!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'October 30, 1998: International Research Network Condemns Terminator Technology'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event October 30, 1998: International Research Network Condemns Terminator Technology. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

A number of agricultural biotech firms secure patents on genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). GURT, more commonly known as “terminator” technology, involves genetically engineering seeds to grow into sterile plants. The motivation behind this technology is to provide a means for seed companies to protect their intellectual property rights. By making their seeds genetically sterile, seed companies can prevent farmers from saving and replanting proprietary seeds, thus forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every year. Critics say that biotech companies intend to use the technology to force their seeds on Third World farmers, most of whom engage in subsistence-level farming and plant only common seed. The seed industry sees these farmers as a huge untapped market. Seed savers number an estimated 1.4 billion farmers worldwide—100 million in Latin America, 300 million in Africa, and 1 billion in Asia—and are responsible for growing between 15 and 20 percent of the world’s food supply. [USPTO Patent Database, 3/3/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998; Ecologist, 9/1998] In addition to GURT, companies are seeking to develop a similar technology, called T-GURT or genetic trait control. This technology would make plant growth or the expression of certain genes contingent on whether or not the seed or plant is exposed to certain chemicals. For example, AstraZeneca is developing a technology to produce crops that would fail to grow properly if they are not regularly exposed to the company’s chemicals. The Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) suggests that T-GURT could serve as a platform upon which certain proprietary traits could be placed. In order to turn positive traits (e.g., herbicide-resistance) on, or negative traits (e.g., sterility) off, the farmer would need to either apply proprietary chemicals to the crops as they grow or pay to have the seeds soaked in a catalyst solution prior to planting. Critics note that this technology, like terminator technology, would require that farmers pay every year to have functioning seeds. Farmers would, in effect, be leasing the seed. Companies developing GURT and T-GURT seeds include Novartis, AstraZeneca, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc, and DuPont. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999]
Critics Say: -
bullet Terminator seeds would either turn poor farmers into “bioserfs,” by requiring them to pay for their seed every year, or drive these farmers out of farming all together. Proponents counter that farmers would not be forced to buy the seed. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet If biotech seed companies were to penetrate the markets of non-industrialized countries, their seeds would replace thousands of locally grown and adapted varieties resulting in a significant loss of the world’s agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet The use of terminator technology would allow the seed industry to expand into new sectors of the seed market, like those for self-pollinating crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, oats and sorghum, according to the Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). “Historically there has been little commercial interest in non-hybridized seeds such as wheat and rice because there was no way for seed companies to control reproduction. With the patent announcement, the world’s two most critical food crops—rice and wheat—staple crops for three-quarters of the world’s poor, potentially enter the realm of private monopoly.” The organization notes that according to FAO, wheat, the world’s most widely cultivated crop, was grown on 219 million hectares in 1995. Rice, which was cultivated on 149 million hectares that year, produced the most crop by weight at 542 million tons. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Critics warn that terminator technology would threaten the farmers’ expertise in seed selection and traditional plant breeding. [India, 12/2/1998]
bullet Some scientists have warned that introducing terminator genes into the germplasm could result in the development of a virus that could disable all non-terminator seeds. “This is perfectly possible,” according to Dr. Owain Williams, of the Gaia Foundation. “Already bacteria have been developed for fixing nitrogen into corn roots, so why not a killer bacteria?” [Independent, 3/22/1998]
bullet Terminator technology is also likened to piracy. Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, write: “Patenting genes the same way you patent software robs Third World farmers. While they and their ancestors developed almost all important food crops, transnational corporations can now blithely patent those crops and make mega profits without in any way compensating traditional farm communities for the original research. Genetic resources taken freely from southern countries will be returned to them later as pricey patented commodities. ‘Terminator’ technology is a way of locking this ‘bio-piracy’ into the very genes themselves.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/1/1999]
Proponents Say: -
bullet Supporters of the technology say that farmers will not be required to buy the seed and therefore will not purchase it unless they perceive some benefit from using it. Critics say that this scenario is not realistic. In a market dominated by an ever diminishing number of seed companies, selection will be limited. RAFI notes: “Current trends in seed industry consolidation, coupled with rapid declines in public sector breeding, mean that farmers are increasingly vulnerable and have far fewer options in the marketplace.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Some proponents argue that terminator seeds would be no different than F1 hybrids, which produce lower quality seeds than their parents. [London Times, 11/4/1998]
bullet Advocates say that terminator technology will allow the industry to safely release genetically modified plants into the environment, without the risk of contaminating related crops or wild plants. [New Scientist, 2/26/2005] Critics say that alleged benefit is outweighed by the danger terminator seeds pose to food safety, farmers’ rights, and agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]

