Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds


Life on earth is facing unprecedented challenges from global warming, war, and mass extinctions. The plight of seeds is a less visible but no less fundamental threat to our survival. Seeds are at the heart of the planet's life-support systems. Their power to regenerate and adapt are essential to maintaining our food supply and our ability to cope with a changing climate.

In Uncertain Peril, environmental journalist Claire Hope Cummings exposes the stories behind the rise of industrial agriculture and plant biotechnology, the fall of public interest science, and the folly of patenting seeds. She examines how farming communities are coping with declining water, soil, and fossil fuels, as well as with new commercial technologies. Will genetically engineered and "terminator" seeds lead to certain promise, as some have hoped, or are we embarking on a path of uncertain peril? Will the "doomsday vault" under construction in the Arctic, designed to store millions of seeds, save the genetic diversity of the world's agriculture?

To answer these questions and others, Cummings takes readers from the Fertile Crescent in Iraq to the island of Kaua'i in Hawai'i; from Oaxaca, Mexico, to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. She examines the plight of farmers who have planted transgenic seeds and scientists who have been persecuted for revealing the dangers of modified genes.

At each turn, Cummings looks deeply into the relationship between people and plants. She examines the possibilities for both scarcity and abundance and tells the stories of local communities that are producing food and fuel sustainably and providing for the future. The choices we make about how we feed ourselves now will determine whether or not seeds will continue as a generous source of sustenance and remain the common heritage of all humanity. It comes down to this: whoever controls the future of seeds controls the future of life on earth.

Uncertain Peril is a powerful reminder that what's at stake right now is nothing less than the nature of the future.

From the Trade Paperback edition.


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.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.