This is an appendix to RAFI's Communique on Traitor Technology, published in January 1999.
Recent Content Related to Patents & Biopiracy
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."
The Novartis patents comprise a wide-ranging and inter-related group directed toward controlled expression of desired traits in plants, these resulting from introduction of DNA constructs. While a principal focus of the work is to regulate gene expression by exposure of the plant to chemicals that can activate the promoter regions of introduced genes, the work also includes constructs that confer the constitutive expression (i.e. maintained in the absence of external stimulus) of introduced traits. In addition, considerable effort has been devoted to isolating the gene products which are produced as a stress response by the plants. Isolation of the genes that code for these proteins, and of the promoter sequences which regulate their expression, provide the basis for much of the work. Several of the claims are methodological, defining ways of isolating desired genes and the promoters that control them, but essentially they are variants of themes already well-developed in biotechnology. Similarly, while there is considerable space given in the discussion to the methods of transforming the plants through introduction of DNA sequences, the approaches used are standard for the industry and not relevant to understanding the result.
Problems resulting from the continued widespread use of pesticides has prompted some biologists to pursue other means of controlling insects. While there have been some success stories in biological control, these have not been numerous, and spraying with toxic chemicals continues to be the norm. The Texas patent attempts to address this problem by incorporating a toxic component in the genome of fertile insects.
The plot thickens as Monsanto's biotech PR blitz has led to increasing problems for the corporation, including the scrapped merger between Monsanto and American Home Products.
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.
This chart illustrates where twenty of the world's worst patents have been granted and scores individual countries on the number of predatory patents they have allowed to issue on their soil. A full size picture can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat format.
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?
Plant patent" offices in several industrialized countries are knowingly granting plant variety monopolies to plant breeders for cultivars actually bred by farmers in at least 43 Third World countries. RAFI and Heritage Seed Curators Australia (HSCA) today are presenting a roster of 147 "dubious" plant variety claims to challenge the World Trade Organization's edict that countries must grant intellectual property "protection" over living plant varieties. The WTO is meeting in Geneva September 17-18 to discuss procedures for reviewing the controversial clause in 1999. Now, the question shouldn't be "What the WTO is going to do about plant breeders rights?" rather, it is "What are the WTO and the various intergovernmental 'patent' conventions going to do about plant breeders wrongs?"
RAFI's in-depth report on plant piracy, prepared in partnership with Heritage Seed Curators Australia, concludes that intellectual property regimes for plant varieties are inherently predatory upon the knowledge of indigenous peoples and farming communities.
Europe's answer to the American Home Monster" Terminator Technology is the Verminator, a new chemically activated seed killer. The Verminator kills seeds - in one of the invention's claims - by switching on rodent fat genes that have been bioengineered into crops. Zeneca BioSciences (UK) is vying with the "Monster" (Monsanto) to become Top Cat in the global seed industry even if it means playing cat and mouse with farmers and destroying their age-old practice of saving and breeding crop varieties.
The Iceland government has been forced to postpone a bill to give genomics company, deCODE an exclusive license to collect current and retrospective medical information about all Icelanders into a central database and the sole right to commercial exploitation. A number of major concerns were cited in the announcement to postpone the initiative.
As a result of solid NGO pressure, the ominous Terminator Technology" became a topic of substantive discussion and debate at the recent meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP IV) in Bratislava, Slovakia, 4-15 May.
By the year 2000 - after a 12,000-year history of farming - farmers may no longer be able to save seed or breed improved varieties. The problem is not the Millennium Bug but the Millennium Seed."
Hundreds of NGOs and government delegates attending the COP IV meeting in Bratislava were eager to sign postcards and mail them to Prince Hans-Adam II.
Andean farmers forced Colorado State University to surrender its US patent on 'Apelawa" quinoa. The anti-patent campaign that began 14 months ago (1997) ended on May 1st 1998 when on eof the quinoa 'inventors' admitted that the patent had been abandoned.
RAFI officially launched the latest in a series of civil society protests with an international postcard campaign aimed at Prince Hans Adam II, the Prince of Liechtenstein. The Prince is the chairman of the RiceTec Group, whose Texas-based subsidiary, RiceTec Inc., holds the controversial patent laying claim to Asia's famous aromatic on Basmati rice.