Plant breeding in the public interest

Patrick Foley patfoley at
Fri Jun 9 16:27:19 EDT 2000

Dear Doug and others,
    The superiority of private over public enterprise is not at question here. (Personally, I am pleased with many aspects of the mixed economy we live in, corrupt as it is) The question is whether public monies are best spent allowing farmers individual control over their crops or giving seed companies a leg up. In specific cases, each approach may sometimes be preferable for the general good.
    The argument that hybrids must be best due to the speed of evolution fails a couple of tests: 1) Most crops are not maintained by hybrid seeds, 2) Most organisms on earth are not fixed hybrids (many temperate herbaceous perennials are but they may often be dead ends -- this is still in debate among biologists. As a temporary fix, hybrids are a valuable tool, but the job of public agricultural researchers goes beyond temporary fixes.  Licensed, genetically modified organisms are a more permanent breeding result. I have no problem with seed companies making whatever profit they can. But it may be disastrous for the long-term public interest to commit much of our land and harvest into a few hands and a few genotypes. I should hope that
liberals and conservatives alike share enough of the Jeffersonian fantasy about the American dream to let each farmer be his/her own dreamer. Jefferson bred plants and sold them but he didn't license them.

Patrick Foley
patfoley at

Stelenes at wrote:

> Open Pollinated (OP) varieties are simply not as genetically stable, or reproducable over generations in nature.  Breeding is not a stationary science of getting from a to b.  The nature of it is continuous improvement.  Hybrids give faster cycle times.  Hybrids allow the inventor to capture value.  By the way, seed represents about 1.0% the cost of your veggies, which certainly doesn't seem out of line since the average distributor takes out about 15%.  Whether someone makes money out of it or gets grants from the results of breeding, the end products will likely be the same.  In the US, free enterprise has generally worked better than State-run enterprises, the only exception being the problems related to monopolies. Just a few thoughts.
> Doug Dawn
> Woodland, CA
> (passing through Laredo TX)

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