The history of seeds goes all the way back to Genesis. For most of history, farmers have carefully bred new variations and saved their best seeds, but somewhere along the way, seeds became privatized and patented. "Uncertain Peril" is about what has happened as a result. I found the subject both fascinating and infuriating!
Cummings tells stories of seeds in different places: how we ruined farming in Iraq, how GMO (genetically modified) contamination showed up in corn planted by Zapotec Indians deep in the jungles of Mexico, and how Hawaii’s papaya industry was decimated by GMO papaya patented by Hawaii’s own university. She describes how a few large corporations get rich manipulating agriculture and make farmers here and abroad subservient when they used to be independent. The scariest part of the book concerns GMO seed which is largely untested for health risks (but likely to have them), contaminating other plants and recklessly handled by greedy corporations. Our elected officials could easily put a stop to it, but they don’t.
I’ve noticed a recurring theme in ecological books that I’ll simplify as "East" vs. "West." East represents the whole, the community, and native cultures while West represents the parts, the individual and western civilization. Western thought led to technology, antibiotics, standardization and conventional agriculture. Eastern thought led to the environmental movement, herbal remedies, diversity and organic farming. Clearly we benefit from them both, but West usually dominates over East. Cummings argues that Eastern thought and organic farming methods have the potential to save the world from the damage done by Western industrial agriculture. Like Kunstler of "The Long Emergency," she believes there will be a rise in diversity and locality as oil becomes more scarce. Let’s hope so.
I highly recommend "Uncertain Peril." It’s not exactly light reading, but it’s a fascinating and important topic. Just take your blood pressure meds first. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.