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Context of 'November 1998 and January 1999: US Seed Company Caught Dumping Toxic Seed/Chemical Mixture in Paraguay'

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The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta & Pine Land Company jointly obtain US patent 5,723,765 for a technology that would be used to make sterile seeds (see 1994 and after). The seeds, dubbed “terminator” seeds by critics, would grow into plants that would produce seeds that when replanted would literally kill themselves by producing a toxic protein. Delta & Pine Land has exclusive licensing rights, while the USDA would earn about 5 percent of the net sales of any commercial product using the technology. The USDA and Pine Land Co. have also applied for patents in at least 78 other countries. Delta & Pine Land says in its press release that the technology has “the prospect of opening significant worldwide seed markets to the sale of transgenic technology for crops in which seed currently is saved and used in subsequent plantings.” [USPTO Patent Database, 3/3/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998; Ecologist, 9/1998]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company, US Department of Agriculture

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Monsanto says it will purchase Delta & Pine Land Company, the company that shares a jointly-held patent on terminator technology with the US Department of Agriculture (see March 3, 1998). [Ecologist, 9/1998] The acquisition will be stalled by US anti-trust agencies, and in December 1999 Monsanto will drop its bid (see December 19, 1999).

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Delta & Pine Land, a US seed company, dumps 30,000 sacks of expired chemical-coated cotton seed on a one-hectare area of land in a small rural community in Paraguay. This happens twice—once in November 1998, and then again in January, the following year. The dump site is only about 170 meters from a school in Rincon’I, a small community of around 3,000 people located about 120 kilometers from Asuncion. The seeds have a coating comprised of Orthene (acefate), benlate, lorsban, Metalaxyl, baytan-Thirann, and Kodiac (a genetically modified bacterium). The pesticides alone are estimated to account for 5 tons of the 660-ton pile. Labels on the seed bags reveal the presence of carcinogenic chemicals and warn that they can cause genetic mutations. At least one person dies as a result of exposure to the seeds. Agustin Ruiz Aranda, a 30-year-old father of four, dies on December 28, 1998. His wife is five months pregnant. The cause of death is recorded as “acute intoxication by contamination from toxic agrochemicals.” His symptoms were reportedly identical to those associated with intoxication with acephate and metamidophos. Acephate, one of the chemicals present in the seeds, turns into metamidophos when combined with water. Residents of Rincon’I complain of headaches, nausea, faintness, insomnia, and dizziness. Children suffer appetite loss and get welts on their skin. Physician Pablo Balmaceda sees 74 Rincon’I residents and finds that every one of them has been poisoned with organophosphates. A Brazilian biochemist, Lenini Alves de Carvalho, confirms Balmaceda’s conclusions. Agronomist Sebastian Pinheiro, director of the IUF’s Department of Health and the Environment, tells Inter Press Service, “There are no precedents that can help us predict what could happen. But people who have been contaminated will probably experience a decline in their natural defenses, and show a tendency to develop serious diseases.” A report dated April 21, 1999 by the Paraguayan Department for Environmental Protection will also confirm the presence of toxins, and it will warn that potential long-term risks include “genetic alterations, cancers, and poisoning.” It also finds contamination in the soil and water table and calls for more investigation. The incident is reported widely in Paraguay, but makes no headlines in the US. After a court ruling, the company admits that it dumped the seeds but refuses to acknowledge their toxicity. [Inter Press Service, 6/4/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/22/1999; International Union of Food Workers, 6/25/1999] In mid-1999, Roger Malkin, president of Delta & Pine Land, will say that “investigations by the Paraguayan health and environmental agencies involved have been unable to identify a single case in which the health of people or the environment was affected” by the seed disposal. [Global Pesticide Campaigner, 8/1999] Rather than clean-up the site, the company offers monetary compensation and suggests that seeds could be used as green manure to fertilize the fields. “The tragic irony,” says Miguel Lovera, who works for an Asuncion-based organization, “is that the biotech industry promised to clean up the environment and help feed hungry people. Instead, my country is being used as a dumping ground for high-tech seeds and deadly chemicals that are contaminating rural communities and endangering lives.” Only the Geneva-based International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers offers the community of Rincon’I any help. Even Paraguay’s government resists helping the community. [Inter Press Service, 6/4/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/22/1999; International Union of Food Workers, 6/25/1999]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The US Department of Agriculture and cotton seed producer Delta & Pine Land jointly acquire a new patent (US Patent No 5,925,808) for genetic seed sterilization, also known as terminator technology. The patent is for innovations related to its original patent for seed sterilization (see March 3, 1998) issued in March 1998. [USPTO Patent Database, 7/20/1999]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company, US Department of Agriculture

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Biotech giant Monsanto and drug maker Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc. agree to merge. Together the two companies have a combined market value of about $52 billion. [New York Times, 12/20/1999] Shortly after the merger announcement, Monsanto says it has decided to drop its bid (see May 11, 1998) for Delta & Pine Land, the cotton seed company that shares a patent (see March 3, 1998) with the Department of Agriculture for terminator technology. [Reuters, 12/22/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc, Delta & Pine Land Company

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Monsanto announces that it will purchase Delta & Pine Land Company, the world’s largest cotton seed company, and the first company to obtain a patent on terminator technology (see March 3, 1998). Monsanto has had its sights on Delta & Pine Land for years. A previous plan to buy the company—announced in 1998 (see May 11, 1998)—fell through in December 1999 (see December 19, 1999). The acquisition means that Monsanto will control over 57 percent of the US cotton seed market. It will also deepen Monsanto’s reach into the developing world, where Delta & Pine Land has subsidiaries in 13 countries—including India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, and Pakistan. According to the ETC Group, an outspoken critic of terminator technology, “the takeover means that Monsanto will command a dominant position in one of the world’s most important agricultural trade commodities and that millions of cotton farmers will be under increased pressure to accept genetically modified (GM) cottonseed.” [Monsanto, 8/15/2006; ETC Group, 8/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land Company

Timeline Tags: Seeds

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