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Context of 'June 21, 1999: Panama Says It’s Opposed to Terminator Technology'

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Scientists and farm economists in the world’s largest agricultural research network, the UN-funded Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), vote to condemn terminator technology and ban it in all of their crop-improvement programs. The decision to call the ban is made with little objection, save some concerns expressed by a delegate from Canada. American officials present at the meeting say nothing. Overall, members feel that terminator seeds would threaten food security, genetic diversity, biosafety, sustainable agriculture, and plant breeding. CGIAR, comprised of 16 international agricultural research centers, constitutes “the world’s largest public plant breeding effort for resource-poor farmers,” according to Rural Advancement Foundation International. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/1/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 11/1/1998; London Times, 11/4/1998]

Entity Tags: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a Canadian-based organization that advocates on behalf of poor farmers, discovers that seed companies have collectively obtained 29 patents on technologies that would be used to create seeds whose growth could be restricted. Companies are interested in the technology because they can protect their intellectual property rights by preventing unauthorized—i.e., unpaid for—use of the seed. The first known patent for this type of technology was for the “terminator” seed, developed jointly by Delta & Pine Land Company and the US Department of Agriculture (see March 3, 1998). The technology has been condemned worldwide by a number of governments, scientists, and organizations concerned with food security, farmers’ rights, and biodiversity. The revelation that so many companies still want to develop and use this technology—despite such widespread condemnation—leads Pat Mooney of RAFI to say that seed sterility technology is the “Holy Grail” of the biotech industry. “The notorious terminator patent is just the tip of the iceberg,” explains Mooney, “Every major seed and agrochemical enterprise is developing its own version of suicide seeds,” he adds. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Dupont, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Rhone Poulenc

Timeline Tags: Seeds

In a letter to the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a Canadian-based organization that advocates on behalf of farmers, Panama’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries says his government “will adopt measures to prohibit the specific [terminator] patents as well as the technology in general.” [RAFI Communiqué, 3/2000, pp. 4 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, Panama

Timeline Tags: Seeds

At the ninth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA), held in Montreal, four countries—Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil—convince the body to submit a recommendation to the next meeting of the Biodiversity Convention to forego action on an expert panel report. They argued that the report was flawed because it lacked scientific rigor. The report—commissioned by members of the Biodiversity Convention in late 2002—had identified numerous potential negative impacts that terminator technology could have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). If the member countries of the Biodiversity Convention, scheduled to meet in February 2004, accepts the SBSTTA’s recommendation to forego action, the issue will not be considered again until 2006. “SBSTTA9’s decision is wrong and dangerous,” says Alejandro Argumedo of the Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network. “Giving four governments the right to derail a report on the impact of terminator on indigenous peoples and local communities is like saying that the voices of these communities are not important, and that the social and economic impacts of terminator can be dismissed.” The ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization that opposes terminator technology, suggests that the presence of representatives from biotech firms Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land may have had something to do with the four countries’ objection to the expert panel report. The organization notes that industry representatives from these very same companies had been involved in the expert panel discussion and had submitted a report insisting that GURT technologies would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with “more choice.” Both Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land have patents on GURT technology. [Convention on Biodiversity, 11/14/2003; ETC Group, 11/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Canada, Harry B. Collins, Roger Krueger, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Canada’s Supreme Court hears the case of Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto. Schmeiser is appealing a lower court’s decision that he infringed on Monsanto’s patent when he planted canola seed in 1998 that he “knew, or ought to have known” was from glyphosate-resistant plants. Intervening on Schmeiser’s behalf are a consortium of six non-government organizations (Council of Canadians; Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration; Sierra Club; National Farmers Union; Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology; and the International Center for Technology Assessment) and the Ontario attorney general. The Ontario government is backing Schmeiser because it fears that a decision upholding the lower court’s ruling would encourage more gene patents and increase healthcare costs. Monsanto’s lawyers also presenting arguments before the court. In addition to defending the lower courts’ ruling that Schmeiser infringed on the company’s patent, the lawyers are cross-appealing the decision that the farmer’s profits in 1998 (awarded to Monsanto) only amounted to $19,832 CAD. Monsanto has calculated Schmeiser’s profit to be $105,000 CAD. Monsanto’s interveners include the Canola Council of Canada, BIOTECanada, and the Canadian Seed Trade Association. [BC Politics, 2/2/2004]
Schmeiser's Arguments -
bullet Schmeiser’s lawyer, Terry Zakreski, challenges the validity of Monsanto’s patent arguing that the patent contradicts the Harvard College v. Canada Supreme Court decision that higher-life forms cannot be patented. He explains that in claiming exclusive rights to glyphosate-resistant plant genes and cells, Monsanto is in effect claiming patentholder rights to any plants and seeds containing those genes and cells, which as the Supreme Court has already decided, is not legal. He argues that Monsanto should have instead chosen to protect its intellectual property rights under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, which was designed to protect the rights of seed developers. [Associated Press, 1/20/2004; BC Politics, 2/2/2004]
bullet Zakreski also argues that extending Monsanto’s patentholder rights to second-generation roundup-resistant seeds makes it illegal for farmer’s to save and share seeds—the 12 thousand year old practice responsible for creating domesticated crops. [Vancouver Sun, 1/20/2004]
bullet Even if the patent is ruled valid, according to Zakreski, Monsanto implicitly waived its patentholder rights when it failed to control the spread of its invention after releasing it unconfined into the environment. [BC Politics, 2/2/2004]
bullet Zakreski also argues that even if the court upholds the validity of Monsanto’s patent, Schmeiser did not violate the patent, because he never exploited its utility—the resistance it provides against glyphosate. The only way to use the patent, he says, is to spray Monsanto Roundup Ready Canola with Roundup, which Schmeiser did not do. [BC Politics, 2/2/2004]
bullet Zakreski notes an inherent contradiction in the claim that Monsanto is entitled to all profits resulting from the sale of seed containing the patented gene. Zakreski offers the hypothetical example of a farmer whose canola is infested with two different genes, each patented by a different company. Would each of the patentholders be entitled to the full profit? Would the farmer be required to pay each of them 100 percent, in effect being forced to pay out twice the profit from his crop? [BC Politics, 2/2/2004]
Monsanto's argument -
bullet Monsanto’s lawyers reject Schmeiser’s position that a farmer’s right to save seed overrides the company’s patent rights. In order for them to recover research and development costs they must charge farmers annually for use of the seed containing their patented gene, they argue. [Vancouver Sun, 1/20/2004; Associated Press, 1/20/2004]
bullet The company’s lawyers also insist that the Harvard College v. Canada decision does not apply to this case. Its patent is not on the entire plant, but rather just one of the plant’s ingredients. He compares the company’s gene to a special patented steel that is used for an automobile where the inventor’s rights extend only to the steel, not the entire car. The judges interrupt Monsanto’s presentation on several occasions challenging the lawyer’s steel analogy and asking Monsanto’s lawyers where Monsanto’s patent rights would end since plants have the ability to reproduce themselves and hence the inventions contained within them.
bullet Lawyers for Monsanto’s interveners said that invalidating the company’s patent would harm Canada’s economy and undermine its patent system. “Patents create a climate that favors new research,” argues A. David Morrow, a lawyer for the Canadian Seed Trade Association. [Associated Press, 1/20/2004]
bullet Biotech Canada’s lawyer, Anthony Creber, similarly states, “I’m nervous that if you don’t give (patent protection) for seeds and cells, you will have a hollow Patent Act with severe economic consequences.” [Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), 1/21/2004]
bullet Mona Brown, a lawyer with the Canadian Canola Growers Association, tells the judges that the “patent makes us more profitable and better farmers.” [Associated Press, 1/20/2004]

