- “Open Sesame” shows the importance of saving heirloom and open-pollination seeds, which are threatened by agrichemical monopolies, GMOs, and gene patenting
- More than 93 percent of the variety in our food seeds has been lost as large multi-national corporations have swallowed up smaller seed suppliers
- Saving your own seeds, as well as obtaining seeds from seed swaps and exchanges, can help preserve what precious diversity remains
The seed saving movement is growing. Communities are banding together to save and share heirloom and open pollination seeds that are in danger of disappearing off the face of the Earth as a result of industrialized agriculture and multinational corporations that control the majority of our seed supply.
The documentary “Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds,” by M. Sean Kaminsky seeks to inspire people about the importance of seed saving — and its urgency.1
When you save seeds, you’re joining a chain of farmers, gardeners and seed enthusiasts that dates back to the Stone Age — our civilization literally arose due to seed saving.
Early humans selected the best wild plants with which to feed themselves, and passed those varieties along to others by saving and sharing seeds.
Seeds are the foundation of life, from fruits and vegetables to grain and livestock feed — without them, we have no food. It’s estimated that upward of 90 percent of our caloric intake directly or indirectly comes from seeds.
Age-old heirloom varieties are disappearing at an alarming rate — 90 percent of the crop varieties grown 100 years ago are already gone. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 plant species are in danger of extinction.2
Why Seed Saving Is So Important
Four of the most important reasons to save seeds are the following:3
1.Seed Security: By saving your seeds, you control your seed and therefore your food supply — you aren’t depending on seed stores or catalogs for difficult to find seed.
Hundreds of excellent plant varieties have been discontinued as big corporations have consolidated the seed industry and focused on more profitable varieties. Half of the vegetables grown today have no commercial sources — you have to get them through seed trades.4
2.Regional Adaptation: Most commercially available seed has been selected because it performs fairly well across the entire country if given synthetic fertilizers.
But when you save seed from your own best performing plants, on your land and in your own ecosystem, you gradually develop varieties better adapted to your own soil, climate and growing conditions.
3.Consistent Quality: Large seed suppliers rarely “rogue” the fields to pull out inferior or off-type plants, so the open-pollinated (OP) seeds they sell have inferior specimens in the mix.
You can select your own seed for uniformity and quality. You can control the gene pool for optimal germination, ripening time, flavor, storage, disease resistance and color. After a few seasons, more and more of your plants will have all of your personally selected traits.
4.Preserving Your Heritage and Biodiversity: Today multinational corporations select seed varieties according to their own financial interests; they control 82 percent of the world’s seed market, which includes 75 percent of the vegetable seed market.
It’s up to small farmers and home gardeners to preserve thousands of years of biodiversity.
Understanding Open-Pollinated, Heirloom and Hybrid Seeds
As a gardener, one of your more important decisions is whether to choose open-pollinated, hybrid or heirloom seed varieties — but which are best?
According to Seed Savers,5 for seed saving purposes, the most significant distinction among these types is saving true-to-type seed from open-pollinated and heirloom varieties, and avoiding hybrids.
Open-pollination seeds are pollinated by insects, birds, humans, wind or other natural mechanisms. According to Seed Savers:6
“Because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individuals, open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse. This can cause a greater amount of variation within plant populations, which allows plants to slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate year-to-year.
As long as pollen is not shared between different varieties within the same species, then the seed produced will remain true-to-type, year after year.”
An heirloom variety is a plant that has a history of being passed down multiple generations within a family or a community. An heirloom variety is by definition open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.
Hybridization is a controlled method of pollination in which the pollen of two different species or varieties is crossed (usually by human intervention, although it can happen in nature), usually from a desire to breed in a particular trait.
Hybrids are typically unstable and less vigorous, producing fewer of those desirable traits with each passing year. However, hybrid seeds can be stabilized by open-pollination — by growing, selecting and saving the seeds over many seasons.
Choosing open-pollinated and heirloom seeds helps conserve genetic diversity and prevents the loss of unique varieties, including the ones that contribute to our long-term survival because of special hardiness and disease-resistance traits.
Biodiversity is our only insurance in times of vulnerability, such as when facing climate change.
Our Loss of Seed Diversity Is Shocking
In 80 years (between 1903 and 1983), we lost 93 percent of the variety in our food seeds. According to Rural Advancement Foundation International:7
- We went from 497 varieties of lettuce to 36
- We went from 288 varieties of beets to 17
- We went from 307 varieties of sweet corn to 12
Even the popular heirloom tomato has taken an enormous hit, having lost at least 80 percent of its diversity over the last century. Even more tragic is the fact that a lot of these precious plants are being replaced by patented genetically engineered (GE) varieties.
