Corporate plant breeding

Since the 1960s, professional plant breeders have increasingly abandoned breeding for resistance to crop parasites, arguing that the control of these parasites is the function of the plant pathologists and crop entomologists. So long as vertical resistance was the only option available to them, this decision was possibly a sensible one. However, vertical resistance was not the only option, and it was wrong of these scientists to ignore horizontal resistance, which had been clearly recognised at that time. In the meanwhile, a new philosophy developed in which it was assumed that crop protection chemicals were an acceptable alternative to host resistance in our crops. Unfortunately, most of these crop protection chemicals have proved to be just as unstable (i.e., ephemeral; see 10.6) as vertical resistance. They also have other grave disadvantages (see 7.19).

Large chemical corporations have been buying plant breeding institutes and seed production and distribution organisations. Some of this was by commercial take-overs, and some by purchase of government organisations and institutes following the widespread privatisation that has occurred in many industrial countries. Ironically, this privatisation by governments was intended to encourage competition, laissezfaire, and self-organisation. But, so long as plant breeding is confined to large institutes, this privatisation is having the opposite effect, in that it gives control of plant breeding policy to the chemical corporations. These corporations can hardly be blamed if they adopt the breeding philosophy of relying on crop protection chemicals in place of host resistance. This, after all, is the best way to guarantee, and enlarge, the market for such chemicals.

If the chemical corporations decide to remain in the plant breeding business, that is their affair. But, if they do remain, competition from democratic plant breeding will eventually compel them to breed for horizontal resistance, and to aim for the minimum use of crop protection chemicals. They will then probably abandon plant breeding, and return to their true function, which is the manufacture of other chemicals, such as paint and plastics. However, they have several decades of advance notice, and this is a long lead-time in industry.

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