Terminator Technology Debated


Two of us from ETC are in Granada, Spain following the Working Group on 8j the CBD body that has the mandate to recognize and protect the traditional knowledge, innovation and practices of indigenous peoples. By the end of the week, the Working Group on 8(j) will make recommendations to COP8 (Curitiba, Brazil, March) on the social and economic impacts of Terminator . It should be a no-brainer, right?

Indigenous peoples, local communities and smallholder farmers have repeatedly called for a ban on Terminator here and in previous CBD meetings. They regard Terminator as a fundamental violation of human rights including the right to food security and self-determination. Check out the Ban Terminator website to learn more.

Heres a brief round-up of government interventions (just the highlights) in yesterdays working group. Note that in CBD Terminator is referred to as GURTs - Genetic Use Restriction Technologies:

Uganda on behalf of the African Group made a passionate appeal to re-affirm the CBDs de facto moratorium (Decision V/5 paragraph 23) and requested that COP8 require Parties to the Convention to take all necessary measures in their national laws to prevent the introduction of GURTs into the environment, including field trials.

Philippines restated its previous opposition to Terminator and specifically called for the integration of socio-economic impacts into the decision-making process.

India noted that the introduction of GURTs would adversely affect local communities and mentioned that its government passed national legislation in 2001 that prohibits Terminator.

Egypt said that Terminator has never been proved by sound science and that GURTs would negatively impact Farmers Rights. Egypt supports the development of national regulations to prohibit Terminator.

Kenya noted that the risk of contamination from GURTs is real, and noted that its government is developing national law to ban Terminator.

Mexico stated that it opposes the GURTs technology, but its position is weakened by its call for case-by-case risk assessment.

Austria spoke on behalf of the European Union and re-affirmed support for Decision V/5s precautionary approach. Echoing the recommendations of CBDs Scientific Body (SBSTTA) in February, 2005, Austria called for capacity building for assessment of GURTs. Norway agreed.

Canada, desperately trying to avoid being the Bad Guy government this time around, insisted that it neither promotes nor opposes this technology. Canada quickly revealed its true colors by pressing for stringent, science-based assessment and a case-by-case regulatory review.

Not surprisingly, Australia and New Zealand echoed Canadas views but Australia went over-the-top by stridently asserting CBD shouldnt be dealing with issues of seed-saving at all that the issue of GURTs should go to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture (if Australias in favor of this move, it doesnt give us much confidence in the ITPGRFA). Australia stated its opposition to a ban on field testing and commercial use of GURTs calling for additional research.

Argentina also supported case-by-case risk assessment, but noted that more information is needed on socio-economic impacts.

Brazil mentioned that it has a national law opposing Sterility GURTs, and called for a reaffirmation of CBDs precautionary language.

Also of note was an industry-inspired intervention from The Public Research and Regulation Initiative which said it supports more research on GURTs, with a case-by-case risk assessment. They expressed concern over recommendations to ban Terminator technology. We pointed out that the worlds largest network of public plant breeders in the South the CGIAR adopted a policy to prohibit the use of Terminator in its breeding work in 1998.

Its obvious that government positions on Terminator at this CBD meeting are polarized. The constant refrains heard yesterday for case-by-case risk assessment and stringent, science-based assessment and capacity building are extremely troubling. As weve learned in past technology debates, the fervent calls for science-based assessments are the surest route to ditching consideration of socio-economic impacts. Its the business-as-usual approach to opening the door to regulatory assessment and putting Terminator on a fast-track for approval. When CBD talks about a strong demand for capacity building in relation to Terminator it sounds like code for engineering public acceptance. Indigenous peoples have insisted that they must be consulted in these and future discussions about Terminator but its obvious that they dont need anyones help to figure out how their lives and livelihoods would be affected by suicide seeds.

What next? Were waiting for draft text to emerge from yesterdays deliberations. watch this space.