August 17, 2011

Seed Savers Exchange, Svalbard, and Corporatism


I’ve been uncertain what to think about the power struggle at the Seed Savers Exchange, the deposition of its co-founder and longtime executive director Kent Whealy, the charges and countercharges of mismanagement, Leader arrogance, and lack of transparency and democracy (there seems to have been quite a bit of these on both sides), and the SSE’s peculiar partnership with the globalization seed vault at Svalbard.
One thing that’s clear is that the Svalbard relationship is gratuitous and cannot have been undertaken for the reasons current management claims, that it represents an increased resiliency for the SSE’s stocks. If that were really the intent they’d have expanded and distributed their own network and facilities (like the way a plant would with its own seeds), not have sought further concentration in a corporate fortress.
This is true even if the claims of Whealy and others about the contract between SSE and Svalbard are exaggerated. Whealy claims that the varieties reposed at Svalbard cannot easily be repossessed, nor are there barriers to Monsanto and others using them for proprietary research. Worst of all, Svalbard can now demand access to and possession of any and all seeds in the SSE library. SSE would have to comply with any such demand laundered through Svalbard by Monsanto and other rackets.
Torgrimson and the rest deny these claims. They and the NordGen managers of the vault say they can take back their deposits any time they want, that nobody can do anything with those deposits without their OK, and that nothing in the contract gives Svalbard any right to anything other than what’s been deposited in the vault.
My own reading of the contract is that it’s intentionally vague and can possibly be interpreted the way Whealy claims. Anyone who knows the history of globalization knows how these things are likely to work, so it’s reasonable to be suspicious of anything vague. But of course a pollyanna liberal (or someone pretending to be that; Whealy’s own interpretation of his nemeses is that they’re mostly stupid starfuckers who don’t know how they’re being manipulated by corporatism – see below for the latest on this) would argue that the contract’s fine.
(I wrote more on the War on Seeds here and here.)
I repeat that no one trying to set up a network of seed banks for democratic and relocalization purposes would have anything to do with centralized system vaults like Svalbard. If you fear for the safety and viability of the seeds at any one location, then spread them among hundreds, thousands. This year I’m making a (so far very modest) start at beginning a seed library as a project of our relocalization group. We’ll see what kind of help I get this fall from the community garden, etc. But a corporatist vault is dubious on its face, the contract language gives grounds for further suspicion, these are enough to make the decision that such collaboration is likely to cost far, far more than one might gain, and it’s unnecessary from any legitimate point of view. (For more on Svalbard’s backers, see for example the donor list at the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Monsanto’s not explicitly listed, but most of the rest of the gang’s there – Syngenta, Dupont/Pioneer, the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank CGIAR, etc.)
And now for the latest, the most clear window yet on SSE’s corporate liberal treachery. They’re now crowing about a visit from none other than their president Obama. I’ll spare you excerpts from their sickening paean to a mass murderer and co-conspirator in the looting of tens of trillions of dollars from the American people. But masochists can read it here. Note how all the happy talk about seed saving is 100% from their side, while Obama evidently didn’t even pretend to respect SSE’s mission.
There’s good reason for that. Monsanto is one of Obama’s favorite corporations, according to the record of his actions. Anyone who knows anything about seed saving knows that Monsanto is dedicated to a totalitarian purge of all non-proprietary seed use from the face of the earth. Over ten years ago it commissioned Enron collaborator Arthur Andersen to reverse-engineer a strategy for literal world domination based on control of the food supply, through a monopoly on all seeds. Anyone who cares anything for SSE’s mission regards Monsanto as enemy #1.
Obama, meanwhile, has appointed and promoted more Monsanto cadres in his administration than Bush did in 8 years. Most notoriously, he elevated Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor to the anti-democratic post of Food Czar, with vague but vast theoretical administrative power over our food and seeds. The recently passed and Obama-supported Food Control bill is intended to legislatively validate an administrative dictatorship over food. Monsanto wrote much of this bill. Obama is Monsanto’s president.
The SSE Leadership knows all this, yet chooses to welcome this arch-criminal and lie to its membership about what it means. This is the strongest evidence yet that Whealy is right about the “seat at the table” corporate liberal sellout attitude among SSE’s management, or perhaps something more sinister. Since Obama certainly wants organizations like SSE to cease to exist, it follows that if traitors within wanted to dissolve the project (not overtly, but by gutting it from within), they’d try to astroturf the membership into thinking Obama’s their ally, and that the organization should fall into line with administration directives. For example, there haven’t yet been any new FDA rulings on seeds based on the new legislation, but they’re probably coming.
This would then put the Svalbard collaboration in a more explicable, evil perspective.