October 03, 1999

Terminator Terminated?

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.

Limping from a Silver Bullet: Monsanto is the second major "Gene Giant" to back away from Terminator Technology. In June of this year, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity received a letter from UK-based AstraZeneca announcing that it would not commercialize seed sterility technologies. "In all, more than a dozen companies and public institutes have at least 31 patents that include claims involving seed sterilization," Pat Mooney says. Monsanto was the big gun however, and Terminator became a public relations disaster for the company when it made a bid to acquire Delta & Pine Land Seed Company in May 1998. Delta & Pine Land co-owns the "prototype" Terminator patent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - U.S. patent number 5,723,765. In addition, Monsanto holds a second patent, WO 9744465, published 27 November 1997.


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