Within each species and sub-species exists a unique pool of genetic codes. This pool has enabled plants and animals to adjust to change ie its evolved by natural selection. This diversity is what gives our food its flavour, food value, resistance to disease, adaptability... We are allowing this pool – an invaluable resource - to diminish, cutting what we can draw on to develop plants and animals for food in the face of environmental change. Two very common foods –potatoes and wheat - illustrate the situation well.
The original home of the potato is the Andes, South America. Breeders are continually looking there for new genetic material – but as natural and semi-natural areas are cleared, built on, farmed and so on the range of genetic material is decreasing. Andean farmers have increasingly been encouraged to discard old potato varieties for newer, higher productivity ones. Artificial gene banks of seeds and living material are likely to be no substitute for the real thing! There is enormous value in preserving and growing traditional varieties and in protecting natural areas, preserving genetic material where it has developed.
Giant and powerful agrochemical and agribusiness interests are disregarding biodiversity, at genetic, species, habitat and ecosystem levels - and dominating the seed trade. Reducing variety – ideally to a few patentable, single-season, expensive cross-breeds, dependent on fertilisers and pesticides – makes sense and makes money for giant transnational companies. Those who dominate the seed trade also make the chemicals! Where they once used to be varied, wheat and corn aren’t so now - 30% of the worlds wheat comes from one parent plant and 70% of the corn comes from six parent plants. Narrow genetic variation means lower food security because in the event of plant pests/diseases successfully attacking wheat/corn we could lose a big chunk of what is grown.