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Seeds

Terminator seeds

Project: Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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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: Food Safety

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Food security, Biotech/seed industry, Biodiversity, Farmers' rights, Environment, Biotech patents

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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration, Biotech patents

Willard Phelps of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) that the goal of terminator technology is “to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and Third World countries.” Phelps says he wants terminator technology to be “widely licensed and made expeditiously available to many seed companies.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998] The USDA shares a patent for terminator technology with Delta & Pine Land (see March 3, 1998).

Entity Tags: Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, Willard Phelps

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration

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

Category Tags: Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land, Terminator seeds, Seed/biotech industry consolidation

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, former independent chairman of the FAO Council and recipient of the World Food Prize, writes in an article published by the Biotechnology and Development Monitor: “In India where there are nearly 100 million operational holdings, denial of plant-back rights or the use of the terminator mechanism will be disastrous from the socio-economic and biodiversity points of view, since over 80 percent of farmers plant their own farm-saved seeds.” [Swaminathan, 1998; ETC Group, 2/19/2002]

Entity Tags: M.S. Swaminathan

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biodiversity, Farmers' rights

During a debate on terminator technology held during the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Harry Collins, Delta and Pine Land’s vice president for technology transfer, distributes a paper in which he claims, “The centuries old practice of farmer-saved seed is really a gross disadvantage to Third World farmers who inadvertently become locked into obsolete varieties because of their taking the ‘easy road’ and not planting newer, more productive varieties.” [Collins, 1998; Ecologist, 9/1998]

Entity Tags: Harry B. Collins

Category Tags: Biotech/seed industry, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds, Delta & Pine Land

Darwin Murrell of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) emails a memo informing the department’s scientists that any research into terminator technology must now be reviewed by senior managers. The USDA jointly holds a patent on the technology with Delta & Pine Land (see March 3, 1998). This is a “sensitive issue,” Murrell says. “Imposing an extra level of review for this research will not create undue delays nor will it restrict the creative talents of our scientists, but it will help them avoid potential political and legal pitfalls.” [New Scientist, 10/10/1998]

Entity Tags: US Department of Agriculture, Clinton administration

Category Tags: Public-private collaboration, Delta & Pine Land, Terminator seeds, Perception management

The Indian government bans the import of terminator seeds on fears the seeds would threaten traditional crops and put the well-being of Indian farmers at risk. [New Scientist, 10/10/1998] In December, the Indian minister of agriculture will issue a statement summarizing the threat posed by terminator seeds (see December 2, 1998). [India, 12/2/1998]

Entity Tags: India

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, India, National policies toward GM food

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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds

Several weeks after banning terminator seeds in India (see Before October 10, 1998), Shri Sompal, the country’s minister of agriculture summarizes the threat posed by the technology in a public statement: “This is lethal and poses a global threat to farmers, biodiversity, and food and ecological security. The use of this technology would threaten the farmers’ rights to save the seed for their harvest. Because of the lethal nature of the product, the public has been asked to be wary of the introduction of genetically modified foods in many parts wherever this technique is being tried to be introduced.… The farmer will be dependent upon terminator seed and will have to buy the same seed again and again. The company producing the seed can charge any price from the farmers. The farmer will not be in a position to use seeds saved from the previous crops. It will threaten the farmers’ expertise in seed selection and traditional conservation-cum-improved ways of carrying forward the seeds. The technology would have serious implications on the crop biodiversity. It may lead to gradual extinction of traditional varieties. Crop related wild varieties, important for natural evolution for crop species would be affected by cross-contamination. This concern would be of special relevance to India, since the country abounds in land races and wild relatives of crop plants.” [Rediff, 12/1/1998; India, 12/2/1998]

Entity Tags: India

Category Tags: India, Farmers' rights, Biodiversity, Food security, Environment, Terminator 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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds

Maurice F. Strong, a former secretary general of UNCED, says in a lecture on world hunger, “If the owners of technology, such as big companies, used [biotechnology] to victimize people through methods such as promotion of ‘terminator genes,’ the state should intervene and not leave the task to the market mechanism.” [Hindu, 4/8/1999; ETC Group, 2/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Maurice F. Strong

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Food security, Biotech/seed industry

The Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (SBSTTA) rejects proposals during a meeting in Montreal to recommend a permanent moratorium on genetic use restriction technologies (GURT). GURTs are those which use genetic engineering to restrict the growth of plants in order to protect the intellectual property rights of the seed developer. The most well-known restriction technology is “terminator” technology (see 1994 and after). Another is “traitor” technology, so named because the traits of seeds and plants produced with this technology can be genetically controlled, e.g., a certain proprietary chemical may be required in order for certain genes to be expressed. The proposal to ban GURTs was made after a report by a blue-ribbon scientific panel was presented before the SBSTTA. The report had concluded that restriction technologies are a threat to agricultural biodiversity and national food security. The delegates at the meeting reportedly agreed that the study was broadly based and well done. After listening to the report, the government of Norway proposed that the SBSTTA recommend a moratorium on field trials and commercialization of the technology. India, Portugal, Kenya, Peru, and several other countries backed the proposal. The US opposed it, as did Canada—though only the US delegation attempted to defend the technology. One of the concerns expressed by supporters of the proposal was that terminator technology could be used to strong arm poorer countries into adopting or accepting certain trade policies. Countries like the US, it was suggested, could withhold seed or the chemicals needed to sustain the growth of chemically dependent plants as a sort of ransom. With the US and Canada opposed to Norway’s proposal, an alternative resolution was drafted by Britain (and then amended by Suriname). Though different than Norway’s, Britain’s proposal would have also recommended a ban on commercialization and field trials. But this was not considered agreeable either. Finally, a “contact group” was formed, which went into private discussion. The compromise that resulted from the closed-door meeting looked nothing like either of the original proposals. Under the provisions of the compromise resolution, governments would have the option of imposing a ban on field trials and commercialization. It failed to affirm the conclusions of the Blue Panel report, making no mention of GURT posing a direct threat to biodiversity or national sovereignty over genetic resources. “I don’t know what happened in that room,” Silvia Ribeiro of Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) says, “There were two reasonably strong resolutions when they went in and one very weak proposal when they came out. I think the South has been tricked.” The new proposal was then weakened even further by the efforts of Australia. Even an industry representative took a stab at weakening the proposal. “In the feeding frenzy, a representative from the seed industry became so excited that he took the floor, presumed the prerogative of a government, and proposed additional resolution text to restrict farmers’ rights to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed,” according to RAFI. The following day, during a plenary discussion, RAFI called attention to a little noticed provision that had been slipped into the draft by Australia as an amendment. RAFI noted that it would restrict countries’ rights to impose a moratorium on GURT by linking any moratorium to potential trade sanctions. “Shortly before the debate ended, the US delegation made an ugly and aggressive intervention that put the question to rest: The US bluntly threatened trade sanctions on countries that impose a moratorium and made clear that it was willing to use the WTO to force terminator down the world’s throat,” according to RAFI. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/25/1999; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999, pp. 23-26 pdf file; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/28/1999; Economic Times of India, 7/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Suriname, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, Portugal, United States, United Kingdom, Peru, Kenya, Australia, Canada, Norway, India

Category Tags: Coercive tactics, Biodiversity, Food security, Studies-other, Terminator 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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, National policies toward GM food

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

Category Tags: Monsanto, Terminator 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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biotech patents, Public-private collaboration

Monsanto CEO Robert B. Shapiro says in an open letter to Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, that Monsanto is “making a public commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technologies, such as the one dubbed ‘terminator.’” Conway had asked the company’s board of directors to “disavow use of the terminator technology” (see June 24, 1999). Shapiro says the company still intends to research other technologies that would help the company protect its intellectual property rights Such technologies would include ways to switch certain genetic traits vital to a crop’s productivity on or off. Critics have called this technology “traitor” and say that, like terminator seeds, this technology would also threaten biodiversity, food security, and the 12,000 year old practice of seed saving. [Shapiro, 10/4/1999; BBC, 10/5/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Robert B. Shapiro, Gordon Conway

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Monsanto

The US Patent office issues its third patent (US Patent No 5,977,441) to the US Department of Agriculture and cotton seed producer Delta & Pine Land for genetic seed sterilization, commonly known as terminator technology. The patent is for innovations related to two earlier patents (see March 3, 1998) issued in March 1998 and July 1999 (see July 20, 1999). [USPTO Patent Database, 11/2/1999]

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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biotech patents, Public-private collaboration