The National Geographic infographic below shows how many varieties of fruits and vegetables appear to be nearing extinction.8This data is already more than 30 years old, so the statistics may be even more grim today.
The Disastrous Consequences of Patenting Life
Traditionally, seeds have been saved and shared between farmers from one season to the next. Farmers rarely ever had to buy new seed. Nature, when left alone, provides you with the means to propagate the next harvest in a never-ending cycle. Valuable heirlooms have been replaced by massive expanses of genetically engineered (GE) crops. According to the USDA, 94 percent of U.S. soy and 88 percent of U.S. corn are now genetically engineered (GE).
It’s estimated that, since 1970, 20,000 seed companies have been swallowed up by mega-corporations. In 2005, Monsanto bought the world’s largest fruit and vegetable seed company, Seminis, for $1.4 billion. Just four agrichemical companies now own 43 percent of the world’s commercial seed supply, and 10 multinational corporations hold 65 percent of global commercial seed for major crops.9
Many farmers are now dependent on patented GE seeds and must buy them every year from companies like Monsanto. Saving such seeds is illegal because it’s considered patent infringement.
Farmers don’t buy seed anymore — they essentially buy a license to use the seed for a short period of time — typically one season. It’s more of a lease, or a “technology use agreement.” For 200 years, the patenting of life was prohibited, especially with respect to foods. But all of that changed in 1978 with the first patent of a living organism, an oil-eating microbe, which opened the proverbial floodgates.
According to the film, one of Monsanto’s proxies has a patent claiming 463,173 separate plant genes! Patenting of life forms was never approved by Congress or the American public, but as far as the GMO industry is concerned, they own a gene wherever it ends up and however it gets there. The trail of destruction left by GE seeds isn’t limited to the West — Indian farmers have been coerced into using them, with completely disastrous consequences.
GE Seeds Responsible for 250,000 Farmer Suicides
More than a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide over the past 16 years, since the introduction of GE seed. These crops have failed (especially Bt cotton), leaving them financially ruined. Bt cotton is much more expensive than traditional cotton seed, requires more water and pesticides, and has failed to produce the increased crop yields promised by Monsanto.
India’s government has largely abandoned small farmers, discontinuing support programs and failing to address factors such as lack of rural credit and access to irrigation, among others, and new government programs have barely scratched the surface of this crisis, which results in one farmer committing suicide every 30 minutes, typically by ingesting pesticides like Roundup.
On a side note, concerns over glyphosate’s toxicity are finally starting to be taken seriously. The U.S. EPA announced in 201510that U.S. regulators may start testing for glyphosate residues on food in the near future, but only a year later, in November 2016, the FDA announced that it was putting its testing “on hold” even though the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that the active ingredient in Roundup is a “probable carcinogen.”
While thousands of foods are tested for about 400 different pesticides each year, glyphosate is not on that list simply because it’s been thought to be safe. A step in the right direction, however, is that in early 2017 a California court ruled that the state’s efforts to require warning labels about the cancer possibility could move forward.
While that’s good news, it’s worth noting that the EPA raised the allowable limits for glyphosate in food in 2013, and the allowable levels may be too high to protect human health, based on mounting research. Root and tuber vegetables (with the exception of sugar) got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm.
“The amount of allowable glyphosate in oilseed crops (except for canola and soy) went up from 20 ppm to 40 ppm, 100,000 times the amount needed to induce breast cancer cells.”
The Twisted Truth About GMOs
The sole purported legal basis for the marketing of GE foods in the U.S. is the FDA’s claim that they’re “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) — a claim that is actually fraudulent. Documents released as a result of a lawsuit against the FDA reveal that the agency’s scientists warned superiors about the extraordinary risks of GE foods — but their warnings were spurned and covered up.
According to the law, no GE food can qualify as GRAS unless there is overwhelming consensus about its safety within the scientific community, and that consensus cannot be based on hypotheses or speculation — it must be based on solid evidence. In the case of GE foods, there is no such evidence. FDA’s own files contain the admission that they didn’t have any technical evidence upon which to base their presumption that GE foods are GRAS.
