Seed Savers Exchange

I made a post the other day about Kent Whealy’s Land Institute Speech, and this post is a follow up to what I said there.

If you search this blog you will find past posts showing a great deal of enthusiasm for the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) and the ideas behind it.  After three years of membership, last year I decided not to renew because I felt they had become non-responsive to their members and the cost of an overseas membership was unreasonable considering the membership materials could be delivered over the Internet at little or no cost.  I now feel there is little difference between supporting the Seed Savers Exchange and Monsanto, and the purpose of this post is to explain why.

My Advice

If you are not now a member of the SSE, don’t join.  Your money and other efforts won’t go to supporting the right things.  This may change in the future, but don’t assume it has just because you read something on the SSE website or see something written by a representative of the SSE on the Internet.

If you are already a member of the SSE, contact them via letter or email to demand the following:

Recovery of the SSE member’s seed collection from Svalbard and the resignation of board members Amy Goldman, Cary Fowler and Neil Hamilton.

Position of Kent Whealy vs Seed Savers Exchange

In his land institute speech Whealy says the following:

SSE’s Board has refused to make public the documents signed with Cary Fowler and has lied to SSE’s Members through their publications and website about the true nature of Svalbard and the obligations the FAO Treaty places on SSE. All depositors must sign the Svalbard Depositors Agreement which places the deposited varieties under control of the United Nations’ International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the FAO Treaty), Article 7 of which states, “The Depositor agrees to make available from their own stocks samples of accessions of the deposited plant genetic resources and associated available non-confidential information to other natural or legal persons in accordance with the following terms and conditions. . . . .” The agreement goes on to dictate that “original samples” (meaning all other seeds of the varieties deposited in Svalbard that are also in storage in the seed vaults at Heritage Farm) are also covered by the FAO Treaty. By signing the treaty, SSE cannot refuse any requests for seeds of deposited varieties from “Contracting Parties.” Corporate breeders now can, as a right, request those varieties from SSE’s seed vaults at Heritage Farm, splice in  GMOs, then patent and sell the seed. Indeed, a 1.1% tax on patents of “derivatives” of the varieties deposited in Svalbard is the main way that the FAO Treaty will generate its funding.

While it is true that the samples of the seeds actually stored in Svalbard cannot be distributed, linking those deposits to the FAO Treaty is what facilitates the distribution of those same varieties stored in Heritage Farm’s seed vaults. Numerous deceptive statements throughout Svalbard’s flood of self-promotion are all based on that lie.

A more extensive letter, posted later and still on SSE’s website, claims there is no linkage between the Svalbard’s Depositors Agreement and the FAO Treaty, which is an outright lie. The unsigned letter also claims that SSE’s actions are simply adhering to “emerging international norms,” but the truth is that out of 1,470 seed banks worldwide, SSE is one of only 29 that have placed their seeds in Svalbard and the only non-governmental or non-international seed bank to do so. SSE’s members have been lied to repeatedly that participation with Svalbard is entirely free, never mentioning the estimated $200,000 for additional personnel and software needed to mesh SSE’s computers with the USDA’s GRIN-Global network. Other lies include telling SSE’s Members that fears about Seed Savers Members’ Seed Collection being made available for corporate breeding and patenting are unfounded and will never actually happen. Being written into the FAO Treaty means it will eventually happen, exactly the same way the rights of farmers to save their own seeds have gradually been made illegal by similar treaties.

The U.S. hasn’t ratified the FAO Treaty yet, but the USDA’s National Plant Germplasm System has already deposited 41,390 accessions into Svalbard, including many Mexican varieties. Numerous developing countries who do not accept the FAO Treaty have seen samples from their countries placed in Svalbard and under the FAO Treaty without their permission. For example, 95,722 Mexican varieties have been deposited in Svalbard even though Mexico hasn’t signed the FAO Treaty. Indeed, the real purpose of Svalbard (far from being just safe storage) is to allow national seed banks in the developed countries – like the USDA and the CGIAR International Agricultural Research Institutes which all hold vast collections from other countries – to deposit those samples in Svalbard and under the control of the FAO Treaty without national permission. Also, derivatives created from duplicates of the samples deposited in Svalbard can be patented without knowledge or permission of the country of origin.

In the future every distribution of duplicates of the samples deposited in Svalbard will require signing a Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) linked to the FAO Treaty, so that patented derivatives can be tracked and taxed. If countries or their farmers (or Seed Savers’ Members) want samples returned to replace lost varieties, even if they originally donated that seed, under the rules of the FAO Treaty they will have to sign away any former rights (see Article 6 of the SMTA.)

