Svalbard Global Seed Vault Is Open for Business

by Irma Arkus

This week the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is finally opening its doors to seeds collected across the globe. This incredible and first-of-its-kind public facility will be serving to collect and store seeds. The facility located in deserted northern part of Norway will be a technologically sophisticated complex that will for the most part be unmanned. Think of it as a giant deep freezer for world’s plant life.

One of the biggest criticisms of mainstream media is for its capacity to undermine and ignore some very important events, especially when it comes to now increasingly relevant food-related issues. Monsanto, an agricultural company famous for its use of science to improve on well known foods, is less known as villainous body responsible for copyrighting well, foods you eat, or for that matter, not often depicted as an agricultural magnate that sued and bankrupted many independent farmers because they own copyright on some stuff that flew into their back yards from neighbouring fields.

Even less known is the subject of large agricultural conglomerates, of which Monsanto is a prime example, whose growing influence has contributed to creating worldwide agricultural monocultures.

It is this creation of monocultures that is the crux of the matter. Not only has worldwide spread of agricultural monocultures translated into loss and extinction of certain valuable plant species, but their impact on human diet has been correlated to a slew of health problems brought on by changes in nutrition.

For one, the growing use of monocultures has resulted in continuous decline of vitamins and minerals in particular plants. In other words, broccoli you ate as a child had more vitamins and antioxidants than the broccoli you eat today. Nutritionist estimate that vegetables and fruits found across markets today, have less than 30% of nutrients than same vegetables and fruits served in the early part of 20th century.

Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants…lack thereof is just a tip of the iceberg when considering the health of the population that is becoming increasingly densified. Various cultural groups, with unique genetic profiles now reside in same geographic areas and eat of the same globalized plate of foods. Yet, North American corn is not the same as South American corn, and North American rice is not the same as rice grown in regions of Africa. As it turns out, South American bodies are not equipped to digest North American creamy corn, and Africans lack the enzymes to digest rice found on most shelves in North America. Small, imperceptible genetic variations have developed efficient ways of utilizing local foods. In global economy, however, these have been mostly left on the wayside, to be ignored by food producers. McDonalds, after all, has become internationally ubiquitous.

These subtle differences in genetics determine how our bodies derive required nutrients from available foods. Change in foods is associated with variety of diseases plaguing immigrant populations eating completely foreign foods, which their bodies are not necessarily predetermined for. This makes introduction of widespread agricultural monocultures an insane, costly and dangerous business, one that may affect health of many generations to come.

Furthermore, agricultural multi-nationals have, by expanding their choice brands of monocultures, endangered the very thing they sell, as monocultures have been proven to be more susceptible to diseases. Bananas, cocoa, famed potatoes of Irish famine…all known cases of monocultures who were severely endangered by a single occurence of disease or a parasite. One case of a foreign insect, parasite, or fungus can bring the entire food supply to a halt.

And that is just the start…Let’s not forget the doomy signs of disappearing bees and other pollinating insects create. World’s food supply is evidently in danger. And we can’t all live on McDonalds, even if we wanted to. And we don’t want to.

That is why the start of Svalbard Global Seed Vault is one significant, yet under-reported event. Because it represents the recognition that our global village needs a little help with its plate.