Shortly after Monsanto announced (see October 4, 1999) that it would not commercialize sterile seed technologies, the Department of Agriculture’s Richard Parry tells the Wall Street Journal, “I think Monsanto needs to carefully reconsider its position.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/22/1999]

Entity Tags: Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration

Cletus Avoka, Ghanaian Minister of Environment, Science, and Technology, says his government will not permit the use of terminator technology. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 1/15/2000; AgBiotech Reporter, 2/2000]

Entity Tags: Ghana, Cletus Avoka

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, National policies toward GM food

Dr. Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General, says, “We are against [terminator genes]. We are happy to see that in the end some of the main multinationals which have been involved in implementing these terminator genes have decided to backtrack.” [ETC Group, 2/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Jacques Diouf

Category Tags: Terminator seeds

In a letter to delegates at the fifth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity, some 310 scientists from both poor and rich countries call for a moratorium on the use of genetically modified organisms. “We call for the immediate suspension of the release of genetically modified crops and products, both commercially and in open field trials, for at least five years, for patents on living processes, organisms, seeds, cell lines and genes to be revoked and banned, and for a comprehensive public enquiry into the future of agriculture and food security for all,” the letter says. The scientists say that the technologies being developed by biotech companies are aimed at protecting the intellectual property rights of seed companies and not to increase global food security or improve the welfare of poor farmers in non-industrialized countries. The letter warns that terminator technologies and trait-control technologies (which make it possible to turn plant traits on or off with the application of proprietary chemicals) would increase farmers’ dependency on chemicals and corporations. The letter calls for patents on these technologies to be banned on grounds that they would encourage biopiracy of indigenous knowledge and genetic resources, violate basic human rights and dignity, compromise healthcare, impede medical and scientific research, and be harmful to animals. [East African, 5/29/2000]

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds

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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Ethics Panel meets in Rome to consider the ethical implications of recent advances in biotechnology. The panel is made up of world-renowned agronomists and ethicists. The focus of their discussion is on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Following the meeting, the panel prepares a report that includes a summary of its views and lists a number of recommendations. The overriding concern of the report, completed some time in 2001, is that there is an inherent conflict between the interests of the corporations developing the technology and the social issues that GMO defenders say the technology will address. The biotech industry’s primary concern is “to maximize profits,” not to address the needs of the world’s rural poor, the report says. The panel notes that the private sector receives more resources than the public sector for GMO research, and that in some cases, public resources are actually being diverted to support private sector priorities. Another problem, according to the panel, is that the adoption of GM crops could undermine farmers’ livelihoods. Noting the power and leverage enjoyed by industry, the panel’s report warns that seed companies “may gain too much control over the rights of local farmers” and create a dependency among the rural poor on imported seeds. This would especially be the case if the biotech industry were to move ahead with genetic use restriction technologies (GURT), more commonly known as terminator technology (see 1994 and after). “The Panel unanimously stated that the ‘terminator seeds’ are generally unethical, as it is deemed unacceptable to market seeds whose offspring a farmer cannot use again because the seeds do not germinate,” the report says. “GURTs are not inherent in genetic engineering. While corporations are entitled to make profits, farmers should not be forced to become dependent on the supplier for new seeds every planting season.” However the panel says it does believe there is potential for the ethical use of GURTs. According to the panel, “Where the concern is with possible outcrossing of crops, for example GMOs that could damage wild plant populations, GURTs might be justified. This may also apply elsewhere: when the primary concern is to prevent reproduction of farmed fish with wild populations, for example, then GURTs could be useful in protecting wild populations.” In conclusion, the panel stresses the need for independent, publicly-funded research on GMOs that is “directed to the needs and benefits of poor farmers, herders, foresters and fishers.” [Food and Agriculture Organization, 2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture

Category Tags: Studies-other, Terminator seeds, Farmers' rights, Biotech/seed industry, Food security, Public-private collaboration