What has Seed Savers gained from its affiliation with Svalbard? Absolutely nothing! But the damage has been immense. Amy Goldman and SSE’s Board have created a protective wall of secrecy – “That’s confidential. We can’t talk about that.” They have lied to SSE’s Advisors, Members, funders and donors, and maliciously attacked those who disagree with their actions.

In addition, I am announcing here that I will pay all of the costs for any lawsuit brought by any SSE Member who donated to Seed Savers Members’ Seed Collection, only to see their family’s seeds now deposited in Svalbard.

Here is the SSE position currently published on the news section of their website:

As specified in the depositor’s agreement signed by Seed Savers Exchange, the seeds that SSE deposits in the Seed Bank are available only to SSE-there is no transfer of ownership of the seeds that are deposited by SSE or any other entity. Financial donors to the Global Crop Diversity Trust (see do not get access to seeds in the Seed Vault, other than those they may have deposited there themselves. A wide range of developed and developing countries are donors to the Global Crop Diversity Trust for many purposes other than the Seed Vault’s operating costs, and include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Ethiopia, Brazil, Colombia, and India. (Corporate donors, including Syngenta and Pioneer/DuPont, who made unrestricted donations to the Global Crop Diversity Trust for its endowment prior to the Seed Vault’s existence, do not have access to seeds stored in the Seed Vault by others.)

Seed stored at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault by SSE will not be distributed to others by the Norwegian government, nor will it be made available to patent claims of others. Seeds in the SSE seed collection are pre-existing, or “prior art,” and as such, they cannot be patented. (And if a patent is mistakenly granted for a pre-existing variety, there is legal recourse to annul the patent.) On the other hand, new varieties, derived from or created using an old variety, are patentable in most countries of the world, provided they meet the applicable country’s criteria for patentability. SSE prohibits dividing and reselling Yearbook seeds; but the Yearbook specifically acknowledges that after seeds are regrown once, the resulting seeds, plants, and produce are available to SSE members to use however they please. The patenting of a new variety that has an older variety from SSE’s collection in its pedigree does not change the legal status of the SSE variety, nor does it prohibit subsequent access to or use of that variety, nor restrict its use in additional breeding programs.

SSE’s deposit of seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault “deepens the commitment of the organization to ensuring the long-term conservation of the diversity that has been entrusted to us,” Amy P. Goldman remarked. “We honor, trust and depend upon our members, but we know that varieties can be lost and that neither the membership nor our own seed collection is immune from loss. The Seed Vault offers free insurance to us and the other seed banks of the world. It is internationally accepted and monitored. We are happy to participate, grateful for the opportunity, and fully supportive of the goals of the Seed Vault.”

In taking account of both who the sources of information are and their motivations, what’s being presented by the Seed Savers Exchange is major distortion of the truth if not, as Whealy claims, an outright lie.

It does not make sense for the SSE’s statement to ramble on and on about how secure the seeds are in Svalbard, how the Norwegian government won’t give them away, how they can’t be given to other corporate donors, and on and on and on, if all of these entities have the legal right to demand duplicates of the seeds be given to them by the SSE themselves.  How honest is that?  Does anyone really care how secure the vault in Norway is, if the same seeds must legally be made available some other way?  Anyone who tries to make an argument in this way is not being honest, and in effect lying.

What’s also very important is access is not guaranteed for anyone except other depositors at Svalbard or the SSE themselves.  There are no guarantees of access for ordinary people, farmers or non-profit organizations.

Their statement that SSE varieties cannot be patented is also misleading, and may not be true.  More than a decade ago Monsanto patented the first GMO soybean, that was created by taking a relatively ordinary and unpatented variety and inserting their gene into it.  The resulting patent covered both their gene and the original variety!  Since then a number of international treaties have addressed this problem of what can and cannot be patented under such circumstances, and the FAO treaty that covers the SSEs deposits at Svalbard may very well give corporations the right to patent old varieties under such circumstances.  In addition, other treaties have recognized the rights of countries of origin under these circumstances, but the FAO treaty covering Svalbard offers no such recognition.