Timeline Tags: Seeds, Food Safety

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

Dr. Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, says in a speech before Monsanto’s board of directors: “The agricultural seed industry must disavow use of the terminator technology to produce seed sterility… The possible consequences, if farmers who are unaware of the characteristics of terminator seed purchase it and attempt to reuse it, are certainly negative and may outweigh any social benefits of protecting innovation.” [Conway, 1/24/1999]

Entity Tags: Gordon Conway

Timeline Tags: Seeds

In a national referendum, 72 percent of Venezuelan voters approve a new constitution that significantly increases the state’s role in the economy and society. The constitution—Venezuela’s 26th since winning independence from Spain in 1821—codifies into law Chavez’s progressive agenda. It requires the state to promote sustainable agriculture, protect the environment, guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, take affirmative action against the effects of institutionalized discrimination, and guarantee every Venezuelan the right to a fair wage, health care, and a secure food supply. The victory seems to have been a result of Chavez’s immense popularity and not necessarily the constitution itself, which, according to one poll cited by the Washington Post, was read by only about two percent of the population. [Washington Post, 12/16/1999; Washington Post, 12/17/1999]
Selection of Constitutional Provisions -
bullet The constitution changes the country’s name from “Republic of Venezuela” to “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title IX, 1999] in honor of Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator who fought for the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] The constitution bases “its moral property and values of freedom, equality, justice and international peace on the doctrine of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator,” Article 1 says. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title I, 1999] The new name reflects Chavez’s desire for a more integrated Latin American, which he hopes will be achieved through a federation of “Bolivarian Republics.” [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The new constitution implies a distinction between the concepts of “law” and “justice.” [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] Article 2 of the constitution says that “Venezuela constitutes itself as a Democratic and Social State of Law and Justice… .” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title I, 1999] Gregory Wilpert, a supporter of the Chavez government, notes: “This stands in contrast to many other country’s constitutions [such as Germany’s], which simply say that its state is a state of law. In other words, the Venezuelan constitution highlights the possible differences between law and justice, implying that justice is just as important as the law, which might not always bring about justice.” The term “justice” is not defined anywhere in the document; however, Wilpert suggests that the constitution’s “declaration of motives,” (the section that precedes the official text of the document) provides an indication of what the constitutional assembly understands justice to be. It states: “The state promotes the well-being of Venezuelans, creating the necessary conditions for their social and spiritual development, and striving for equality of opportunity so that all citizens may freely develop their personality, direct their destiny, enjoy human rights and search for their happiness.” Others warn that the constitution’s failure to explicitly define the meaning of the term creates the possibility that the government could use its own understanding of justice to subvert the law. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Article 13, in designating the country as an “area of peace,” prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases or facilities in Venezuela “by any power or coalition of powers.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title II, 1999]
bullet The constitution requires the state to respect and guarantee any and all rights declared in international human rights treaties that are signed and ratified by Venezuela. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title II, 1999]
bullet The constitution adopts a broad definition of discrimination and makes it the responsibility of the state to correct any inequalities resulting from discrimination. Article 21 thus states: “[A]ll persons are equal before the law and consequently: No discrimination based on race, sex, creed or social standing shall be permitted, nor, in general, any discrimination with the intent or effect of nullifying or impairing upon the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on equal terms, of the rights and liberties of every individual. The law shall guarantee legal and administrative conditions such as to make equality before the law real and effective manner; [and] shall adopt affirmative measures for the benefit of any group that is discriminated against, marginalized or vulnerable… .” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 58 guarantees the right to information that is “timely, true, and impartial” and adds that such information must be disseminated “without censorship, in accordance with the principles of this constitution.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] Critics argue that what constitutes truth and impartiality is subjective and therefore this article could provide the government with a pretext for censoring the media. [Washington Post, 12/16/1999, pp. A30; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The constitution eliminates state financing of political parties. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Articles 71 through 74 gives the national assembly, the president, and registered voters (when a petition is signed by 10 to 20 percent of the registered voters) the power to initiate a public referendum. A referendum can be one of four types: consultative, recall, approving, and rescinding. A consultative referendum asks the population to give its opinion on a non-binding question that is of a “national transcendent” nature. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] For example, a referendum might ask whether the country should sign a free trade agreement. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] A recall referendum is a binding referendum that can be used to recall any elected official after the official has served half of his or her term in office. In an approving referendum, also binding, the public would be called upon to approve a constitutional amendment or an important law or treaty that would infringe on national sovereignty. The rescinding referendum would allow citizens to rescind existing laws. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The constitution guarantees the freedoms of expression, assembly, political participation, as well as the right to employment, housing, family planning, and health care. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] For example, with regard to health care, Article 83 states: “Health is a fundamental social right and the responsibility of the State, which shall guarantee it as part of the right to life. The State shall promote and develop policies oriented toward improving the quality of life, common welfare and access to services.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] Concerning employment, Article 91 states, “Every worker has the right to a sufficient salary that allows a life with dignity and covers his own and his family’s basic material, social, and intellectual necessities.” The constitution also requires that the state promote and protect economic democracy. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 84 charges the state with administering a national public health system that is “governed by the principles of gratuity, universality, completeness, fairness, social integration and solidarity.” The article also outlaws the privatization of health care. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 87 states that all Venezuelans are entitled to the benefits of the social security system, including those who are unable to contribute. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 88 recognizes the contribution of women homemakers and accordingly guarantees them the right to receive social security benefits. “The State guarantees the equality and equitable treatment of men and women in the exercise of the right to work. The state recognizes work at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth. Homemakers are entitled to Social Security in accordance with law.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 91 states that the minimum wage is to be computed on an annual basis and that its value will be based, in part, on the cost of the basic consumer goods basket. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 103 guarantees every Venezuelan free education up to the undergraduate university level. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 115 states: “The right of property is guaranteed. Every person has the right to the use, enjoyment, usufruct and disposal of his or her goods. Property shall be subject to such contributions, restrictions and obligations as may be established by law in the service of the public or general interest. Only for reasons of public benefit or social interest by final judgment, with timely payment of fair compensation, the expropriation of any kind of property may be declared.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Articles 119-126 of the constitution recognizes, for the first time in the country’s history, the indigenous population’s right to exist, to its languages, cultures, and to hold its lands in collective ownership. It also requires the state to help indigenous groups demarcate their lands and guarantees that state-led exploitation of natural resources in their lands “shall be carried out without harming the cultural, social, and economic integrity of such habitats, and likewise subject to prior information and consultation with the native communities concerned.” Under the new constitution, the state is also required to promote indigenous cultures and languages and protect their intellectual property. It prohibits outsiders from registering patents derived from indigenous knowledge. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] Article 186 guarantees the political rights of Venezuela’s indigenous population—estimated at 316,000—mandating that they be allocated three of the 130 seats in the National Assembly. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Articles 127-129 charges the state with protecting biological diversity, genetic resources, ecological processes, and national parks. It requires that environmental and socio-cultural impact reports be prepared in advance of any activities that could potentially cause environmental damage. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet The constitution specifies that the national government will consist of five powers: the legislative, executive, judicial, electoral, and public. The public, or citizen, power would provide oversight to the four other powers to ensure that they adhere to their constitutionally determined functions. Public power is thus charged with “preventing, investigating and punishing actions that undermine public ethics and administrative morals; to see to sound management and legality in the use of public property, and fulfillment and application of the principle of legality in all of the State’s administrative activities, as well as to promote education as a process that helps create citizenship, together with solidarity, freedom, democracy, social responsibility and work.” The responsibility of the electoral power is to oversee state elections, and in certain cases, the elections of civil society organizations, such as unions. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The new constitution replaces the former bi-cameral system with a unicameral one. The stated reason for this change is that it will enable the quick passage of legislation. Critics argue that this centralizes state power. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet At the insistence of President Chavez, the constitutional assembly extended the presidential term from five to six years and eliminated the provision that previously barred presidents from serving two consecutive terms. Chavez argued that a single five-year term would not be sufficient to fully implement the revolution’s policies. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Title VI of the constitution charges the state with promoting industry, agriculture, and various other smaller branches, such as fishing, cooperatives, tourism, small businesses, and crafts. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 301 grants the state the right to use “trade policy to protect the economic activities of public and private Venezuelan enterprises” and charges the state with ensuring that foreign-owned enterprises are not afforded preferential terms that could put Venezuelan enterprises at a disadvantage. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 302 enshrines continued state control of the petroleum industry and states that all industries of a strategic nature are subject to state control. Article 303 gives the state complete ownership of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 304, acknowledging that water “is essential to life and development,” specifies that it belongs in the public domain. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Articles 305 and 306 require that the state pursue a food production strategy aimed at self-sufficiency. The approach would entail promoting “sustainable agriculture as the strategic basis for overall rural development”; promulgating any necessary “financial, commercial, technological transfer, land tenancy, infrastructure, manpower training and other measures”; and compensating agricultural producers “for the disadvantages inherent to agricultural activity.” Article 307 states emphatically that the “predominance of large land estates is contrary to the interests of society” and that “farmers and other agricultural producers are entitled to own land.” It thus authorizes the state to implement taxes on landholdings that are left in fallow, to establish the necessary measures to convert fallow lands into productive economic units, and to protect and promote associative and private forms of property. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 311 requires that “any revenues generated by exploiting underground wealth and minerals, in general, shall be used to finance real productive investment, education and health.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 236 gives the president the exclusive authority to promote high-ranking military officers. This authority previously laid with the legislature. Critics of the constitution argue that these provisions effectively consolidate Chavez’s control over the military by providing him with a means to pack its leadership with political supporters. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Article 330 gives members of the military the right to vote, a right they were denied under the previous constitution. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Hugo Chavez Frias

