind of way, isn’t it?

     Globally, 1.4 billion pounds of round up is applied to crops in one year alone. In the USA 80 million pounds of Atrazine are put on our farmlands annually. These chemicals are applied to the seeds owned by the companies that make these substances that have been indisputably linked to horrible diseases in humans and livestock like cancer. Holy what the heck! Right? Why would people do such things? Well… for money of course.

     Ok. So… back to our beloved marijuana. What is happening to the global supply of cannabis seeds? Not a lot of good stuff, that’s for sure. There is a nationwide movement to invite big money—aka: big pharma, into the production of cannabis. Follow the dots boys and girls… Think Monsanto… GMO corn. Nothing good will come of this.
Already your cannabis seed catalogs are rife with lists of over hybridized mixed up genetic selections that are about as stable as a radioactive isotope throwing off hermaphrodites and genetic mutations that mystify even the most seasoned grower. Where are those pure old strains like pure Vietnamese, Thai, Panamanian? Do they even still exist? Or have they too become totally extinct like the 516 types of cabbage that are forever lost?

     Yep, extinct is the correct term. Like the passenger pigeon and the wooly mammoth. Gone forever…. Remember the first paragraph of this article. 90% of our food varietals have become totally extinct, never to grow on this earth again. How do we stop this trend? What can be done?

     Well for our food supply there are some renegades out there that are fighting the big pharma machine. They are seed savers who diligently store and grow out as many varieties of food plants they can get their hands on. Some are big and organized like Seed Savers United, Global Alliance for Seed Freedom, and the scientists stocking the Doomsday vault near the North Pole.

     There are Native American tribes like the Navaho and Hopi who were recently able to build a facility to store their collection of seeds including the mother corn that was their tribe’s food source 1000’s of years ago. Small operations like the Scatterseed project in Maine rely on a community of revolutionary thinkers who spend their lives saving and cataloging hundreds of rare seeds for future generations.

     Saving what we know we have is critical but what about the plants that are yet undiscovered? Botanical explorers like Joe Simcox and his friends travel the globe collecting and cataloging as many different types of plants as possible. They gather 100’s of types of beans from indigenous people in Bolivia, seeds from desert plants in Nairobi, pollen and seeds from the rainforests.

     These are people making a difference. Even though big pharma seems an insurmountable obstacle today-- a time may come when we find that the endeavors of these people fighting against the tide will be our salvation.
So, what’s being done to save cannabis?

     Well, there are seed seekers who backpack the Himalayans, find their way through the jungles of the world and trek across deserts collecting the land race strains of marijuana. They gather these varieties of cannabis that are indigenous to the different climate zones and soil types around the world. They carefully preserve this contraband knowing that they may hold the last of its kind in their possession.

     All the while big pharma perseveres to create a homogenized, hybridized, chemical ready strain that will grow in their loveless factory farms. So, what can you do?

     Well Try and find pure strains to grow. Don’t hoard them to yourself. If you are fortunate enough to acquire something unhybridized and pure share it liberally. The legality of cannabis cultivation is already so limited that big pharma has a huge advantage.

    The responsibility to preserve the seed for future generations falls on us growers. I get the feeling scientists stocking the Doomsday vault aren’t running around collecting marijuana seeds. I may be wrong, but if they aren’t trying to save cannabis seed from extinction it’s really up to us—the people—to turn the tide.
Remember 90% of our food supply is owned by big pharma… it is our sacred duty to our children’s children to save what we can.

Not so fun facts:

     Hitler tried to destroy the seed bank at St. Petersburg during WWII.

     When the USA bombed Iraq, we destroyed their seed vault of ancient seeds and the gardens used to grow them out. Never again will humans have access to the seeds that were stored there.
In Aleppo, their seeds were moved to the Doomsday vault just weeks before bombs destroyed the building that had held Syria’s vast collection of ancient seeds.

     In India over 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in recent years due to the shame of losing their family lands to big pharma. The farmers drank the pesticides provided by big pharma to end their lives in the fields they had lost. They lost their lands for saving seeds… illegal when the seed is owned and patented by big pharma.

     80% of processed food in the USA has GMO products in it. Of the 54 countries in the world requiring labeling to notify consumers of GMO content the USA is not one of them.

     In the USA 1000’s of farmers have been taken to court for saving seeds that big pharma claims to own. Many of them have lost their lands.

     Recently a dead killer whale was tested and found to contain the highest levels of PCB ever detected in any animal ever tested in the world.

     In 2006, a typhoon in the Philippines destroyed their seed bank containing indigenous island seed stock that can never be replaced.

     Of 300,000 species of plants on the planet 30,000 are edible. Farmer’s grow 120 on a regular basis. Most of the world’s population consumes a mere 10 of these.

     Ending on a happier note, sometimes one person can make all the difference in the world. I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite people on the planet. A gutsy lady who decided enough was enough…I am so inspired by her courage and visionary actions.

     In India where over 250,000 farmers have lost their family lands to big pharma because they were hoodwinked into buying hybridized chemical ready seeds a woman named Vandana Shiva single-handedly took on the task of turning the tide. She started the Navdanya Seed Bank of India, an organization that now supplies the farmers of India with reliable seeds that they can save for generations.

     So, please believe that one person can make a difference. It’s a big bad world out there but when there is a will, there is a way.

     Much of the information in this article was derived from a film called Seed, the Untold Story created by Collective Eye films and shown on Independent Lens productions.

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