The New Biology
Queen Mary Studies in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Matthew Rimmer and Alison McLennan
Chapter 13: The Doomsday Vault: Seed Banks, Food Security and Climate Change
Matthew Rimmer Hunger allows no choice W.H. Auden1 It could easily provide the back-drop for a James Bond movie. Deep inside a mountain near the North Pole, down a fortiﬁed tunnel, and behind airlocked doors in a vault frozen to -18 degrees Celsius, scientists are squirreling away millions of seed samples. The samples constitute the very foundation of agriculture, the biological diversity needed so the world’s major food crops can adapt to the next pest or disease, or to climate change. It’s little wonder that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has captured the public’s imagination more than almost any agricultural topic in recent years. Popular press reports about the ‘Doomsday Vault,’ however, typically mask the complexity of the endeavor and, if anything, underestimate its practical utility. Cary Fowler2 There has been concern about the threat posed to plant genetic resources by global warming and climate change. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has long been concerned with seed banks, food security and climate change. There have been perennial debates in this forum about the underlying questions of intellectual property rights. In a 1981 conference, the Mexican delegation proposed an international seed bank. As John Seabrook noted, ‘it would contain seeds from national and international seed banks, and patented seeds created by private seed companies. The North could have free access to the seeds from the centers of diversity only if the South could have free 1 2 Auden, W.H. (1940), ‘1 September 1939’, Another Time, London and...
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