The Rural Advancement Foaundation International (RAFI), an international civil society organization based in Canada, announced today that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) holds two new patents on the controversial Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to render their seeds sterile. If commercialized, Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to save seeds from their harvest, forcing them to return to the commercial seed market every year.
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While UN Agencies and Governments protest, and Gene Giants morph and maneuver, work on Terminator and Traitor Technologies goes full speed ahead. Genetic trait control technology is already being tested in the field. Can commercialization be far behind?
University of Georgia Refuses to Halt Project. Eleven indigenous peoples' organizations are demanding that a US$2.5 million, US-government funded bioprospecting program suspend its activities in Chiapas, Mexico. Despite the protest by local Mayan organizations, the University of Georgia (US) says it will not halt the five-year project, which aims to collect and evaluate thousands of plants and microorganisms used in traditional medicine by Mayan communities.Collectively known as the Council of Indigenous Traditional Midwives and Healers of Chiapas (Consejo Estatal de Parteras y M dicos Ind genas Tradicionales de Chiapas), the eleven Mayan organizations are denouncing the bioprospecting project, and they are asking other indigenous people in Chiapas to refuse to cooperate with the researchers. The project is led by the University of Georgia, in cooperation with a Mexican university research center, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), and Molecular Nature Ltd., a biotechnology company based in Wales, U.K. What is the Chiapas ICBG Project? The five-year project 'Drug Discovery and Biodiversity Among the Maya of Mexico,' now in its second year of operation, will receive a total grant of US$2.5 million dollars from the US government's International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG). The ICBG is a consortium of US federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that awards grants to public and commercial research institutions that conduct bioprospecting/biopiracy programs in the South. The ICBG's self-stated goal is to promote drug discovery from natural sources, biodiversity conservation and sustainable economic growth in developing countries.
Refusal to reject Suicide Seeds provokes fear that U.S. may use Terminator as a political weapon to enforce unilateral trade rules. From Trade Sanctions to Trait Sanctions?
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman s failure to reject Terminator Technology (a genetic modification that renders harvested seed sterile) may leave some World Trade Organization (WTO) trade delegations sleepless in Seattle. When the WTO meets next week in Seattle, governments are expected to endorse a new bout of global trade negotiations dubbed the Millennium Round. The United States will press for U.S. biased agricultural rules and tougher intellectual property provisions related to biotechnology. Some delegates and civil society organizations (CSO) attending the Seattle meeting fear that Uncle Sam will be tempted to use Terminator or (more likely) 'Traitor' (the remote-control of crop production traits) Technology to unilaterally dictate trade policies to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Representatives from civil society organizations (CSOs) met yesterday (29.10.1999) with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to demand that his agency abandon research and development of the controversial Terminator technology. Participants included the American Corn Growers Association, Consumers Union, National Family Farm Coalition, Ralph Nader, International Center for Technology Assessment, Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, Consumer Federation, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, North Dakota farmer Fred Kirschenmann, and RAFI. Terminator refers to a genetic engineering technique that renders second generation seed sterile, preventing farmers from saving seed from their harvest, and forcing them to buy new seed each year.
Monsanto surrenders 'suicide seeds' but continues work on other Traitor Technologies. With biotech's silver bullet firmly imbedded in its own foot, Monsanto is dropping its guns, abandoning the Terminator, and telling farmers that it wants to play nice. Not so fast, hombre! 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 has decided to abandon plans to commercialize Terminator Technology (causing crop seed to become sterile at harvest-time). Monsanto's open letter to Rockefeller is available on the company website at: www.monsanto.com/monsanto/gurt/default.htm (link no longer available) 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. RAFI calls it "Traitor" technology. "Congratulations should go to the civil society organizations, farmers, scientists, and governments all over the world who have waged highly effective anti-Terminator campaigns during the past 18 months," said Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI, in reaction to Monsanto's announcement. "The public unanimously rejected Terminator because it's bad for farmers, food security, and the environment," explained Mooney. "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.
RAFI Releases Newly Updated Seed Industry Giants: Who Owns Whom?
While momentum to ban Terminator Technology builds across the world, the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity has taken a large step backwards in its recent decision on Terminator and related technologies it calls GURTs" (Genetic Use Restriction Technologies). Rather than banning them - or even calling for a moratorium - the Biodiversity Convention's scientific body (called SBSTTA) adopted a decision that gives a green light to their commercialization. The SBSTTA decision even restricts the rights of countries to impose national bans on Terminator by linking moratoria to trade sanctions. Says RAFI's Executive Director Pat Mooney, "The CBD isn't regulating GMOs - Genetically Modified Organisms, it is becoming a GMO - a Governmentally Modified Organism."
The CBD as a GMO (Governmentally-modified Organism) Interminable Terminator talks at the Biodiversity Convention fail to exercise precautionary principle on threat to security and sovereignty. If the Convention can't take a stand on Terminator what can it do?
When the Biodiversity Convention's call last year for an investigation of Terminator Technology was followed by a repudiation of the Terminator by the world's largest public sector plant breeding network (CGIAR), the technology's numerous inventors began to back peddle. After all, commercial introduction of the seed sterilization technique was at least three years off. If governments and civil society critics could be pacified now, there would be time to position an effective lobby and PR strategy that would keep the Terminator 'on course' as the platform for all GMO plant breeding in the future.