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Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds Hardcover – March 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former environmental lawyer and one-time farmer Cummings offers a persuasive account of a lesser-known but potentially apocalyptic threat to the world's ecology and food supply—the privatization of the Earth's seed stock. For almost a century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided seeds at no cost to farmers who then saved seeds from one harvest to another, eventually developing strains best suited to local or regional climates. But Cummings also tells how seeds became lucrative, patentable private properties for some of the nation's most powerful agribusinesses. Cummings bemoans the plague of sameness intensified by the advent of such fitfully regulated companies as Monsanto, which now not only own genetically modified seed varieties, but also sue farmers when wind inevitably blows seeds onto their neighboring fields. According to Cummings, this tyranny of the technological[ly]elite threatens agricultural diversity and taints food sources. Among the author's many startling statistics is that 97% of 75 vegetables whose seeds were once available from the USDA are now extinct. Cummings heralds plans for a Doomsday Vault to shelter existing natural seed stock, and finds comfort in organic farming's growth, but her authoritative portrait of another way in which our planet is at peril provides stark food for thought. (Mar.)
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Review

A must-read for anyone concerned about plants and what the privatization and manipulation of seeds may mean for the future of food. —Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

"This fine volume provides the details of the way we do things now-and the keys to getting towards a farming future that might actually work."—Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy

"Although the advent of GM foods has been described and criticized before, Uncertain Peril is the most coherent, complete, compelling, and well-written account yet."—Chip Ward, author of Hope's Horizon

"Highly readable . . . Cummings uses her finely tuned storytelling skills to explain why crop diversity is important, who controls commercial seeds, and why it matters that the biotech industry has tried to systematically destroy . . . the age-old right of farmers to save and reproduce their own seeds."—Hope Shand, Grist

"Uncertain Peril gives us passionate and persuasive reasons why we need more public discussion of the risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology. Cummings never loses sight of the key question: Who decides what foods we eat?"—Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and What to Eat

"The clearest and most passionate analysis and overview of the biotech seeds debate I've ever encountered."—Pat Mooney, author of Shattering

"I hope everyone reads it!" —John Seabrook, staff writer, the New Yorker

"[Cummings's] persuasive book reminds us all that we can no longer be passive observers to the world around us-our future depends on it. Highly recommended." —Library Journal, starred review

"A persuasive account of a lesser-known but potentially apocalyptic threat to the world's ecology and food supply-the privatization of the Earth's seed stock . . . stark food for thought." —Publishers Weekly

"A meticulous and lucid exposé . . . this wake-up call should renew public debate about our food and land use." —Booklist, starred review


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807085804
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807085806
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,928,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By jeff chandler on July 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I used to work for Monsanto and thought they were wonderful to work for. i got caught up in their science. as i have got older and switched from conventional to organic farming i have been keenly made aware of just what is going on. Seeing my soil come back to life, diversity in wildlife, beneficial insects and microlife is short of a religous experience. to think i was an addict and they were my dealer!!! what corporations are doing with seeds, chemicals and our freedom to farm is true. Anyone denying this, is either bribed, employed by them, or they own lots of stock and could care less what the agenda is. as our culture transformed from a rural to mostly urban one it's easy to see how most people have tuned out what is going on with their food. what a shame. Claire wrote this book with passion, i read it with passion. God, i wish i could meet her. Claire, thank you for this book, great job.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dan Desmond on June 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
Uncertain Peril provides a vivid description of the crisis at hand for our food system and the seed source that provides the foundation for all of the ecosystems we depend upon. Claire Cummings describes the crisis in a way that allows for understanding and action, the two ingredients that offer the only solution at hand. The book covers the current socio-political landscape surrounding genetic materials in a fair and factual manner. The book should be on the reading list of all citizens and particularly educators, high school through college, concerned with the interface of science, food, farming and health.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Don Maruska on July 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm struck by how seeds and the preservation of seeds have defined value in cultures through the ages. Bioneers and seeds of change brought this concept back to modern consciousness over a decade ago. What Cummings has done is masterfully and passionately focused awareness on just how fragile our legacy is. Her writing is deeply informative and evocative. The words from the end of the Epilogue continue to captivate me. "Seeds are messengers from the past. They are an embodiment of hope for the future... We can be guided by the way of the seed and by knowing that what we do to seeds, we do to ourselves. One thing is certain: the future of seeds is in our hands."
Bravo, Ms. Cummings!
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Format: Hardcover
First of all, my background is in science, particularly biochemistry, and before reading this book I had come to the conclusion that genetic engineering is merely a tool that can be used for both good and evil. I chose to read this book because I wanted to see if I could be persuaded against GMOs by such a highly rated book.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's really enlightening in regards to the numerous issues regarding regulation and ownership. But I had a hard time reading this book because those same issues are often undermined by misleading statements and premises. I skipped around chapters to read interesting excerpts, but almost every page had some kind of unfounded or vague claim or premise about the science or safety of the genetic engineering process. This is ironic since Ms. Cummings gripes about incomplete science. Perhaps it's because I understand the process better than the average American, but such transgressions were too great to overcome. Really, many of the arguments were all over the place and not as damning as she intended them to be. Kind of "alarmist", despite what Michael Pollan says.
Ms. Cummings touches upon some issues regarding the current state of conventional agriculture and world hunger, but subsequently dismisses them, saying organic farming, reducing food waste, and better food policies will solve all problems. Well, in an ideal world, sure, but GMOs have the potential to boost organic farming outputs and do so much for everyone's and the planet's health.
Overall it is really a shame that good arguments about ownership, regulation and potential misuse of GMOs are diluted with stretched premises and unsubstantiated claims of genetic engineering.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Wittman on June 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As our western civilization "evolves" our connection with our food supply has diminished to the point where the basic understanding of farming and the processes involved has diminished. One thing we all know despite this is that food comes from seeds. But what if seeds were no longer available or if they were only viable with the purchase of support chemicals? What would happen if the world's food supply were contaminated with a corporate gene that eliminated our ability and right to save seeds? Bob Dylan wrote in one of his apocalyptic songs from the seventies "One day even your home garden will be against the law". This is what is happening in the name of "Feeding the World", the mantra of the corporations bringing us "better living" with genetic engineering. But so far there has not been a genetically engineered crop that has benefited anyone but corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta. Claire has weaved together a compelling call to action and a succinct report of the direction agriculture is heading. I recommend that you arm yourself with this book and prepare to defend.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. McCombs on February 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Cummings has taken a difficult subject and made it very approachable and understandable. Her use of places to describe just how serious are the problems of GMO's brings the subject into everyone's life vividly.
Uncertain Peril should be required reading by every college student and by every politician that wants to leave the earth as a better place for their grandchildren
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