Thirteen months ago, the agbiotech industry wakened to a nightmare. Illegal and unwelcome, the presence of genetically-modified (GM) maize was reported smack in the crop's center of genetic origin in Mexico. There's never a good time for a political/ecological calamity, but the beleaguered Gene Giants were already struggling to persuade consumers, following the Taco Debacle (Starlink), that companies could control their inventions and their inventory. The seed companies were also hoping to arm-twist EU ministers into lifting the ban on GM products in Europe.
Some biotech companies are claiming that GM (genetically-modified) seed can best be controlled if they also apply Terminator technology to the seed. The Terminator makes the seed sterile at harvest time so that farmers have to purchase new seed every growing season. When ETC group learned that suicide seeds were being hailed as a "green" technology, we decided to hold a contest. The winner is announced today at the Biodiversity Convention in The Netherlands.
ETC group's April Fool's Day Contest - to come up with the best conclusion to the sentence, "Using Terminator to halt GM seed contamination is like..." has a winner. The global contest, which began in early February and ended on April Fool's Day resulted in more than 110 entries from 21 countries. Many hundreds more visited the special website set-up for the contest to see the answers.
The Coalition Against BioPiracy (CAB)* will present its highly un-coveted Captain Hook Awards -for infamous and outstanding achievements in biopiracy - at the Biodiversity Convention in The Hague, April 8-19 2002. The previous Captain Hook Awards ceremony was held almost two years ago at the Fifth meeting of the Biodiversity Convention in Nairobi. The Coalition emphasizes that the Captain Hook awards are made possible by the work and activities of many civil society and peoples' organizations around the globe that actively monitor and resist biopiracy. The cases cited and the analysis used in selecting the award winners are by no means limited to the work of the Coalition Against Biopiracy.
A UNITED NATIONS conference in the Hague next week (April 02) offers the UN a critical opportunity to ban 'Terminator' seeds before they are commercialised in farmers' fields, warns an alliance of campaign groups.
The ETC group, Berne Declaration and ActionAid are among many groups urging delegates at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 'COP6' conference to heed global opinion and ban the commercialisation of crops modified to produce sterile seeds - known as 'suicide seeds' or 'Terminator technology'.
Nature magazine’s flip-flop today (April 2002) over the testing protocols involved in determining GM maize contamination in Mexico - the Centre of Genetic Diversity for the vital food crop - is just the latest in a string of absurdities as the scientific community struggles over what to do as genetically-modified germplasm invades the genetic homelands of the world’s food supply.
On the 10th anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), ETC group concludes that the CBD has failed to establish meaningful regulations to stop biopiracy. Biopiracy refers to the appropriation of the knowledge and genetic resources of farming and indigenous communities by individuals or institutions seeking exclusive monopoly control (usually patents or plant breeders' rights) over these resources and knowledge.
World's Largest Agrochemical and Seed Enterprise Holds Growing Arsenal of Terminator and Traitor Technologies
Syngenta, the world's largest agribusiness firm, was formed on 13 November 2000 with the merger of AstraZeneca and Novartis. The next day the company won its newest Terminator patent, US Patent 6,147,282, 'Method of controlling the fertility of a plant.' (The patent was issued to Novartis - but the company's intellectual property goes to Syngenta.) With pro forma 1999 sales of US $7 billion, Syngenta is the world's largest agrochemical enterprise, and the third largest seed corporation.
In the face of mounting evidence of its commercialization, the Fifth Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Biodiversity Convention (CBD) failed to heed the warnings of most of the world's nations to ban the Terminator technology. 'By not responding to the calls made by many of the nations of the world, a minority of COP delegates from the North ultimately abdicated their responsibility to international food security and biodiversty,' said Julie Delahanty of RAFI.
Despite information about new patents and field trials, and the strong opposition to Terminator and genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs)* expressed clearly by most of the world's nations, the CBD approved a proposal coming from its Scientific Advisory Body (called SBSTTA). That proposal recommends that GURTs not be approved for field-testing or be commercialized until more scientific data can be gathered on its potential impacts. The text also states that Parties may choose to establish a complete moratorium on these technologies at the national level.
1999 saw at least seven new Terminator patents, and more than one field trial of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). Governments meeting at COP5 in Nairobi (15-26 May) must act decisively to ban Terminator and call for a moratorium on field testing and commercial sale of GURTs. 'This is the litmus test for the CBD s much-touted precautionary principle and the Biosafety Protocol negotiated last January,' Silvia Ribeiro of RAFI warns, 'If the Convention can't agree on an all-out ban of the Terminator as a blatant threat to biodiversity, then it can't be trusted and the Protocol shouldn't be ratified.'
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?
After a week of silence on the subject, the USA (a country that is not a Party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) is lobbying hard to re-write the Friends of the Chair' report on the Terminator - a technology widely condemned by numerous CBD members. Why the sudden spurt of behind the scenes activity? On May 11th, the giant Monsanto Corporation - a company with close White House connections and major multinational muscle - bought control of the Terminator patent. For Governments fighting to protect agricultural biodiversity in the Convention, its now or never.
Monsanto, the world's second largest pesticides corporation, has vaulted from nowhere to become the world's fourth largest seed company. Between mid-1996 and the end of 1997, Monsanto spent roughly US $2 billion in seed-related acquisitions. Its May 11th announcement that the corporation will take over Dekalb and Delta and Pine Land seed companies adds a staggering US $4.3 billion to its merger bill. By way of comparison, if Monsanto's Monday splurge were spent on public sector research, it would fully fund the entire CGIAR system at 1998 levels for over 12 years. But it is not who Monsanto is buying - but what patents it is acquiring - that has observers alarmed. Monsanto now has the Terminator - and maybe much more.
RAFI's analysis of overlapping agendas for biodiversity, food security and genetic resources in the multilateral arena. The year 1996 was critical for food security, agricultural development, and biodiversity. The fights and fora include: FAO World Food Summit, the Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). A 12 page document.
An introduction to intellectual property monopolies. The 70 page booklet produced by IDRC in 1996 is designed as an information and advocacy tool for civil society and policymakers in response to two new, legally binding international agreements: the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Trade Organization's Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement (WTO/TRIPs).
Pharmaceutical firms and biotech companies are approaching botanical gardens to buy samples of tropical plant diversity - a clear violation of the spirit - if not the law - of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The rights of farmers and indigenous peoples are being bypassed by corporate deals that make a mockery of the CBD's fundamental principles.
ISSUE: Biodiversity prospecting is the exploration, extraction and screening of biological diversity and indigenous knowledge for commercially valuable genetic and biochemical resources. Bilateral bioprospecting agreements are sanctioned by the multilateral Convention on Biological Diversity. In the vast majority of cases, however, commercial bioprospecting agreements cannot be effectively monitored or enforced by source communities, countries, or by the Convention, and amount to little more than "legalized" bio-piracy.
Pharmaceutical companies dont want to study rare plants. They want to test the most - commonly used species. The valuable medical plants are those with the longest track record in the most location. In a survey of almost 1.000 medical plants used around the world, most of the pharmacologically - (and commercially) interesting species are employed in more than one community, and often, in several countries. This is great news for BioPirates, who can move benevolently from place to place in search of the best deal.