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta & Pine Land conclude negotiations on a licensing agreement for genetic seed sterility technology. The technology would be used to make seeds that produce sterile plants as a way for companies to prevent farmers from saving and replanting proprietary seeds. The sterile seeds have been dubbed “terminator” seeds and “suicide” seeds. Defenders of the technology say it can be used to make genetically modified plants “biosafe” since the plants would be unable to spread their genes to other plants. The USDA and Delta & Pine Land jointly hold three patents on this technology, the first being issued in March 1998. The licensing agreement, under negotiation for some time, establishes the terms and conditions under which the company can use the technology. One of the terms of the agreement is that Delta & Pine Land would not be permitted to use the technology in any heirloom varieties of garden flowers and vegetables. Critics say this is hardly a restriction considering that biotechs have never expressed any interest in heirloom plants—rather their interest is in commercial agriculture. The license also prohibits the company from making any terminator seeds available before January 1, 2003. Any seeds using the technology would also have to be tested for safety by the USDA, the agreement says. Also, the agreement requires that the USDA allocate any royalties it receives to the USDA’s technology transfer efforts. [US Department of Agriculture, 8/1/2001; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 8/3/2001]

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

Category Tags: Delta & Pine Land, Public-private collaboration, Terminator seeds

The Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) completes an analysis on the implications of genetic use restriction technology (GURT) for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The paper was requested the previous year by member governments of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In its 6-page memorandum, UPOV says it believes that using GURTs as a means to protect intellectual property would be less advantageous for society than implementing Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation based on UPOV’s 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see December 19, 2002). UPOV notes that unlike GURT, its 1991 convention has provisions that allow farmers to save seeds; set a time-limit (20 years) on a breeder’s exclusive rights; and permit farmers, researchers, and breeders to breed protected seeds when it is done privately, for non-commercial or experimental purposes, and when it is done to breed new varieties. Furthermore, under GURT, there is “no provision for public interest, allowing government access to varieties under particular circumstances,” as there is in the UPOV’s convention. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Studies-other, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds

An ad hoc expert panel created by the sixth conference of the Biodiversity Convention convenes in Montreal to consider the impact that genetic use restriction technology (GURT), also known as terminator technology, would have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The expert panel hears from 11 groups including the US, Canada, two individual farmers, an indigenous rights group, four civil society organizations, the International Seed Federation, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The paper presented by UPOV, completed in January (see January 10, 2003), is not well-received by the US or industry representatives. Though the UPOV is generally an ardent supporter of intellectual rights protections, its analysis argues that GURT technology could threaten the interests of small farmers. The paper is so unwelcome, in fact, that the US and the International Seed Federation will succeed in pressuring the UPOV to revise it (see March 13, 2003-April 11, 2003), eliminating all references to GURT from the body of the paper. Prepared by Monsanto’s Roger Krueger and Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the International Seed Federation’s analysis takes the position that GURT technology would be advantageous for small farmers. Their paper argues that GURT would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with more options. “The International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that GURTs have the potential to benefit farmers and others in all size, economic and geographical areas… In reality, the potential effects of the GURTs may be beneficial to small farmers… ,” the paper asserts. “It is the strong belief and position of the ISF that GURTs would potentially provide more choice, to the farmers, rather than less choice.” Kruefer and Collins also say the technology could be used to prevent the contamination of non-transgenic plants with genetically modified genes and thus could be “quite positive for the environment and biodiversity.” [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The expert panel’s final report will list 35 “potential negative impacts” of GURT on small farmers and local communities and only nine “potential positive impacts.” It will recommend, among other things, “that parties and other governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use.” [Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Roger Krueger, Harry B. Collins

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biotech/seed industry, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds, Indigenous peoples, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land

On March 13, Lois Boland, administrator for external affairs at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), sends a letter to UPOV Vice-Secretary General Rolf Jordens asking him to withdraw UPOV’s analysis on genetic use restriction technology (GURT) (see January 10, 2003). The analysis, presented in February to an expert panel convened by the Biodiversity Convention (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003), argued that GURT would not serve the interests of farmers or the public. In her letter, Boland complains that the UPOV Council did not allow the US to see the analysis before it was presented. “Even more troubling,” she adds, “the document submitted to the CBD is not a neutral presentation of facts and prevailing opinions; instead, it represents a one-sided negative view of GURTs.” In light of these concerns, she asks that the memo be discussed at the next scheduled meeting of UPOV’s Administrative and Legal Committee on April 10, 2003. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/13/2003 pdf file] In response, Jordens suggests that the matter be considered by UPOV’s Consultative Committee instead. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 pdf file] Boland replies that that would not be acceptable and insists that it be debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/28/2003 pdf file] Jordens gives in. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 pdf file] On March 31, Secretary-General of the International Seed Federation Bernard Le Buanec also voices concerns about the UPOV analysis, writing in a letter that the federation “is really concerned by the memorandum, as it presents a variety of unbalanced views.” [International Seed Federation, 3/31/2003 pdf file] On April 10, the UPOV memo is debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. Under pressure from the US, the UPOV agrees to say that it is not a “competent body to provide advice to CBD on GURTs.” A new version of the memo is posted on the UPOV’s website the next day with the following explanation: “This document supersedes the memorandum prepared by the Office of the Union on the genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) and sent to the CBD, dated January 10, 2003.” The new version deletes all references to GURT from the body of the document. As such, the new document makes no attempt to respond to the Biodiversity Convention’s original request for analysis of GURT. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Rolf Jördens, Lois Boland, International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration, Biotech/seed industry, Coercive tactics