Finally, the idea that if deposits were somehow lost by the SSE they could be recovered from Svalbard is also seriously flawed.  If the deposits can only be recovered with a MTA (Material Transfer Agreement) as Whealy says, then all possibility to use this material as plant breeding stock would effectively be legally lost by the SSE.  As much as the idea that we must preserve old varieties to grow in our gardens is important and emotional, the ability for independent plant breeders to use this material is far more important to humanity as a whole.

Whealy has a standing offer to pay the legal costs for anyone who’s seeds have been deposited at Svalbard via the SSE, and would like to recover them.  If you fall into this category, take him up on this!

Cary Fowler serving both as a SSE board member and the executive director of the Crop Diversity Trust is a major conflict of interest.  Cary Fowler only represents his own interests, and certainly not those of SSE members.

Whealy says the SSE’s deposit at Svalbard was all about a photo op for Amy Goldman and Cary Fowler.

What do you think?

19 thoughts on “Seed Savers Exchange”

  1. Three years ago I made essentially this exact pronouncement and prediction about SSE and by many I was called a “conspiracy theorist” amongst many other things. I was also simotaniously banned from both the SSE (not just from the messageboard, but from ever being a member as well) and also from tomatoville.

    This speaks to a much deeper issue. It isn’t just about the SSE it’s about control of people, peasants, and not just those in the third world, us peasants in the developed world as well.

    The very same people who sit on the boards of transnational corporations are generally the very same people who set in prominent government positions, are tied to international banking, and in general want YOU, all of YOU, in a position of both gratitude and groveling. No more Freedmen, only “men” in constant need of some fix from those in power. Food is one of the main tenents that these folks need to control in order to truly control society and bring forth a “New World Order.” To control food they need to tax the farmers to death and place so much red tape on every last little thing that we no longer have the will to fight them.

    They don’t like people like us. The salt of the earth. The Meek. The ones who will inherit this place when their plans don’t work. We put a serious hitch in their giddy up by being self sufficient, so they have to control us at the basist level of food production. Via the very seed our ancestors domesticated and tended and passed down to us. We are the ones being domesticated now.

    Anyone with any doubts about Amy Goldmans intentions in this world need only look at just who her family was as well as how manipulative they were, even to each other to see the truth for what it is and why it is.

    Trying to get those seeds back legally will be a bitch, an thing to be honored for sure, more importantly, perhaps someone with money should persue the idea I proposed three long years ago about a copyleft for seeds which would allow trading between farmers and gardeners as well as sale by family owned companies but would exclude commercial use or manipulation by large corporations.

    I am preparing for what is coming in this world people, and if your not you need to ask yourself why you aren’t. The cards are on the table, you are seing the enemies hand as we speak, you got something to play you better play it even if it might be “up your sleeve”.

  2. Today is my 61st Birthday. I was going to join SSE, as a gift to myself. In my search I found this post. Now I am saving my $$. This reminded me of my Amish neighbors and their philosophy of not joining groups or clubs.

  3. So I can’t help noticing that you are being ignored by the Global Crop Diversity trust and its paid representatives. Do you count that as a victory?

  4. Hi Ann,

    Happy birthday, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope you had a wonderful day!

    Hi Mickey!

    I couldn’t help but notice your IP address (168.202.25…) is registered to the FAO. Is your statement an official one, made by a paid representative?

  5. Well it doesn’t take too long before the dirt comes out to light.

    Far as I’m concerned Svalbard “seed vault” is nothing,but a disaster waiting to happen.

    With the likes of Monsanto and Bill Gates – whom wants to replace an eco-system of bugs that freely inject people with vaccines- Rockefeller and the big corporations who are neck deep in big Pharma,farm and food. I tend to ask, What in the hell is SSE thinking when it was decided to put seeds in Svalbard “seed vault”?

    It leads to one thing, corruption and cronieism on the part of SSE and it’s board members. I never joined SSE. I believed paying a membership of $25 to gain access to “rare” and “endangered” seeds was a scam in the first place and really was nonsense. People bought into it though and gave that yearly membership.

    Now it would make more sense to me if SSE decided to construct their own “dooms day” seed vault on their own premises. No, SSE decided to pony up with Monsanto and these other questionable people, with questionable motives, and even ally with FAO rules and regulations.

    With all the money in seed sales, book sales, seminars and what not. You’d think SSE would be more independent and take the initiative to operate their own vault.

    This is shameful act on behalf of SSE and it’s board members. They are feeling the repercussion of these acts already as members are split, taking sides,not renewing memberships, and people not becoming members. As it appears many are not considering purchasing anything from SSE.

