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Accepted Paper:

Distinct, uniform, stable: breeding the perfect good  
Veit Braun (University Frankfurt)

Paper short abstract:

When does a good become a commodity? An answer can be found in European plant variety legislation: setting the criteria for plant varieties, it forces breeders to make seed compatible with markets and industrial agriculture - but also allows farmers to circumvent markets and IP rights.

Paper long abstract:

When does a good become a commodity? An answer can be found in plant variety legislation: setting the criteria for seeds, it forces breeders to breed standardised plants that are compatible with mass markets and industrial agriculture. Demanding that plant varieties be "distinct, uniform, and stable" in order to receive property protection and admission to the market, plant variety legislation only allows for plants that are immutable across space and time, that can be compared to each other in trials and which, once quantified, allow buyers to make an informed decision.

Seeds bred under the regime of plant variety protection and admission can be easily evaluated, compared, produced, and appropriated. In this function, modern plant varieties are an essential element in the division of labour between breeding and growing crops. The requirements of distinctness, uniformity and stability thus give a good approximation of what is expected of a commodity. Enhanced by surveys, certificates and latent liabilities, their nature allows for smooth transactions without much need for negotiation or second thought.

Simultaneously, however, farmers are given more than breeders intend to with commodified seed. The same qualities that allow for a smooth working of the market also allow for its circumvention by resowing seed instead of consuming it. That both farmers and plants do not adhere to the roles provisioned for them by plant variety legislation points to the limits of commodification of life.

Panel G02
From detachment to appropriation: performing commodification
  Session 1