"Humans generally cause significant environmental damage, so this false notion of waning crop diversity fits an accepted narrative," Heald said. "It reconfirms what people already believe, and that belief is certainly bolstered by people's casual observations about lack of diversity in the supermarket."
Heald says the lack of choice in the fruit and vegetable section of grocery stores creates the impression that there's a diversity crisis.
"Since we don't see the diversity, it must not be there," he said. "It fits in with a narrative of bad environmental news. There's no doubt the 20th century was a bad century for the environment, so it must also have been a bad century for crop diversity. But it turns out this is one area in the last century that was pretty good. So all these factors bundled together led to a consensus that was never questioned and never really explored systematically until now."
According to the study, 40 percent of the diversity gains the researchers found were from imports, but only 3 percent of gains could be traced to patents and less than 1 percent from biotechnological innovation.
"The influx of immigrants from South America and Asia have really brought a lot of new germ plasm into the U.S.," Heald said. "Seeds stored in suitcases and purses can move around the world without anyone knowing or the government playing any significant role. On the other hand, government stimulus, like patent law, plays a role in only 3 percent of diversity gains, with biotech innovation constituting less than 1 percent."
In the debate between economists who believe that patent law is essential to increasing plant diversity through innovation, and anthropologists and ethno-botanists who believe that patents destroyed plant diversity in the 20th century, Heald says the study demonstrates that both sides are wrong.
"The story of vegetables and apple
|Contact: Phil Ciciora|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign