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New York Chef Rails Against Seed Patents

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June 21, 2019

The chef and co-owner of two New York restaurants bemoans concentration in the seed industry and the power now wielded by the few remaining behemoth companies. (In the interest of disclosure, he adds that he’s also “co-founder of a small seed company, so I have seed in the game.”) Chef-entrepreneur Dan Barber argues, in a New York Times feature opinion piece, that control of seeds as intellectual property by “Big Seed” limits diversity, dictates agricultural methods, compromises the environment, and pushes growers toward a dangerous monoculture. He says the tipping point was a 1980 Supreme Court decision that enabled utility patents, which he maintains closed off options for breeders at the same it sharply restricted the ability of farmers to save or exchange seed produced by what they actually grew. A carrot breeder, he says, recently told him he was working on a new variety of purple carrot and found himself bumping against legal restrictions for the level of  the color purple, and he had to be careful he didn’t “infringe on their ‘purpleness’ patent and instigate a lawsuit.” A related issue, Barber says, is the fact that land grant colleges, and with them publicly-funded research, were gutted in the 1980s by budget cuts, and have never recovered.

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