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Suicide Seeds on the Fast Track
March 24, 2000
"We've continued right on with work on the Technology Protection System [Terminator]. We never really slowed down. We're on target, moving ahead to commercialize it. We never really backed off."--Harry Collins, Delta & Pine Land Seed Co., January, 2000
A report released by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) reveals that Terminator and Traitor technology are riding a fast track to commercialization. Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds, is universally considered the most morally offensive application of agricultural biotechnology, since over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seeds. Traitor technology, also known as genetic use restriction technology (GURTs), refers to the use of an external chemical to switch on or off a plant's genetic traits.
"After Monsanto and AstraZeneca publicly vowed not to commercialize terminator seeds in 1999, governments and civil society organizations were lulled into thinking that the crisis had passed. Nothing could be further from the truth," said RAFI's Executive Director Pat Mooney. "Despite mounting opposition from national governments and United Nations' agencies, research on Terminator and Traitor (genetic trait control) is moving full speed ahead."
According to RAFI, Delta & Pine Land, the world's largest cotton seed company is moving aggressively to commercialize Terminator. And despite massive protests, the U.S. Department of Agriculture supports and defends its anti-farmer patent and research on suicide seeds. Last year, AstraZeneca conducted field trials on genetic trait control technology (Traitor technology) in the UK. According to industry sources, it is not the first company to conduct field tests of this kind.
RAFI's report concludes that corporate commitments to disavow Terminator are virtually meaningless in light of the pace of corporate takeovers. Monsanto and AstraZeneca have each merged with other companies since they pledged not to commercialize suicide seeds.
* On December 2, 1999 Novartis and AstraZeneca announced they would spin-off and merge their agrochemical and seed divisions to create the world's biggest agribusiness corporation -- to be named "Syngenta."
* On December 19, 1999 Monsanto announced that it will merge with drug industry giant Pharmacia & Upjohn to create a new company, named Pharmacia, with combined annual sales of $17 billion.
The Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jacques Diouf recently declared his opposition to Terminator. In publicly rejecting Terminator, FAO's Diouf has come to the defense of the 1.4 billion people who depend upon farm-saved seed for their survival.
Among the national governments that have announced their intention to oppose Terminator technology are Panama, India, Ghana, and Uganda. India, one of the first governments to publicly reject Terminator, explicitly prohibits Terminator genes in a draft bill now before the Indian Parliament. Ghanaian Minister of Environment, Cletus Avoka, says that his government will not tolerate the use of Terminator technology. Panama's Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries writes that his government "will adopt measures to prohibit the specific patents as well as the technology in general." Ugandan officials have said that their government is discussing measures to outlaw Terminator at the highest levels of government.
Terminator and Traitor technologies are not limited to a single patent, nor is the research confined to one or two companies. Delta & Pine Land is currently the high-profile crusader for Terminator, but the goal of genetic trait control is industry-wide. According to RAFI, over 30 patents are collectively held by the multinational agrochemical firms that dominate the field of biotechnology.
According to RAFI, the future of Terminator/Traitor Technology rests with national governments and multinational corporations. The pressure points for political action are, first and foremost, with national governments around the world. Second, pressure should be applied at key international fora such as through the BioSafety Protocol at the Convention on Biological Diversity, and intellectual property negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
Entitled "Suicide Seeds on the Fast Track," the new RAFI Communiqué is available on RAFI's Web site http://www.rafi.org.
Source/contact: RAFI International Office, 110 Osborne Street, Suite 202, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3L 1Y5 Canada; phone (204) 453-5259; fax (204) 925-8034; email email@example.com.