Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

By Claire Hope Cummings | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Spitsbergen Island, Svalbard, Norway

On a frozen island near the North Pole, a huge hole has been blasted out of the side of an Arctic mountain and a tunnel has been drilled deep into the rock. When the facility under construction here is completed, it will be lined with one-meter-thick concrete, fitted with two high-security blast-proof airlock doors, and built to withstand nuclear war, global warming, terrorism, and the collapse of the earth's energy supplies. It's known as the “Doomsday Vault,” and in it will be stored millions of seeds and mankind's hope for the future of the world's food supply.

The idea is that in the event of massive ecological destruction, those seeds could be used to reconstruct the planet's agricultural systems. Exactly who might remain to begin replanting the earth after such a catastrophe is only one of the questions this astounding project raises. The more immediate question is, are seeds in peril? The answer is yes, especially the seeds that provide us with food, fiber, and fuel. Both the diversity and the integrity of seeds are threatened, in the wild and on our farms. They are being put at risk by agricultural technologies, patents and corporate ownership, and the overall degradation of the environment. The plight of seeds is one of the most important environmental stories of our time. Until now, however, this critical issue has not received the attention it deserves.

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