Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds
By Claire Hope Cummings
(Beacon Press, Paperback, 9780807085813, 256pp.)
Publication Date: March 2009
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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.
Claire Hope Cummings is an environmental journalist specializing in stories about the environmental, health, and political implications of how we eat. For six years she produced and hosted a popular weekly public radio show on food and farming in Northern California, including a news segment called "Eater's Digest." She regularly reports on agriculture and the environment for public television in San Francisco. Cummings also writes for periodicals, webzines, and news services. She was an environmental lawyer for 20 years, including four years with the United States Department of Agriculture, then practiced environmental and cultural preservation public interest law. She has farmed in California and in Vietnam. She was a 2001 Food and Society Policy Fellow. Cummings lives in a rural area of Marin County, California. This is her first book.
A must-read for anyone concerned about plants and what the privatization and manipulation of seeds may mean for the future of food. —Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma
"This fine volume provides the details of the way we do things now-and the keys to getting towards a farming future that might actually work."—Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy
"Although the advent of GM foods has been described and criticized before, Uncertain Peril is the most coherent, complete, compelling, and well-written account yet."—Chip Ward, author of Hope's Horizon
"Highly readable . . . Cummings uses her finely tuned storytelling skills to explain why crop diversity is important, who controls commercial seeds, and why it matters that the biotech industry has tried to systematically destroy . . . the age-old right of farmers to save and reproduce their own seeds."—Hope Shand, Grist
"Uncertain Peril gives us passionate and persuasive reasons why we need more public discussion of the risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology. Cummings never loses sight of the key question: Who decides what foods we eat?"—Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and What to Eat
"The clearest and most passionate analysis and overview of the biotech seeds debate I've ever encountered."—Pat Mooney, author of Shattering
"I hope everyone reads it!" —John Seabrook, staff writer, the New Yorker
"[Cummings's] persuasive book reminds us all that we can no longer be passive observers to the world around us-our future depends on it. Highly recommended." —Library Journal, starred review
"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 . . . stark food for thought." —Publishers Weekly
"A meticulous and lucid exposé . . . this wake-up call should renew public debate about our food and land use." —Booklist, starred review