November 15, 2018

From Terminator to Exterminator

20 years after suicide seeds, civil society mobilizes in Egypt this week to stop the sequel – Gene Drive Organisms
History repeating
  • It has been twenty years since ETC Group and allies uncovered a US patent on what became known as “Terminator technology” – seeds genetically engineered to stop farmers breeding with them. Civil society and farmer movements protested that these “suicide seeds” would threaten seed-saving practices that are as old as agriculture. 
  • The story of Terminator was iconic in the global battle over GMOs. Only interested in protecting their profits, its developers failed to assess the potential social, economic and environmental impact of engineering sterility. Following an uproar from across society, including United Nations bodies, Terminator was placed under a global moratorium under the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity in 2000. 
  • Today a game-changing “child of Terminator” genetic tool called a “gene drive” is reprising that iconic role. Where Terminator allowed companies to render their own proprietary seeds sterile, gene drives go further – actively and invasively spreading sterility and other engineered genes into the wild. 
Terminator to Exterminator
  • Gene drives hijack sexual reproduction to force a novel gene through whole populations of organisms – potentially wiping out entire species. 
  • The resulting “gene drive organisms” (GDOs), some of which now appear to be working in laboratory settings, are actually “exterminator drives” – potentially far more dangerous to peoples’ rights, food security and the environment than Terminator.  
  • Although presented as a tool for health and conservation, the real interest and investments in gene drives are, once again, in agriculture and food (see the revealing data in our new report, Forcing the Farm)
High noon in Egypt 
  • Once again, negotiations over genetic extinction technologies is set to play out as 196 countries negotiate at the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity. 
  • Peasants, Indigenous People and civil society will be on the floor of the 14th Conference of the Parties in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. They are backed by over 250 leading organisations and individuals from global social movements who have called for a moratorium on release of GDOs. 
  • Language that would halt GDO releases has been proposed by countries from the Global South and is to be discussed by delegates. 
Target Malaria Trojan Horse
  • The biotechnology industry has learned from their first attempt to foist the Terminator on the world. In Egypt, they will not speak right out, but present instead their Trojan horse, called Target Malaria – a $100 million project from Imperial College in London, UK. 
  • The Target Malaria team intends to first release GMO mosquitos and then high risk Exterminator drive mosquitos in West African villages, with the unproven promise that the technology will soon eliminate the world’s most deadly infectious disease – malaria. 
  • Sidelining the well-proven techniques that have eradicated malaria in scores of countries (most recently Paraguay and Sri Lanka), Target Malaria’s GDOs will be promoted as a "solution". However, they are a high-stakes gamble with the ecology of food systems and biodiversity across the planet. 
  • In Burkina Faso, thousands have marched in the streets against Target Malaria’s mosquito trials. African and international movements are now mobilising to expose and resist a false solution that is making Africa a neo-colonial testing ground for flawed technologies.
Twenty years ago, society stopped agribusiness from sterilising farmer seeds. Now in Egypt, the world’s governments must show similar wisdom, precaution and foresight in affirming the rights of farmers, Indigenous Peoples and local communities to protect our biodiversity, and place a moratorium on gene drives.
Follow the fight in Egypt
  • During the negotiations in Egypt (17-29 November 2018), ETC Group will be posting regular updates on the fight to stop exterminator gene drives. Follow those updates here and please share these resources with friends and allies and on social media.
  • Organizations are invited to sign the letter against gene drives and join the continued fight from Terminator to Exterminator. 
  • To support our work against gene drives, please consider making a year-end donation to ETC Group – donations are tax deductible in US and Canada.

Please consider supporting ETC's unique research and advocacy with a tax-deductible donation. Donate here