Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Monsanto Won’t Commercialize Terminator
Following 18 months of controversy and intense popular opposition around the world, Monsanto CEO Robert B. Shapiro has advised Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, that Monsanto is abandoning plans to commercialize Terminator technology (a genetically engineered trait that causes crop seed to become sterile at harvest time). However, the company says it will continue to pursue closely related research targets that could allow Monsanto to switch on or off other genetic traits vital to a crop’s productivity. Terminator became a public relations disaster for Monsanto when the company made a bid to acquire Delta & Pine Land Seed Company in May 1998. Delta & Pine Land co-owns the “prototype” Terminator patent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) initially identified the patent on seed sterilization and launched a campaign in which over 10,000 individuals from 71 countries wrote letters of protest to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the USDA. “Monsanto would never have abandoned the profit-generating potential of sterile seeds just because it was an immoral technology,” said RAFI’s Research Director, Hope Shand. “The company finally realized that Terminator will never win public acceptance. Terminator has became synonymous with corporate greed, and it was met with intense opposition all over the world,” adds Shand.
USDA is now in the shameful position of supporting and defending a genetic technology that the world’s second largest seed corporation has clearly rejected due to public opposition. At a meeting with civil society organizations in June, Under-Secretary of Agriculture Richard Rominger told RAFI that USDA refuses to abandon the patent it co-owns with Delta & Pine Land (a Mississippi-based seed company in the process of being acquired by Monsanto) because it wants to see the technology widely licensed.
“USDA is increasingly marginalized in its support of Terminator. It should immediately cease negotiations with Delta & Pine Land, abandon the patent, and develop a strict policy prohibiting use of taxpayer funds for development of genetic seed sterilization,” said Hope Shand.
Monsanto is the second major multinational corporation to back away from Terminator Technology. In June of this year, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity received a letter from UK-based AstraZeneca announcing that it would not commercialize seed sterility technologies. In all, more than a dozen companies and public institutes have at least 31 patents that include claims involving seed sterilization.
Even though RAFI does not question Monsanto’s public commitment to abandon Terminator, the groups notes that market and technical realities may eventually result in a different outcome. In a letter dated February 24, 1999 AstraZeneca categorically stated that it abandoned development of its Terminator-type technology for the purpose of seed sterilization in 1992. RAFI discovered that ExSeed, an AstraZeneca joint venture with Iowa State University, won a new seed sterilization patent on August 11, 1997, based on a claim made in 1995 — three years after AstraZeneca’s research was to have been abandoned.
“Monsanto has taken a positive step, but let’s not forget that farmers can never depend on the charity and good will of giant corporations to reject immoral technologies,” concludes Pat Mooney, executive director of RAFI. “Without government action to firmly reject Terminator technology, this technology will be commercialized within a few years with potentially disastrous consequences.”
Monsanto’s open letter to Rockefeller is available on the company’s web site at: http://www.monsa nto.com/monsanto/gurt/default.htm
A list of private and public sector institutions who hold Terminator-type patents; more information on Terminator technology; and an in-depth report on Traitor technology are available on RAFI’s Web site: http://www.rafi.org. Traitor technology, once perfected, will create seeds whose genetic traits may be turned on or off with application of a proprietary chemical, such as an herbicide or fertilizer.
Source: RAFI press release, October 4, 1999.
Contact: RAFI, 110 Osborne St., Suite 202, Winnipeg MB R3L 1Y5 Canada; email firstname.lastname@example.org.