months of organizing and educational work, farmers and citizens around
the world celebrated a huge victory when the UN Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) upheld a de facto moratorium on Terminator
Technology at a recent meeting in Brazil.
Terminator refers to the genetic
engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds. The six-year UN
moratorium was under serious threat at the CBD meetings, due to
pressure from industry and a few OECD country governments, including
"The voice of the people has been
heard," stated Terry Boehm, Vice-President of the National
Farmers Union and Chair of the Canadian Ban Terminator Campaign.
"Keeping Terminator out will mean that Canadian farmers, and the
world's farmers, will be spared this dangerous technology with
enormous environmental and social costs."
Women of Via Campesina
Protest Terminator at UN COP8
The goal of Terminator Technology is to
maximize seed industry profits by preventing farmers from re-using
harvested seed, forcing them to buy new seeds every year. Global
commercial seed sales stand at $21 billion (U.S.), but industry
sources believe Terminator could bump sales up to $45 billion (US).
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta and Pine Land
(D&PL - the world's largest cotton seed company) jointly hold
three U.S. patents on Terminator. In October, 2005, Canadian and
European patents were granted for Terminator to the USDA and D&PL.
The first patents for Terminator were
issued in 1998. At that time, a USDA spokesperson explained that the
technology is designed "to increase the value of proprietary seed
owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and
Third World countries." Scientific bodies and development experts
warned that "suicide seeds" threaten global food security
and the livelihoods of over 1.4 billion people, mostly in the
developing world, who depend on farmer-saved seeds as their primary
In response to overwhelming public
opposition, Monsanto and Syngenta - the world's first and third
largest seed companies, respectively - vowed not to commercialize
Terminator seeds. In 2000, the CBD adopted a de facto moratorium to
prevent the field-testing and commercial use of Terminator.
However, lured by potential massive
profits, the seed industry never did abandon the idea of
commercializing sterile seeds. D&PL intends to commercialize the
technology and is currently conducting Terminator testing in
greenhouses in the U.S. If Terminator is commercialized, three of
D&PL's biggest customers would be Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta.
These are three of the world's largest seed companies, and together
they account for 32% of the world's commercial seed sales and
one-third of global pesticide sales. Monsanto would be the largest
single marketer of seeds containing Terminator technology; Monsanto's
genetically-modified (GM) seeds and traits presently account for 88%
of the worldwide area planted in biotech seeds.
The Canadian government led an
unsuccessful attempt to lift the moratorium in February, 2005, at a
meeting of the CBD in Bangkok, Thailand. Massive opposition from
citizens in Canada and around the world forced the Canadian government
to backpedal. But the incident served notice that Terminator had once
again become a central issue for farmers around the world.
(photo: Terry Pugh)
In January, 2006, two months before the
CBD meeting was slated to take place in Brazil, the governments of
Canada, Australia, and New Zealand worked with the big seed companies
and the U.S. government to undermine the existing international
moratorium on Terminator seeds by insisting on text that could open
the door to regulatory approval.
Given the threat of contamination to
the world's seed supply from Terminator genes spreading into the
environment, it is ironic that some corporations and the U.S.
government are waging an aggressive campaign to promote Terminator as
a tool for controlling contamination from GM plants. They argue that
engineered sterility offers a built-in safety feature for GM plants
because if genes from a Terminator crop cross-pollinate with related
plants nearby, the seed produced from pollination will be sterile and
will not germinate.
"This is twisted logic,"
stated Pat Mooney, Executive-Director of the ETC Group. "The very
seed companies whose GM seeds are causing contamination are now
insisting that society accept a new technology to clean up their
biotech pollution." Mooney adds that Terminator may not function
as a reliable containment mechanism and could actually introduce
additional biosafety hazards. If Terminator gains commercial
acceptance under the guise of biosafety, seed sterility will be
incorporated in all genetically engineered plants. That's because
genetic seed sterility offers a much stronger monopoly than patents.
Unlike patents, Terminator seeds have no expiration date, no
exemptions for plant breeders, and no need for costly legal battles.
Mooney said the current moratorium
needs to be strengthened. "Each government needs to translate the
moratorium into a national legislative ban on Terminator. Clearly, a
ban is something that a majority of Canadians want."
For more information on the Canadian
Ban Terminator Campaign, log on to www.banterminator.org