With computer-assisted DNA sequencing machines running faster and more cheaply, researchers are now entering Phase II of human genome research. Companies are patenting and privatizing the commercially-important bits of variation found in individuals, indigenous peoples, disease and disability groups, and ethnically-distinct communities.
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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.
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.
Launching a new phase in the campaign to 'Terminate Terminator (seed sterilization) Technology', RAFI is sending personal letters to more than 550 ministers and senior officials responsible for agriculture, environment, and patent offices in 140 countries. The letters ask cabinet officers to assert national sovereignty over their seed supply and to ban the seed sterilization technology outright. The letters also ask ministers to reject each individual Terminator-type patent pending within their jurisdiction. Ministers are receiving a status report on key Terminator patents in their countries. Many governments are unaware that the World Trade Organization allows countries to reject individual patents on the grounds that they are contrary to ordre public (public morality and/or a threat to health or the environment)," Pat Mooney, RAFI's Executive Director says, "The WTO also allows governments to ban the entire technology. Both steps should be taken."
A new report from RAFI details over two dozen "terminator II" patents that link suicide seeds to proprietary chemicals genetically-weakened plants, and the patented power to make genetically-nonviable plants rise from the dead.
Fifteen Francophone African states, among them some of the poorest countries in the world, are under pressure to sign away the right of more than 20 million small-holder farmers to save and exchange crop seed. The decision to abandon Africa's 12,000-year tradition of seed saving will be finalized at a meeting February 22-25 in the Central African Republic. The 15 governments have been told to adopt draconian intellectual property legislation for plant varieties in order to conform to a provision in the World Trade Organization (WTO) that obliges signatories to protect" plant varieties. The legislation (a kind of legal "Terminator" because it prohibits farmers from replanting "protected" seed) is also known, euphemistically, as "Plant Breeders' Rights". If adopted, the legislation will throw some of Africa's poorest countries into an intellectual property cartel dominated by a handful of OECD states led by the USA, the UK, and Japan.
A bill has been introduced in the Ohio state legislature (United States) that would require registration and state-level regulation of anyone who cleans or conditions self-pollinated seed. According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), the proposed legislation is part of Monsanto's aggressive corporate strategy to police rural communities and intimidate seed-saving farmers.
RAFI examines the broader implications of Terminator and Traitor technologies. Traitor Tech refers to a new array of patents describing the control of a plant's genetic traits by the application of an external chemical catalyst. Farmers are becoming trapped in a pattern of biological controls that inevitably lead to bioserfdom.
The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a Canadian-based rural advocacy organization, announced today that it has uncovered over three dozen new patents describing a wide range of techniques that can be used for the genetic sterilization of plants and seeds. The patents reveal that engineered seed sterility is not an isolated research agenda - it's the Holy Grail of the ag biotech industry," says Pat Mooney of RAFI. The disclosure follows on the heels of a controversial patent unveiled last year, christened the "Terminator" by RAFI, that continues to generate worldwide protest and debate because it renders farm-saved seed sterile - forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. The Terminator patent is jointly owned by the US Department of Agriculture and a Monsanto subsidiary, Delta & Pine Land Co.
Rural advocacy organizations learned that Monsanto, arguably the world's least popular biotech multinational, held a high-level meeting yesterday to consider whether or not to abandon its quest for an exclusive license on the Terminator technology , US patent no. 5,723,765 , which its subsidiary, Delta & Pine Land Co., co-owns with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).* The patent covers a system for genetically engineering suicide seeds" that cannot be replanted, thus forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. Philip Angell, Director of Monsanto's Corporate Communications, confirmed that Monsanto held a meeting to discuss Terminator yesterday and that Monsanto's President, Bob Shapiro, attended. Angell declined to offer details, but he told RAFI that "it's an issue we have to wrestle with."
Under attack for blatant abuses to its Plant Breeders' Rights (intellectual property) legislation and accused of abetting the biopiracy of Farmers' Varieties around the world - including Australian Aboriginal varieties - Canberra's beleaguered PBR Office has issued new regulations intended to prevent piratical plant patents. But will they? What about past abuses? What does it mean for the renegotiation of the WTO's TRIPS" (patent) chapter this December 1-2 (1998)?
The Terminator - and related genetic seed sterilization technology - has been banned from the crop breeding programs of the world's largest international agricultural research network. The strong and unambiguous policy was adopted by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) at a meeting at the World Bank in Washington on Friday, October 30th.
It's a courageous decision. The CGIAR has done the right thing, for the right reasons," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI, "a ban on Terminator is a pro-farmer policy in defence of world food security."
The CGIAR is a global network of 16 international agricultural research centres, which collectively form the world's largest public plant breeding effort for resource-poor farmers. The Terminator genetic engineering technique renders farm-saved seed sterile, forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. The technology is aimed primarily at seed markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seed and on-farm plant breeding. If widely adopted, the Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to save seed and breed their own crops.
With more than 70% of the Third World's rice and wheat crops based upon its crop breeding programmes, the world's largest network of agricultural research institutes is vowing not to useTerminator Technology (a biotech-based strategy that prevents seed from regerminating in a secondgrowing season). The decision is a slap-in-the-face to one of its major funders - the US Government, and to Monsanto Corporation - who claim their technology will help feed the hungry.
After 17 years - a 17 day wonder? Now the question is, what next?
In search of vindication and vision, the CGIAR's first Systemwide Review in 17 years is indeed a vociferous defence of the past but its recommendations for the future vacuous and doomed to be discounted. After 18 months and $1.5 million is the System back where it started? How will it recover from its post-harvest losses?
Monsanto appears apoplectic in the face of global criticism over the seed-killing Terminator technology. In recent weeks the company has taken a drubbing across the globe, from India to New Zealand, Zimbabwe, the UK, and even in cyberspace. But so far Monsanto's legendary spinmasters have been unable to counter the criticism and articulate any good reason why the world needs the Terminator. Who, after all, wants a dead seed?