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

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land, Indigenous peoples, Coercive tactics

The Canadian government instructs its negotiators at the Bangkok meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity’s Scientific Body to push for changes to a 2004 UN report (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003) that is critical of terminator technology. The report concluded that terminator seeds could result in a number of negative consequences for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and small communities. It recommended that the Convention prohibit field testing and commercialization of terminator seeds. Canada tells its negotiators to propose that the Scientific Body recommend the opposite—that countries be permitted to field test and commercialize the seeds. If these proposals are not accepted, Canada says its representatives should “block consensus on the issue.” The instructions will be leaked to attendees on the first day of the conference. [ETC Group, 2/26/2004; Guardian, 2/9/2005; Ottawa Citizen, 3/5/2006]

Entity Tags: Canada

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Coercive tactics

At the tenth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Bangkok, the Canadian delegation proposes that the Scientific Body recommend lifting the de facto ban on field trials and commercialization of terminator seeds and encourage research participation of private sector entities. Terminator technology is opposed by most non-industrialized countries and a number of organizations that advocate for farmers’ rights and food security. Many of these parties learned of Canada’s intention to oppose the ban before the meeting from a leaked Canadian government memo (see Before February 7, 2005). In the memo, Canada had instructed its delegates to block consensus on the issue if countries refused to lift the ban. Canada’s proposal is nonetheless shot down by delegates from Norway, Sweden, Austria, the European Community, Cuba, Peru, and Liberia. The Scientific Body agrees to recommend that CBD members should reaffirm the de facto ban (see May 15-May 26, 2000) on field testing and commercialization of terminator seeds. This recommendation, along with those in a 2004 UN report (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003) and the future recommendations of the “Working Group on Article 8(j)” (see September 3, 2002), will be submitted for consideration at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in March 2006. [ETC Group, 2/26/2004; Convention on Biodiversity, 2/11/2005; Inter Press Service, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds

Speaking at the tenth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA), held in Bangkok, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser criticizes his government’s backing (see February 7, 2005) of terminator technology. “The Canadian government has acted shamefully. It is supporting a dangerous, anti-farmer technology that aims to eliminate the rights of farmers to save and re-use harvested seed,” he says. “Instead of representing the good will of the Canadian people or attending to the best interests of the Biodiversity Treaty, the Canadian government is fronting for the multinational gene giants who stand to win enormous profits from the release of terminator seeds around the world.” [ETC Group, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Percy Schmeiser, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Farmers' rights

About 70 indigenous leaders representing 26 Andean and Amazon communities meet in the Peruvian mountain village of Choquecancha for two days to draft a report on the potential impacts terminator seeds would have on their communities if the international moratorium on the technology were to be lifted. The report will be submitted to a UN working group which has been tasked with examining “the potential socio-economic impacts of genetic use restriction technologies on indigenous and local communities.” The UN working group will submit recommendations to the next conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity which will decide whether or not to continue its de facto ban on terminator seeds. The meeting of indigenous leaders is held under the auspices of the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES) and the International Institute for Environment and Development. The indigenous leaders say in their report that they are concerned that pollen from terminator seeds could transfer sterility to and effectively kill off other crops and plant life. Another worry is that use of the technology would increase their dependence on the seed industry, a conclusion that was also reached by the UN Agriculture and Food Organization’s Ethics Panel in 2000 (see September 26, 2000-September 28, 2000). The group says the expansion of monocultural farming and the use of terminator technology could put the region’s 3,000 varieties of potato at risk. The indigenous leaders say they are especially concerned about a patent that has been obtained by Syngenta on technology that would be used to produce sterile potato seeds. Syngenta’s seeds would only grow if treated with chemicals. “Terminator seeds do not have life,” says Felipe Gonzalez of the indigenous Pinchimoro community. “Like a plague they will come infecting our crops and carrying sickness. We want to continue using our own seeds and our own customs of seed conservation and sharing.” [Development, 9/27/2005 pdf file; Inter Press Service, 10/11/2005; International Institute for Environment and Development, 10/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Aymara, Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development, Quechua, International Institute for Environment and Development