Timeline Tags: US-Venezuela (1948-2005)

At the fifth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), member countries adopt a recommendation not to approve field testing or commercialization of GURTs, also known as terminator technology, until additional scientific research has been done. The recommendation, submitted by the Convention’s Scientific Advisory Body (SBSTTA) (see June 15, 1999-June 21, 1999), also say countries should have the option to ban the technologies at the national-level if they so choose. Delegates from several of the non-industrialized countries and a number of civil society organizations are disappointed with the COP 5 decision. They wanted a complete and immediate permanent international ban on the technology because of the potentially devastating effect the technology could have on the food security and agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] For example, the African Group’s statement calls on all countries to “immediately ban the terminator technology from respective national territories and thus, from the whole of Africa, as intolerable politically, economically and ethically and in terms of safety of plant life, and in the future, be constantly on the look out for unacceptable products of biotechnology.” [Biodiversity Convention African Group, 5/2000] Other parties calling for a complete ban on terminator technology include Kenya, the Philippines, India, Tanzania, and Malawi. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] Many countries, including most of the G77 (with the exception of Argentina) and China, though not calling for an immediate ban, nonetheless agree that GURT is a very serious issue. Noting the heavy reliance on subsistence farming of farmers in their respective countries, they say in a statement, “[W]e feel very strongly on the GURTs issue, as they may impact negatively on our agricultural biodiversity.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] It is also noted at the meeting that portions of the SBSTTA decision are outdated. For example, the SBSTTA in making its recommendation the previous year assumed that GURTs were “not likely to be commercialized in the near future and that at this time no example of the technology has been released in either research or investigative field trial.” This can no longer be said, according to Rural Advancement Foundation International, whose monitoring of the industry has revealed that seven new terminator patents were issued to industry and public sector researchers in 1999 and that biotech company AstraZeneca has already conducted field trials on genetic trait control technology in Britain. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] The final text of the GURTs portion of the COP5 decision reads: “[I]n the current absence of reliable data on genetic use restriction technologies without which there is an inadequate basis on which to assess their potential risks, and in accordance with the precautionary approach, products incorporating such technologies should not be approved by Parties for field testing until appropriate scientific data can justify such testing, and for commercial use until appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled scientific assessments with regard to, inter alia, their ecological and socio-economic impacts and any adverse effects for biological diversity, food security and human health have been carried out in a transparent manner and the conditions for their safe and beneficial use validated. In order to enhance the capacity of all countries to address these issues, Parties should widely disseminate information on scientific assessments, including through the clearing-house mechanism, and share their expertise in this regard.” [Convention on Biodiversity, 5/2000]

Entity Tags: Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity

Timeline Tags: Seeds


Time period

Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database


Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now


If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike