Beacon Press: Uncertain Peril
Login Cart

Uncertain Peril

Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds

Author: Claire Hope Cummings

How genetic engineering threatens seeds, and the story of those trying to save this most basic environmental resource

Life on earth is facing unprecedented challenges from global warming, war, and mass extinctions. The plight of seeds is a less visible but no less fundamental threat to our survival. Seeds are at the heart of the planet’s life-support systems. Their power to regenerate and adapt are essential to maintaining our food supply and our ability to cope with a changing climate.

In Uncertain Peril, environmental journalist Claire Hope Cummings exposes the stories behind the rise of industrial agriculture and plant biotechnology, the fall of public interest science, and the folly of patenting seeds. She examines how farming communities are coping with declining water, soil, and fossil fuels, as well as with new commercial technologies. Will genetically engineered and “terminator” seeds lead to certain promise, as some have hoped, or are we embarking on a path of uncertain peril? Will the “doomsday vault” under construction in the Arctic, designed to store millions of seeds, save the genetic diversity of the world’s agriculture?

To answer these questions and others, Cummings takes readers from the Fertile Crescent in Iraq to the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i; from Oaxaca, Mexico, to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. She examines the plight of farmers who have planted transgenic seeds and scientists who have been persecuted for revealing the dangers of modified genes.

At each turn, Cummings looks deeply into the relationship between people and plants. She examines the possibilities for both scarcity and abundance and tells the stories of local communities that are producing food and fuel sustainably and providing for the future. The choices we make about how we feed ourselves now will determine whether or not seeds will continue as a generous source of sustenance and remain the common heritage of all humanity. It comes down to this: whoever controls the future of seeds controls the future of life on earth.

Uncertain Peril is a powerful reminder that what’s at stake right now is nothing less than the nature of the future.
Bookmark and Share
“With Uncertain Peril, Claire Hope Cummings offers an indispensable contribution to the debate over biotechnology. She rightly focuses our attention on the seed, and what its privatization and manipulation may mean for the future of food.” —Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma

“Our current approach to industrial agriculture will someday seem so bizarre that our descendants won’t understand what we were thinking. 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 Deep Economy

“As agriculture continues to industrialize and globalize, our society has not thought hard enough about whether this is the kind of agricultural system we want. Fortunately, along comes the timely and valuable book to do a lot of important thinking for us. I hope everyone reads it.” —John Seabrook, The New Yorker

“The cleverest and most passionate analysis and overview of the biotech seeds debate I’ve ever encountered. Writing with passion, Cummings tells the story of seeds as not only the first link in the food chain but also as our only hope for food security in the midst of global warming. I commend Uncertain Peril to anybody who wants to understand who owns, controls, and is directing the fate of our seeds.” —Pat Mooney, author of Shattering and Executive Director of the ETC Group

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

“A wake up call about the threats to our seeds, and to the freedom of the seed.” —Vandana Shiva, author of Stolen Harvest and editor of Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed

“Claire Cummings now takes her place with Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva and other great philosophers and critics deeply concerned over the grim new directions of industrial, hi-tech agriculture, as it undermines ages-old traditional, highly successful relationships between the cultures, the earth and the seeds, that are at the core of all plant life and human existence. Uncertain Peril should be required reading for anyone interested in sustainable futures.” —Jerry Mander, director, International Forum on Globalization and author of In the Absence of the Sacred


Review by: Hannah Lobel, Utne Reader - May 31, 2008
"...More valuable, though, are her scathing critique of the scientists who have shielded this unscrupulous industry from public scrutiny and her call to return the discourse—and the control of our food supply—to the public domain."
Review by: P. Potocki, Bohemian - April 9, 2008
"...engrossing, frightening but hope-filled and eminently readable new books, Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds..." Read Full Review
Review: Booklist Starred Review - December 15, 2007
“…a meticulous and lucid exposé…this wake-up call should renew public debate about our food and land use.”
— Donna Seaman
Review: Library Journal starred review - December 15, 2007
“Her 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 for all academic and public libraries.”
Review: Kirkus Reviews - December 1, 2007
"…her description of the hit-or-miss nature of the genetic-engineering process—which studies suggest may be at the root of alleged health impacts associated with GMOs—will unnerve many. A firm but not strident attack on 'techno-elites' that raises serious questions about the way we farm."
Review: Publisher's Weekly - November 19, 2007
"...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… [Cummings'] authoritative portrait of another way in which our planet is at peril provides stark food for thought."
An interview with the author: Claire Hope Cummings On Point Interview

You might also be interested in:

Uncertain Peril

ISBN: 978-080708580-6
Publication Date: 3/1/2008
Pages: 240
Size:5.5 x 8.5 Inches (US)
Price:  $24.95
Format: Cloth
Temporarily out of Stock
Also Available In: