You are here

We Have No Cavendish Bananas Today

   How do you propose to handle the spread of weed seeds, and seed borne diseases in the program when it involves amateurs that may be unaware of the existence of a disease among their plants or seed samples and people that do not have the facilities that could eliminate all possibility of the spread of disease via seed packets returned to you? If you are encouraging breeding for disease and pest resistance, it seems very possible that the unintentional transmission of disease is highly probable. Would a central facility or distributed central node facilities and a person or persons with an M.Sc. or Ph. D. take educational and practical measures as well as legal responsibility to ensure all incoming and outgoing seed was free from pathogens? Could the possibility of a legal chill shut you down? How could that be handled? Could participants some how be protected or certified by the central organization? Could Certified Seed Grower Associations or even University degree holders demand to be involved and cause problems by insisting on certifications? Could you detect and handle deliberate sabotage? What would you do to handle it? There is an interesting scenario in the movie "Alien" in which quarantine measures are ignored that is applicable (actually far more than the public is aware). I also know a case in which a practicing Ph.D. who knew better and who did research in his earlier years on the matter, contaminated his own breeder's seed with foreign pollen by first obtaining permission for Foundation Seed Seed Growers to override regulations regarding separation distances and then allowing Murphy's law a foothold by planting crossing material far too close to the breeder's seed field. Also, I can cite a "Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts" case in my own experience in which a plant breeder with a background in bacteriological warfare experimentation and who had just returned from the Georgian S.S.R. in the late 1990's, gave my company a packet of wheat to grow even though we were not breeding wheat. No detailed phytosanitary inspection was made of the wheat seed other than it seemed to look okay and there was no foreign matter visually detectable in the seed sample. For all we knew it could have been a GMO wheat variety as well. The plant breeder may very well have had the best of intentions, but the possibility of serious deception was highly plausible and my company was extremely naive and unprepared for the worst scenario. I didn't worry about it at the time, but after reading about the history of Banana Breeding and 'Seeds of Destruction' recently, the letters C.I.A. and big question marks flash in my head. At the same time, in the late 1990's my company was growing material for a corporation that was heavily involved with GMO research and gene patents but the company never notified my company at any time that any of the material we were growing was genetically modified and needed to be specially handled or completely destroyed after being grown (or my business partner did not keep me informed). Problems with disease control in the last twenty years have been such that modern livestock facilities have very serious quarantine measures in place that prohibit anyone from entering a facility without going through a decontamination area and possibly having to shower before entering or leaving and wear sterile clothing while on the premises. In the case of the Cavendish Banana there were a lot of allegations of disease being spread by workers and others as well as allegations of destructive competitive practices such as sabotage while at the same time it was found that the disease of concern had been present the whole time in some areas that were thought free of it.

 

 

 

Question: How do you propose to handle the spread of weed seeds, and seed borne diseases in the program when it involves amateurs that may be unaware of the existence of a disease among their plants or seed samples and people that do not have the facilities that could eliminate all possibility of the spread of disease via seed packets returned to you? 

Answer: Within a single country, such as Canada, there are generally no internal phytosanitary regulations, apart from a few special cases such Colorado beetle west of the Rockies, and potato wart disease. It is quite impossible to stop home gardeners from exchanging planting material, often in the most dangerous form of plants actively growing in soil. Our members will  be no different. But we do advise our members to consult their agricultural department, and to obey the law, when they plan to move planting material across national boundaries. In general, I have a low opinion of international phytosanitary regulations. They are effective only with island nations such as Australia, UK, Madagascar, Taiwan, etc. But they are pretty futile in preventing the spread of parasites and weeds across, say, the Canadian-USA border, or between countries within the EU.

Question: If you are encouraging breeding for disease and pest resistance, it seems very possible that the unintentional transmission of disease is highly probable. Would a central facility or distributed central node facilities and a person or persons with an M.Sc. or Ph. D. take educational and practical measures as well as legal responsibility to ensure all incoming and outgoing seed was free from pathogens?

Answer: No. I do not think such an institution would be feasible, mainly because of expense. Nor would it normally be necessary within a single country. There are two possibilities for international movement; one is to rely on health certification by the exporting country; the other is quarantine by the importing country.

Question: Could the possibility of a legal chill shut you down? 

Answer: I do not know what you mean by "legal chill". Please amplify and I will do my best to help.

Question: Could participants somehow be protected or certified by the central organization? 

Answer: Again, I do not follow. Protected from what exactly?

Question: Could Certified Seed Grower Associations or even University degree holders demand to be involved and cause problems by insisting on certifications? 

Answer: This question is also unclear. What certifications?

Question: Could you detect and handle deliberate sabotage? What would you do to handle it? 

Answer: One of the prime reasons for 'democratic' plant breeding is that large and popular groups of free citizen-breeders cannot be sabotaged; nor can they be stopped by commercial cartels and monopolies; nor can hostile bureaucrats interfere so long as they are within the law. But all this sounds horribly Kafka-esque and pessimistic.

The rest of your comments are interesting but need no response from me.

Thank you for your insight, Paul -- you raise some great points.  While I'm not personally qualified to respond to everything that you bring up, there are a few areas I can address.

First of all when it comes to interference or even sabotage by any parties who have a vested interest in preventing the success of horizontal resistance breeding, our distributed structure is actually the strongest system.  Just as the Internet was designed with distributed nodes, so that if any of them are knocked out the system can re-route traffic via other nodes, our decentralized seed base gives us a strong safety factor against interference.

What we should probably do a better job of is educating people to spot the signs of vertical resistance genes, such as the appearance of hypersensitive flecks.  This is covered in Return to Resistance, and in more detail in Self-Organizing Agro-Ecosystems, both available as free downloads.

With regards to spreading of diseases and weed seeds, this is definitely an issue that we need to be conscious of.  Within a local area, it is not of much concern, but any seeds sent across a border are legally bound by phytosanitary regulations.  We would definitely discourage our members from mailing seeds internationally, especially to countries like Australia or England which have managed to keep out some important diseases.

Again I agree that we should improve on our phytosanitary information.  I think it would be good to add information on the particular diseases for each crop that we cover, and what areas of the world each disease covers.

Thank you for getting this discussion started!