West Virginia University
At 08:53 AM 12/3/99 -0800, Matthew Champagne wrote:
>I usually just peruse the sanet posts from the safety of the archives
>room, but to me this thread seems so important that I just couldn't let it
>be cut short (and my apologies if to the majority it seems like an
>old/cold discussion as far as the list goes).
>>>Okay, Okay! lets deal with this head on. If I am smart and organized
>>>enough to come up with superior varieties, what is
>>>wrong with my protecting them from people who would steal
>>>them? Don't I have a right to earn a living?
>>Yes, it is good to deal with this issue head on. What do you
>>mean, steal them? You took the varieties from the public pool,
>>didn't you? Once you release your breeding results, they're
>>back to the public pool, and the public is entitled to use them.
>>That's what all farmers have been doing. Earning a living has
>>nothing to do with stealing from the public pool.
>>>Breeders take publicly available genetic resources and use them as >>raw
>>>material to breed improved varieties. They do this by
>>>sexually >>recombining existing varieties, often adding in exotic
>>>breeding >>material from public collections. Hidden diversity is made
>>>manifest >>by crossing and selfing. Finding the few genetic combinations
>>>that >>are truly better than existing varieties is very difficult
>>>Imagine dealing out hands of cards, but instead of a deck of 52, >>using
>>>a deck of 52,000. So you deal out (with replacement), say, >>20,000
>>>hands, each with thousands of cards. only a very, very few of >>these
>>>are winning hands. Each hand is analogous to a line produced >>by
>>>selfing the progeny of a cross. You cannot just LOOK at the hand, >>you
>>>have to grow plots of each one and compare its yield (and
>>>other >>agronomic properties) to existing varieties to see if it is
>>>a >>winner. This is done at hundreds of locations around the world
>>>to >>gain enough confidence in the comparisons, and determine
>>>adaptation. >>This is a lot of work, and it is possible to steal a variety.
>>>So the varieties we come up with are truly new, not stolen from
>>>the >>public pool. The resources, the raw material, is still there. Do
>>>you >>want some of these varieties? you can get them from the USDA:
>Dale's reasoning seems (as usual) fairly solid, but what is being proved?
>That sexual recombination in plant breeding is difficult? Yes. That it
>is expensive? OK. That it requires organization of people and across
>That difficult, expensive, and complex necessitates privatization is I
>think an unwarranted conclusion. That it was nevertheless held to be a
>conclusion implicit in the argument is I think indicative of the box which
>tends to limit our (U.S. citizens') thinking. Can we organize, pool
>resources, solve difficult problems by means other than the market
>(politics comes to mind)?
>And are there problems more appropriate to these 'other' means? Is the
>discovery of new plant and animal varieties for food, medicine,
>companionship (pets), etc. one of these problems?
>Although it might be responded that individual rights are what's at stake
>(Dale: 'if I (sic) am smart and organized enough'), and that these
>individual rights are best respected by private ownership, I would object
>again that the argument is based on status-quo assumptions, namely that
>the public domain has already been defined as the raw material of the
>plant breeder and does not extend to the results of her/his work. How to
>rethink these assumptions? It seems to me that the notion of organization
>gets us beyond a concrete individualism from the very beginning (what does
>it mean to say 'I (sic) am organized enough'?), and along these same lines
>I would venture that plant breeding is by 'nature' a collective process
>involving generations of both human and plant individuals in which the
>question of 'ownership' should be dealt with very carefully.
>As far as the rhetorical questions mentioned above, of course I have my
>opinions, and I would refer both Dale and others to the literature on
>collective/common pool resources for help in the formation of theirs:
>James Acheson for the economically oriented or anything by Vandanna Shiva
>for those ready for a radical challenge.
>(Please note that I'm just on a short break from (academic)
>field-work and won't be near a computer again for some time; i.e. I won't
>be able to reply anytime soon to any further weaving of this thread).
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