Monsanto, the world's largest seed and agbiotech company, made a public promise in 1999 not to commercialize 'Terminator Technology' - plants that are genetically engineered to produce sterile seeds. Now (February 2006) Monsanto says it may develop or use the so-called 'suicide seeds' after all. The revised pledge from Monsanto now suggests that it would use Terminator seeds in non-food crops and does not rule out other uses of Terminator in the future. Monsanto's modified stance comes to light as the biotech and seed industry confront peasant and farmer movements, Indigenous peoples and their allies in an escalating battle at the United Nations over the future of Terminator.
In 2000 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted a de facto moratorium on sterile seed technologies, also known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs). But at next month's high-level meeting of the CBD in Curitiba, Brazil (20-31 March 2006) the biotechnology industry will intensify its push to undermine the six-year old de facto moratorium.
In response, over 300 organizations today declared their support for a global ban on Terminator Technology, asserting that sterile seeds threaten biodiversity and will destroy the livelihoods and cultures of the 1.4 billion people who depend on farm-saved seed.
"The world's farmers and Indigenous peoples cannot trust Monsanto," said Alejandro Argumedo from Asociación ANDES - Potato Park in Cusco, Peru "Monsanto's broken promise is a deadly betrayal because Indigenous peoples and farmers depend on seed saving for food security and self-determination."
Terminator technology was first developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and US seed company Delta & Pine Land to prevent farmers from saving and re-using harvested seed, forcing them to buy new seeds each season.
In October 1999, in response to worldwide opposition, Monsanto publicly pledged not to commercialize Terminator seeds. Then-CEO, Robert Shapiro, wrote an open letter to the Rockefeller Foundation, stating, "I am writing to let you know that we are making a public commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technologies, such as the one dubbed 'Terminator.'"