October 2007

by GRAIN | 30 Oct 2007

W e are devoting more than half of this edition to an issue that is of growing concern to GRAIN: what is wrong with rights? At first sight, it would seem uncontroversial to be in favour of rights. Indeed, few of us would disagree with the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To cite just three of the 30 articles: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”; “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”; “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” When the declaration was unananimously approved by the United Nations in December 1948, it seemed like a landmark in the struggle against oppression.

Yet almost 60 years later there is growing unease among social movements about the way in which “rights” are being appropriated by neo-liberalism and multinational corporations. There is widespread concern that that the “right” to property is being enforced at the expense of more important individual and communal rights. To understand better what is going on we decided to invite partners from many different parts of the world to share their concerns in a panel discussion.

The contributions strikingly illuminate the diversity of ways in which people look at the living world and relate to it and to its resources. One of the main problems with the “rights” discourse in its current form is that it attempts to impose on all these different realities a single conceptual framework that is framed by capitalist logic. There is perhaps a corollary to this: rather than search for a single alternative to the “rights” discourse, diverse communities should develop their own distinct response that makes sense for their reality. This is a fascinating and complex issue to which we shall return in later editions of Seedling.

Food as nutrition not commodity

In this edition we reach “Q” in our list of interviewees. In a wide-ranging and incisive interview, Darrin Qualman, from Canada’s National Farmers Union, demonstrates graphically the extent to which giant corporations are disempowering and bankrupting Canadian farmers. Despite the bleakness of his analysis, his vision for the future is heartening. He believes that our global food system as currently ordered is doomed, rendered unsustainable by its voracious consumption of the world’s resources. His solution? Rather than competing against each other in a senseless race to the bottom, artifically created by corporations, farmers all over the world need to start thinking once again of food as a source of nutrition and sustenance and to re-connect with old ideas about fertility, knowledge, labour and community. This is a very similar to the message we are hearing from local farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

We have a short article on further developments within the European community to curtail the rights of peasant farmers, particularly their right to save and exchange seeds. We also have an update on the global drive to promote hybrid rice, looking particularly at its role in the consolidation of corporate control over seeds. Because of the importance of this issue, we are running a hybrid rice blog (, which is is an interactive forum where readers are invited to post information, comments, questions and suggestions.

Corporate control over farming and resistance to it emerges as the underlying theme of this edition. Corporations are fast developing the discourse (see our panel discussion on rights), the legislation (see the article on the EU seed directive), the tools (see the article on hybrid rice) and the marketing strategy (see the interview with Darrin Qualmin) to boost their profits and to extend their empire. Yet, as is also apparent to varying degrees in these articles, awareness that the corporate strategy for world domination is unsustainable and ultimately self-defeating is also increasing, fuelled in part, as Darrin Qualmin makes clear, by the escalating environmental crisis.

The editor

Author: GRAIN
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