On January 24, 2015, a statement signed by 300 scientists was published in a peer-reviewed journal,13 asserting that there is no scientific consensus about the safety of GE foods, which confirms that they are on the U.S. market illegally.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine wrote, “There is more than a casual association between GE foods and adverse health effects.” They go on to cite specific scientific evidence pointing to potential organ damage from GE foods (liver, kidney, spleen and GI system), accelerated aging, immune dysregulation, infertility … and the list goes on and on.14
Support Seed Diversity by Ditching GE Food
As you often hear me say, one of your greatest powers is your pocketbook. You can take back control over our food supply with the choices you make about the foods you eat, the seeds you plant, and the products you use. Here are a few suggestions:
- Stop buying non-organic processed foods. Instead, build your diet around whole, unprocessed foods, especially raw fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats from coconut oil, avocados, organic pastured meat, dairy and eggs, and raw nuts
- Buy most of your foods from your local farmers markets and organic farms
- Cook most or all your meals at home using whole, organic ingredients
- Frequent restaurants that serve organic, cooked-from-scratch local food. Many restaurants, especially chain restaurants, use processed foods for their meals (Chipotlé is a rare exception)
- Buy only organic, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds for your garden, which applies to both decorative plants and edibles; they’re obtainable from seed swaps, seed libraries and exchanges (see next section for sources)
- Boycott all lawn and garden chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) unless they are “OMRI Approved,” which means they’re allowed in organic production. If you use a lawn service, make sure they’re using OMRI Approved products as well
- Join the Organic Consumers Association’s new campaign, “Buy Organic Brands that Support Your Right to Know”
Seed Saving Resources
If you want to begin saving your own seeds, there are four basic steps: Choosing the right plants, collecting their seeds, cleaning the seeds and storing them appropriately.15 Below are some excellent seed saving resources, as well as suggestions for where to purchase open-pollinated and heirloom seeds.
- “Seed to Seed: Seed Saving Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners,” by Suzanne Ashworth (March 2002) is an excellent and widely cited book about seed saving
- Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA): National non-profit organization committed to protecting, promoting and developing the organic seed trade and its growers
- Seed Savers Exchange: Organization whose mission is to promote saving and sharing of heirloom seeds and plants
- SeedSave.org: Online seed school with free downloadable book about the basics of seed saving
- Hudson Valley Seed Library: Featured in the movie, Hudson is much more than a library — it’s also a place where you can order heirloom seed
- Mother Earth News articles16 about their picks for the top 15 vegetable seed companies
Why Independent Films Are So Important
Cinema plays an important role in how we think, how our opinions are formed, and how we view our ever-changing world. Independent film makers take huge risks and are often the main financial support behind bringing you cutting edge and riveting news through the eyes of experts and real life survivors.
They are not swayed by cinema or popular opinion, but are instead influenced by their dynamic surroundings and the evolution of change to bring you the facts at their own cost. We need independent film makers to continue to bring us the news that no one else is willing to face. Please show your support for these amazing artists for their hard work and efforts to bring us the facts by visiting their sites, sharing their information and purchasing their films.
I believe in bringing quality to my readers, which is why I wanted to share some information about the producer, Sean Kaminsky, of Open Sesame. Through his hard work and dedication we are able to shine a light on the dangers and poisons that are hiding in our food and damaging our health. Thank you to Mr. Kaminsky for sharing with us.
About the Director
I believe in bringing quality to my readers, which is why I wanted to share some information about the director, Sean Kaminsky, from “Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds.” We sat down with Sean to learn a little more about what goes in to making these films. Thank you to Sean for sharing with us.
What was your inspiration for making this film?
When I told friends I wanted to make a short documentary about seeds back in 2009, I received lots of blank looks and polite nods. Many folks (myself included) were pretty disconnected from the source of our food. And back then I didn’t have a garden. That only came after the film! “Open Sesame” quickly grew into a full-length feature after I started to interview people and learned what was at stake.
I’d already worked on several environmentally themed projects including an HBO documentary on climate change and numerous shorts for Sundance Channel. I felt like I had a decent grasp of the primary environmental issues we faced.
So, I was stunned to learn about the seed crisis — but when I started the film few people were talking about the importance of seeds or how industrial farming, patents and GMOs threaten 12,000 years of our agricultural heritage. All those blank looks told me I was on the right track in telling a story that needed to get told.
What was your favorite part of making this film?
Making this film was an incredible adventure and it’s hard to choose one favorite. One favorite part was meeting numerous amazing individuals who have tremendous passion for seeds and want to help change our food system. Many of the people that I filmed with have since become friends.
I feel grateful to have been able to share their stories. Visiting Navdanya in India was an incredible experience and witnessing the love and care they gave seeds was something I worked hard to convey in the film.
Seed School was also a highlight since I learned a ton while shooting and still use many of the tips I learned in my own small garden when I plant. The editing process was also rewarding because that’s when I started to discover the threads that unite folks in the growing community seed movement. Amidst all the challenges, there are reasons for hope and optimism.
Where do the proceeds to your film go?
This film has been a passion project from start to finish without support from big media companies or distributors. Everyone who supports the film also supports sustainable indie filmmaking. A significant percentage of proceeds goes toward outreach and helping to make the film affordable for small community screenings. I also have another food-related film in the early stages of production. There are many challenges facing our food supply and more stories that need to be told!