Mega companies owning genetics
Any company that develops their own varieties ‘owns’ the genetics. They’re allowed to produce and sell seed since they spent the time, effort and resources in developing that variety. These varieties are legally protected by local and international Plant Breeder’s Rights acts. However, our government has made provision for small scale farmers in South Africa to keep seed and re-sell in limited quantities this protected seed.
There are many ‘open’ lines that anyone can grow, produce, sell seed of. There are many public institutions (universities and research councils) that also develop new varieties and share them freely. And there are dozens of seed banks and genetic conservation efforts that also make seed available to anyone who requests. So the ‘mega companies’ will not be able to hold the world ransom by controlling their own (for example tomato) seed.
Exclusion of heirloom varieties through hybridization.
Heirloom varieties will always be around, but tend to get side-lined because newer varieties have better yield, improved quality, and are easier for farmers to grow and produce. Heirlooms may well be a good source of helpful traits (disease resistance, flavour), and are sometimes used to develop modern varieties. Just like old models of cars or cell phones eventually become outdated and little used, so too do old and heirloom varieties. Having said that, the hobby market is active in promoting these heirlooms, and seed banks maintain their seed, so there is little chance of losing them forever.
Access to genetics
Public universities and research institutions all over the world freely make their germplasm available, and many private companies will make their material available to others via an MTA (material transfer agreement) that allows certain non-commercial activities/use.
Are hybrid seeds GMO?
No, they are not. A hybrid seed just means that two different parents of the same crop (eg sweetcorn) were crossed together. Hybrid seed are more resilient and higher yielding than regular seed.
GMO varieties are regulated by a specific act (‘GMO Act’) – in South Africa at present, plants that have had their DNA altered in a lab (eg, gene inserted or existing DNA altered), are classified as GMO. In other countries, the classification system is different.
Are Starke Ayres seeds GMO?
No – Starke Ayres does not sell GMO varieties. The only GMO crops in RSA are Maize, Cotton, Soybean – no vegetables, flowers, herbs or fruit.