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Indigenous peoples, Biodiversity, Syngenta

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

Category Tags: Coercive tactics, Terminator seeds, Indigenous peoples, Terminator seeds, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land

The European Parliament passes a resolution calling on member countries to uphold the moratorium on terminator technology at this month’s conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The resolution—passed with a 419-1-5 vote—urges European countries to “reject any proposals to undermine the moratorium on the field-testing and marketing of so-called terminator technologies…” It specifically denounces the efforts in January by Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to exempt terminator seeds from the ban on a “case-by-case” basis (see January 23, 2006-January 27, 2006). [European Union Parliament, 3/16/2006; Ban Terminator, 3/16/2006; Inter Press Service, 3/24/2006]

Entity Tags: European Parliament

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds

More than 40 indigenous leaders from the potato producing regions of Peru meet in Cusco to sign a letter calling on Syngenta to discard its patent (US Patent 6,700,039) on a technology that would be used to develop potato seeds that would be sterile unless treated with chemicals. Andean and Aymara farmers fear that such seeds would destroy their centuries-old tradition of saving and sharing seeds, and with it their cultural and social way of life. They also say the technology could result in the disappearance of several of the 3,000 different varieties of potatoes that are grown in the region. [Indigenous Coalition Against Biopiracy in the Andes, n.d. pdf file; International Institute for Environment and Development, 3/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Aymara, Syngenta, Quechua

Category Tags: Indigenous peoples, Syngenta, Terminator seeds, Potatoes

In India, over half a million people sign a petition calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to maintain the country’s ban on terminator technology and support the international ban at the Convention on Biological Diversity. The petition was organized by South Against Genetic Engineering (SAGE), a coalition of farmers, civil society organizations, consumer movements, scientists, academics, and mediapersons. [Hindu (Chennai), 3/17/2006; Hindu Business Line (Chennai ), 3/19/2006; Ban Terminator, 3/27/2006]

Entity Tags: New Zealand, Manmohan Singh

Category Tags: India, Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds

At the eighth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), member countries must decide whether or not to uphold the 2000 moratorium on field testing and commercializing terminator technology. The technology, formally known as genetic use restriction technology (GURT), would be used to produce seeds that grow into sterile plants. Since 2000, four CBD-commissioned reports have been completed, every one of which has raised concerns that the technology would threaten the interests of poor farmers worldwide. Additionally, submissions to CBD bodies from various indigenous peoples and farmers’ organizations have denounced the technology. Proponents of terminator technology—the seed industry and the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States—argue that the technology would protect biotech companies’ property rights, and thus encourage them to invest in more research. They also contend that the technology could be used to prevent the spread of other genetically modified crops. During the CBD’s working group meeting on March 23, delegates from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand attempt to weaken the Convention’s ban on terminator technology insisting that member countries agree to insert a provision that would allow a “case-by-case risk assessment” of the technology. The proposal is soundly rejected. Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the G77 and China (together a group of 130 non-industrialized countries), argue that a case-by-case risk assessment is “clearly unacceptable” because it would allow the possibility for field tests. [Inter Press Service, 3/24/2006; ETC Group, 3/27/2006]

Entity Tags: New Zealand, Canada, Australia, China, Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Malaysia

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds

In Curitiba, Brazil, thousands of peasant farmers, including those from Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, demonstrate outside the Convention on Biological Diversity’s eighth conference to demand that the convention’s members uphold a de facto ban on terminator technology. Additionally, women of the international Via Campesina movement of peasant farmers stage a silent protest inside the meeting. The organization represents about 80 million farmers from some 56 countries. [ETC Group, 3/31/2006; Inter Press Service, 3/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Via Campesina, Movimento Sem Terra

Category Tags: Resistance, Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds

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