Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Terminator Technology Marches Ahead
On April 1, ETC Group* reported on the ongoing research and development of a highly controversial genetic seed sterilization process known as Terminator technology--plants genetically engineered to render seeds sterile. Terminator technology is being developed as a biological mechanism to strip farmers of their right to save and re-plant seeds from their harvest, thus creating greater dependence on the commercial seed market.
The ETC report, Terminator Technology: Five Years Later has found that five years later, Terminator is far from dead. Together with hundreds of civil society, farmers' and indigenous peoples organizations worldwide, ETC Group (formerly known as RAFI) concludes that the only solution is for governments to recommend a global ban on suicide seeds.
ETC Group also reports on "Exorcist Technology," the biotech industry's recent attempt to develop genetically engineered (GE) crops that shed their foreign DNA before harvest, with the help of chemical inducers. The industry sees this as a means of silencing anti-GE critics since the final products will not contain foreign DNA. "Exorcist is a new technology, but the basic strategy is the same--the biotech industry wants to shift all the burden to the farmer and society. If gene flow is a problem, the farmer will be obliged to apply a chemical inducer to excise the offensive transgenes. It's the newest bag of genetic tricks to fix the biotech industry's leaky genes and public relations problems," explains Hope Shand of ETC Group.
"We're still discovering new patent claims on Terminator, this time by Syngenta, and now the seed industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are boldly extolling the virtues of Terminator technology for small farmers and indigenous peoples," explains Shand.
According to ETC Group, the biotech industry is "greenwashing" Terminator by promoting it as a biosafety tool. The group is concerned that if Terminator technology wins market acceptance under the guise of biosafety, it will eventually be used everywhere as a monopoly tool to prevent farmers from saving and re-using seed.
Terminator technology has not yet been commercialized. However, according to Harry Collins, a Vice-President at Delta and Pine Land Co. (the world's largest cotton seed company) his company continues to work toward commercialization. Delta & Pine Land, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Syngenta, DuPont, Monsanto, BASF and Purdue, Iowa State and Cornell universities all hold Terminator patents. Syngenta, with nine patents, holds more Terminator patents than any other company, although Syngenta has stated publicly that it will not commercialize the trait.
On June 23-25, 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (owner of three Terminator patents), U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State have invited ministers of trade, agriculture and environment from 180 countries to a Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science and Technology in Sacramento, California. If the ministers accept the U.S. government's invitation to attend the meeting, the ETC Group recommends that they hold the U.S. government accountable for its role in developing, patenting and licensing Terminator technology.
"If the U.S. government plans to showcase biotech's new and controversial agricultural technologies for the South in the lead up to the WTO Ministerial in Cancun, it should begin by explaining why it supports an anti-farmer, anti-diversity technology for use in the developing world -- where 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seeds," advises Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group who is based in Mexico.
The full text of the 10-page report on Terminator and Exorcist plus policy recommendations is available at: http://www.etcgroup.org/.
*The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC group is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. The ETC group is also a member of the Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC). The CBDC is a collaborative experimental initiative involving civil society organizations and public research institutions in 14 countries. The CBDC is dedicated to the exploration of community-directed programs to strengthen the conservation and enhancement of agricultural biodiversity. The CBDC website is http://www.cbdcprogram.org/.
Source: ETC Group news release, April 1, 2003; ETC Communiqué, May/June 2003, Issue # 79.
Contact: ETC Group, P.O. Box 68016 RPO, Osborne, Winnipeg MB R3L 2V9, Canada; phone (204) 453-5259; fax (204) 284-7871; Web site http://www.etcgroup.org/.