cover image Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

Claire Hope Cummings, . . Beacon Press, $24.95 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-8580-6

Former environmental lawyer and one-time farmer Cummings offers a persuasive account of a lesser-known but potentially apocalyptic threat to the world's ecology and food supply—the privatization of the Earth's seed stock. For almost a century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided seeds at no cost to farmers who then saved seeds from one harvest to another, eventually developing strains best suited to local or regional climates. But Cummings also tells how seeds became lucrative, patentable private properties for some of the nation's most powerful agribusinesses. Cummings bemoans the “plague of sameness” intensified by the advent of such fitfully regulated companies as Monsanto, which now not only own genetically modified seed varieties, but also sue farmers when wind inevitably blows seeds onto their neighboring fields. According to Cummings, this “tyranny of the technological[ly]elite” threatens agricultural diversity and taints food sources. Among the author's many startling statistics is that 97% of 75 vegetables whose seeds were once available from the USDA are now extinct. Cummings heralds plans for a “Doomsday Vault” to shelter existing natural seed stock, and finds comfort in organic farming's growth, but her authoritative portrait of another way in which our planet is at peril provides stark food for thought. (Mar.)