June 27, 1999

Biodiversity Convention's Terminator Decision Fails Biodiversity and Fails Farmers

SBSTTA Decision sticks out as a lonely defense of Terminator against a global background of rejections.

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."

Challenge to Sovereignty: Failure of SBSTTA to take a stand on Terminator, despite the strong efforts of Norway, India, Ecuador, Cote d'Ivoire, and many other countries to establish a moratorium, has turned the Terminator into a critical test for the Biodiversity Convention (CBD). Adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, the CBD has been hailed by governments in the South as a treaty that once and for all establishes under international law that national governments have sovereignty over their biological resources. SBSTTA's decision on GURTs challenges and may undermine that sovereignty by allowing the wide commercialization of a technology that puts seed life or death in the hands of corporations and allows industry to move beyond patents to use technology to control seeds and traits indefinitely. Once GURTs are in the field, countries could become utterly dependent on annual shipments of seeds and chemical trait activators for their Food Security. Developing countries sovereignty over their agricultural systems will be seriously threatened.

Says RAFI's Program Officer Edward Hammond "A handful of countries that have the GURTs made the rules at SBSTTA. The UN's CBD appears highly pliable to the commercial interests of a few rich countries who manipulated the will of the majority in a closed contact group in Montreal. The SBSTTA decision provides a policy framework for GURT-owning countries to force sterile seed technology on the rest of the world." Says Mooney, "GURTs challenge the legal sovereignty of developing countries over their biodiversity, a cornerstone of the CBD. If the Convention cannot take a stand on Terminator, what can it do?"


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