Science Blog

The Individual Mandate to Conserve Crop Diversity

Luigi Guarino

The US Affordable Care Act has proved complicated, divisive and controversial, but it will help to protect people against disease and medical misfortune. The world’s crops have the same sort of health problems. Thankfully, they too have insurance.

If wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, whatever, fall sick, genebanks allow plant breeders – the doctors of the crop world – to fight back. A new disease – like the Ug99 now ravaging wheat in some parts of the world – sends breeders back to the diversity stored in genebanks, looking among the thousands of samples stored in their fields and cold rooms for sources of resistance. They use these to breed the better seeds of tomorrow. Genebanks ensure that there will be agriculture at all tomorrow.

The Trust ensures that there will be crop diversity tomorrow. We’re raising an endowment that will make sure the most important collections of crop diversity will still be helping to feed our children’s children. Many donors have seen the importance of insuring the health of the food supply, and sent in their premiums. The US Government has contributed xxx to the endowment. And it didn’t even have to go to the Supreme Court to do so. It also spends about $46 million a year on its own system of genebanks.

I don’t for a minute suppose that yesterday’s Supreme Court decision will stop the health insurance debate in the US. The subject is too important. People will go on arguing – and worrying – about it forever, probably. We’re talking about life and death, after all.

Food is also a matter of life and death: having enough of it, of high enough quality, is about as fundamental to health as you can get. Genebanks are our insurance policy against the most insidious sort of health problem: going hungry. We need the food insurance provided by genebanks to keep supplying benefits on into the future, forever. That shouldn’t be complicated, divisive or controversial.

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