Don't Sell "Suicide Seeds", Activists Warn

Lee Poulsen
Thu, 23 Mar 2006 12:16:17 PST
Don't know if any of you are following the controversy surrounding  
"Terminator Technology" used in some genetically modified plants where  
the seeds they produce are all sterile--requiring you to purchase seeds  
each year in the case of food crops, for example. The two biggest  
entities involved in its development are Monsanto and the USDA working  

Anyway, here is an article about it from the Biodiversity Conference  
going on this week down in Brazil. ("The Convention on Biological  
Diversity"--"the main instrument for protecting biodiversity and  
ensuring equitable and sustainable access to the benefits of the  
Earth's genetic riches and a healthy environment. [There is a] 2010  
deadline agreed by the international community for achieving  
significant results in reducing biodiversity loss.")
See another article regarding Canada and this issue at  

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USDA Zone 10a

Inter Press Service News Agency

  Thursday, March 23, 2006   19:54 GMT    

  Don't Sell "Suicide Seeds", Activists Warn

Haider Rizvi

  CURITIBA, Brazil, Mar 21 (IPS) -  On Tuesday morning, as delegates  
arrived at the conference venue, they faced more than 100 peasant and  
indigenous rights activists at the main gates staging a demonstration  
in support of a complete ban on the sale and use of Terminator seeds,  
officially known as Genetic Use Restriction Technology.

  "These seeds are killed seeds," the crowd shouted as they watched  
delegates arrive in cars and buses.

  "Terminate the Terminator", the activists chanted in unison, while  
demanding tough laws against field testing and sale of so-called  
"Terminator" technology, which refers to plants that have had their  
genes altered so that they render sterile seeds at harvest. Because of  
this trait, some activists call Terminator products "suicide seeds".

  The U.N. Convention on Biodiversity had adopted a moratorium on field  
testing and commercialisation of Terminator technology in 2000. But  
opponents fear that such seeds are likely to be marketed soon unless  
governments impose a blanket ban.

  Currently, the product is being tested in greenhouses throughout the  
United States. Developed by multinational agribusiness firms and the  
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Terminator has the potential to keep  
small-scale farmers from saving or replanting seeds from one growing  
season to another, activists say.

  "Somebody is trying to befool me as a farmer," said Clement Chipokolo  
of the African Biodiversity Network, who came here all the way from  
Zambia. "In my culture we don't buy seeds. We save them. But now  
somebody is trying to bring agricultural slavery for us."

  The industry claims that it will enhance biodiversity and its high  
cost is more than compensated for by improved crop yield and quality.  
But opponents argue that Terminator would not only undermine  
traditional knowledge and innovation, but would add to the economic  
burden of poor peasants who depend on saved seeds.

  "It's the neutron bomb of biotechnology," said Hope Shand of the  
Canada-based Action Group for Erosion, Technology and Concentration  
(ETC), about Terminator. "It is designed to maximise profits for the  
biotech industry because farmers will be forced to buy seeds every  

  Currently, the number of small farmers around the world is estimated  
to be over one billion.

  The biotech industry's interest in promoting Terminator is not hard to  
understand because each year the global commercial seed market brings  
in about 23 billion dollars in revenue, according to independent trade  
experts who estimate that if farmers were forced to buy new seeds at  
each planting, the global market would be worth over 45 billion  

  ETC researchers estimate that if allowed to sell Terminator seeds, the  
industry will earn at least an additional 10 billion dollars from  
farmers in developing countries. They say that Brazilian farmers will  
have to pay no less than 500 million dollars a year to buy soybean  
seeds, while the purchase of seeds for wheat and cotton crops will cost  
peasants in Pakistan more than 120 million dollars a year.

  Currently, about 80 percent of farmers in both Brazil and Pakistan  
grow crops based on saved seeds from previous harvests.

  Many governments in the developing world have so far resisted pressure  
from the U.S. government and industry, but some governments in the  
industrialised world are trying to influence the outcome of the  
negotiations in favour of the industry, say activists closely watching  
the talks here.

  Last year, the government of Brazil -- the world's fifth most populous  
country and a major agricultural producer -- passed a law prohibiting  
the use, registration, patenting and licensing of modified seeds.  
India, a predominantly agrarian nation and home to one billion people,  
has done the same.

  Yet indications are that rich countries like Australia, Canada and New  
Zealand will side with the U.S. and the biotech industry during the two  
weeks of negotiations on the Convention on Biodiversity, which has  
drawn delegates from 188 countries. The Australian delegation is  
reportedly trying to introduce language that would undermine efforts to  
keep the U.N. moratorium on field testing and commercialisation of  
modified seeds intact.

  Last January, when delegates to the Convention on Biodiversity met in  
Spain, the Australians recommended that Terminator technology be  
studied on a "case-by-case risk assessment basis", a turning point in  
negotiations that activists fear has the potential to undermine the  
U.N. moratorium.

  "It is an immoral technology. It's anti-farmer," Shand said. "We don't  
need any more studies. It must be banned."

  Francisco Rodriguez Anamuri of Compesina (a women and indigenous  
people's group in Chile) added: "It's not about Monsanto. It's about  
our food security. You don't have food security if you don't have  

  Monsanto, the U.S.-based biotech giant, has repeatedly come under  
attack from environmental and indigenous right groups for its  
aggressive research and marketing of genetically modified crops. Though  
it had pledged in the past not to commercialise Terminator, Monsanto  
says it seeks to study "the risks and benefits of this technology on  
case-by-case basis".

  Some countries have agreed with the industry that genetic  
modifications can play a significant role in fighting hunger at  
negligible risk to the environment. But a 100-page study released in  
January by Friends of the Earth concludes that only a handful of  
countries have introduced and increased the use of genetically modified  

  Titled "Who Benefits from GM Crops?", the report says that after 10  
years of GM crop cultivation, more than 80 percent of the area sown  
with biotech crops is still concentrated in only three countries: the  
United States, Argentina and Canada.

  In other countries -- including Brazil and Paraguay -- GM crops were  
planted illegally, and in Indonesia, they were planted after government  
officials were bribed, FoE said.

  On the debate surrounding the use and sale of Terminator seeds, a  
senior U.N. official said indications are that delegates might reach a  
consensus by the end of the meeting next week.

  "For six years there has been a deadlock," Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive  
secretary of the Convention on Biodiversity, told IPS Monday. "I think  
the decision could likely be taken at this meeting."  (FIN/2006)

Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.

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