Entity Tags: International Center for Technology Assessment, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, National Farmers Union, Canola Council of Canada, BIOTECanada, Canadian Seed Trade Association, Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, Sierra Club, Monsanto, Percy Schmeiser, Council of Canadians

Timeline Tags: Seeds

At a UN meeting in Granada, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s “Working Group on Article 8(j)” meets ahead of the Convention’s eighth biennial meeting to discuss implementation of Article 8(j) and related provisions of the Convention, as requested by the seventh conference of the Convention that took place in 2004 in Kuala Lumpur. [Convention on Biodiversity, 2/20/2004] Article 8(j) of the convention calls on member countries to protect the traditional knowledge, innovation, and practices of indigenous peoples and peasant farmers. One of the group’s tasks is to “consider the potential socio-economic impacts of genetic use restriction technologies on indigenous and local communities” and make a recommendation based on three previous UN reports (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003; February 7, 2005; September 26, 2000-September 28, 2000) and official submissions from indigenous peoples and farmers’ organizations (see September 26, 2005-September 27, 2005). In every one of these reports, terminator technology was considered a threat to the poor. In spite of this, the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian governments, guided by a US representative (the US has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity) and industry lobbyists, push to make the Working Group’s recommendations supportive of terminator technology. Lobbyists for the seed companies include Harry Collins, vice president of Delta & Pine Land, and Roger Krueger of Monsanto. Delta & Pine Land jointly holds three patents on terminator technology with the US Department of Agriculture. According to the ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization opposed to terminator seeds whose representatives are present at this meeting, “With a US government official consulting at her side, the Australian negotiator insisted on deleting reference to the ‘precautionary approach’ and used this as a bargaining chip to win controversial wording for a ‘case-by-case risk assessment’ of terminator.” However, the efforts of these countries to draft a recommendation that would weaken the moratorium on terminator seeds are opposed by the majority of other parties, including Spain, the African Group, Egypt, the Philippines, Norway, Pakistan, Kenya, India, and Brazil. [ETC Group, 1/27/2006; National Farmers Union, 1/27/2006; Canadian Press, 1/30/2006] Australia refuses to budge and it is finally agreed to revise the recommendation to say that further research on terminator technology should include “a case-by-case risk assessment basis with respect to different categories of GURTs technology subject to the precautionary approach.” [Convention on Biodiversity, 1/27/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Brazil, Working Group on Article 8(j), Australia, Canada, Harry B. Collins, New Zealand, Spain, Philippines, India, Kenya, Norway, Pakistan, Roger Krueger, Egypt

Timeline Tags: Seeds

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