Technique du gène Terminator

On appelle semence terminatrice celles qui sont génétiquement modifiées pour ne produire que des graines stériles, maximisant ainsi les profits des entreprises en obligeant les fermiers à acheter de nouvelles semences à chaque année. Depuis l'an 2000, un moratoire a empêché l'utilisation de ces semences; toutefois, ce moratoire est sous la menace de sérieuses pressions exercées par l'industrie et par quelques gouvernements, dont le Canada. Heureusement, la Convention sur la diversité biologique des Nations Unies a récemment maintenu de facto le moratoire sur la technologie terminatrice.

The UN Upholds a Moratorium on Terminator Seeds

Terry Pugh
September 2006

l.gif (280 bytes)ollowing 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 Canada.

"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 seed source.

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."

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