    I would urge people to not give in to the temptation of forking out $25 to get access to “rare,unique or endangered seeds”
    Don’t fall for the sales pitch, your money will go to other priority’s SSE now seem to have.

    The love of money through its back room deals, secret meetings and lies skews the common sense of man and woman alike.

  6. @ Alan Bishop, this is the price we pay for supporting “Government”. Regardless of what title you give it. Libertarian,Democracy,Republican,Socialist,Communist,Despotism,Insurrectionist,Monarchy,Liberalism,
    Theocracy,Dictatorship,or Conservatism.

    Control of:
    Self Defense

    I do not support fraud,theft,murder,war,coercion,or force. Thus I do not support “Government” or ideals thereof. I travel the road of dissent and will not go to revolution to oust one form of corrupt “Government”, to replace it with another future corrupt form of “Government”.

    Like you Sir, I have also seen the demise not only of SSE. Also consider Baker Creek in the road ahead. Selling of tomatoes bred by “Dr. Amy Goldman” having festivals co-sponsored by SSE.
    Look for the well established organic seed companies to go the very same way as SSE. No company is immune. The best defense we have is in ourselves.To have every competent person to establish their own seed bank or seed network to freely share and trade with each other.

    It is the last bastion we have in order to preserve and save our food of tomorrow.

    @ Patrick, Thank you for allowing me to comment on your blog entry.

  7. Reading Amy Goldman’s response about the whole deal:

    Dang, I just roll my eyes at her writing. Talk about your corporate selling of an idea, this is a prime example! This is no different than what you’d hear on on the propaganda shows, (T.V. & cable Medias)striving hard to “sell the idea” to everyone.

    She is selling and pushing the seed vault idea a way too much!
    Secondly I can’t decide if she is genuine in her writing or just patronizing everybody with a romanticized style of writing.

    Wonder what brainwashing technique she is using, CIA or KGB?

    “I know it is guarding its treasures, almost like a woman who holds our lives in her womb and hands.”

    You are disgusting Amy Goldman! You compare a Foreign Government Institution with the purity and holiness of a mother and a child.

    Excuse me while I gag and vomit!

  8. I had considered joining SSE, too. The 40.00 price seemed really high to me. Then I read about SSE’s involvement with Monsanto, etc. It’s pretty clear Amy Goldman used her vast family wealth to influence and ultimately destroy SSE. Money talks and every thing else just gets by. Saving seed should be about genetic diversity, poor farmers access to and ability to save seed and the general well being of the planet. After the damage that Monsanto has done and continues to do to our planet, any entity that involves itself with them is off my list of deserving support. What a tragic waste! I don’t think Percy Schmeiser would agree with Amy Goldman’s treacly nonsense.

  9. Yes April what a tragic waste the whole mess is. There is plans in motion to collect as many variety’s as possible on my part and offer seeds for a SASE / SASBE, or free to people who can’t afford them. The seeds are still good at SSE ,but for the most part watch prices go up or the membership go up. Won’t take long till the green eyed monster eats away at a certain few to raise the price on something.

  10. What about all the longtime seed savers that back SSE and say that Kent was a bit off his rocker? Will Bonsell? David Cavagnero (the guy who photographed SSE collection for years) Suzanne Ashworth (who wrote Seed to Seed) and others? Maybe the board did a bad job with firing Kent, but there are dozens and dozens of SSE staffers, old members, and others who put up with his abuse and paranoia – and who are defending the organization. Plus, if Monsanto wanted SSE seed they’d just have a friend of the company sign-up and get seed from the yearbook – anyone can do it – so SSE seed has never really been protected and it was Kent who created this open-door policy. I think the whole thing is sad. It’s an important issue, an organization with a great mission, and the founder and a couple of board members had personality issues that are now spilling over to hurt the mission. You are wrong to boycott it, instead join and try to make changes. Saving seeds and sharing them is more important than all this BIG EGO politics of all those involved…Kent, Amy, whoever.

  11. James,

    The issue is not so much Monsanto having access to the seeds, like you say the seeds are for everyone.

    The issue is more depositing their seed collection at Svalbard which gives Monsanto both access to the seeds and a legal right to resell them, in whole or in part, as their own work. This includes for example genetically modifying, then patenting them.

    Not everyone is in agreement that Monsanto should have that sort of access to the collection of the SSE, or that the SSE should be going out of their way and spending it’s members money to do this for large companies like Monsanto. There are other problems with the Svalbard deposit agreement that have already been discussed here too, that in many cases could end up restricting the rights of SSE members or the SSE themselves to freely use their own seeds.

    The SSE doesn’t show any sign they care what their members think about different issues, and there’s no reason to believe that joining in order to change them would make any difference. For a long time they were trying to control what their members said, as well as threatening to sue Kent if he publicly stated his opinion. According to Kent they changed their bylaws so they didn’t have to take into account the opinions of their members.

    In particular the deposits at Svalbard are very contentious, opposed by Kent, and the reason many people have turned their backs on the SSE. The SSE has yet to even acknowledge some of their members are opposed to this, or even try to find a compromise. Indeed, finding a compromise with Kent might even be a better place to start.

    I think there are very few people opposed to the original ideals of the SSE, but the organization has evolved beyond those ideals.

    I’m fully aware many people choose to stay members, pursue those ideals and participate in an organization they still believe in. I wish them all the best, and I don’t think they’re wrong for doing this. I hope they get as much out of their SSE membership as they possibly can, and enjoy growing and sharing their seeds.

    At the same time, since the SSE was founded in the 1970s, the world has changed. In particular the Internet offers many more possibilities for trading seeds. For every member of the SSE trading seeds through the Yearbook, I can show you 100 trading directly via the Internet or through other organizations in Europe and elsewhere. The SSE membership is not that special and very expensive for what it is, especially for people outside the US.

    The reality is every year the SSE gets less and less interesting, and as an organization they seem unable to adapt to the changing world around them.

    Now, back to the original question! Does anyone have any concrete news about the goings on in the SSE: good, bad or ugly? Did anyone see president Obama’s talk there?

  12. I seen bits and pieces of Obomba’s speech on the news and didn’t get to see the whole speech. T.V. media and it’s demagogic of everything is ridiculous!

    “Plus, if Monsanto wanted SSE seed they’d just have a friend of the company sign-up and get seed from the yearbook – anyone can do it ”

    Ok James,
    I see you are naive when it comes to Multi-national corporations like monsanto. To put it in a form to where it is simple to understand. Why buy from a year book when you can have a take over ?
    Why have a member when you can have a board member infiltrate and take over?

    Corporate take over ring a bell to anyone?
    (It smells of a multi-national corporate take over!)

    Multinationals don’t like to spend money nor do they not liking to give up $1. If they can squeeze it out of you, They will get it. They like to spend $ to make more money.

    Also SSE is passed it’s mark,it has become nothing but a hyped-up ‘touchie feelie’ club. As Pat stated there is hundreds of online groups/people trading freely and independently with each other. Why pay $2.50 for 25-50 seeds when someone can trade or throw in a dollar or a sase and get more seeds that come from people who have a strong sense about genetic preservation?

    I’m sure there was or were issues with Kent and SSE and there is issues with SSE board members Vs. members and the global seed vault fiasco. Like Pat stated again silencing people. These are Un-deniable. SSE has the funds to build another, or upgrade the existing seed storage facilities

    The issue is seeds deposited into the global seed vault. Ran by Rockefeller,Gates a few Multi-Nationals and some other corporations.

    So since we are in the politics of “Change” elected by middle of the road voters in America cause they agree with the Liberal notion that multinational corporations are not good,(which I agree with). I often wonder why the liberal members of SSE are tolerating this corporate take over? What is it that is being fed to them that has them thinking this is alright?

    Is it the ‘musings’ of Amy Goldman or what?

    I’m looking for trades or sase or a $1 in an envelope, I’m looking for more people to who care about genetic diversity and preserving there of.

    If you have the know how,time, and space . I need help growing more variety’s. Won’t cost you a thang except postage to send me 25 seeds back.

    Won’t need SSE’s collective shackles to share and trade seeds, we are human beings not caged rats needing permission from any one or any laws to share,trade, and preserve. We are free men and women from all walks of life.

  13. I’m a long-time SSE member, and this scares me spitless. I think some at SS’s are naive. I don’t know if Kent is a paranoid person–I don’t know him personally, or why the Whealy’s divorced in the first place. I want to find the seed vault agreement and read the fine print. What if Kent is right? The fact that Monsanto has its artificial hand in it at all, and Gates, who has fallen hook line and sinker for ALL of Monsanto’s LIES, makes me feel a little paranoid myself! There is NOTHING Monsanto does that I would trust.

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