The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and Delta & Pine Land Company of Mississippi announced a new patent (US # 5,723,765) on March 3, 1998 which uses genetic engineering to program a mature plant's seed to sterilize itself by destroying its own embryos. If a farmer or gardener saves seed from these plants, it will not grow. If you want another tomato plant or crop of soybeans, you must go back to the company for their seeds. This patent (which they have now applied for world-wide) applies to all plants and seeds.
It's purpose? According to inventor Melvin Oliver of the USDA (New Scientist, March 28, 1998) "Our system is a way of self-policing the unauthorised use of American technology. It's similar to copyright protection."
India's Devinder Sharma, coordinator of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security says, "For some time now the US has viewed farmer's rights [to save, cross, and replant seed] as incompatible with intellectual property rights that emphasises private monopolies.... Having been thwarted at international fora by world opinion, the US has now developed a biotechnological solution." (InterPress Service News Report July 15, 1998)
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is trying to ban imports of Terminator seeds, because "farmers could be enslaved to the seed market and indigenous crops could be destroyed by cross-pollination." But Dr. R.S. Paroda, director-general of ICAR has admitted that there is no reliable way of ensuring that Terminator seeds can't be sneaked past the inspectors. (Ibid.)
Camila Montecinos of Centro de Educacion y Tecnologia (CET) of Chile is calling for a global boycott. "This is an immoral technique....The sole purpose is to facilitate monopoly control and the sole beneficiary is agribusiness." Furthermore, she says "We've talked to a number of crop geneticists who have studied the patent. They're telling us that it's likely that pollen from crops carrying the Terminator will infect the fields of farmers who either reject or can't afford the technology....This is the neutron bomb of agriculture."(IPS March 20, 1998)
RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International) Research Director Hope Shand points out "Terminator was developed by the public sector together with the private sector [the USDA gets about 5% of net sales]. There will be enormous pressure on public breeders to adopt the technique in order to feed cash-starved government and university research departments." Edward Hammond, RAFI Programme Officer adds, "The biotech companies will probably insist that licensees use the Terminator as protection for their patents. It won't take long before farmers run out of choices." (RAFI News Release, March 13, 1998)
Terminator technology proponents insist that poor farmers won't be affected, while more affluent farmers will have the choice of buying Terminator seed or sticking with standard varieties. Neth Dano of SEARICE (Southeast Asian Regional Institute for Community Education) based in the Philippines, says "That's not how it will work. Public breeders wanting access to patented genes and traits will be forced to accept Terminator as a licensing requirement. The better-off farmers in the valleys will be forced to pay. Their poor neighbors on the hillsides will no longer be able to exchange breeding material with their counterparts in the valleys. This could drive hundreds of millions of poor farmers out of farming." Hope Shand of RAFI adds, "these poor farmers grow 15 to 20% of the world's food and directly feed at least 1.4 billion people." (RAFI News Release, March 20, 1998)
But is it likely that the Terminator technology will be so aggressively promoted? At the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Bratislava (where the US is an observer, not a party to the convention) several members attacked the Terminator technology "arguing that it would destroy farmer-based plant breeding; jeopardise the food security of at least 1.4 billion people; and wipe out the South's remaining in-situ agricultural diversity." To the member's surprise, the US delegation "did not actively defend the USDA-supported technology".
Then on May 11, 1998, Monsanto "a company with close White House connections and major multinational muscle" bought Delta & Pine Land, and with it control of the Terminator technology. The US delegation swung into action and is "lobbying hard to rewrite the Friends of the Chair report....throwing its weight around, trying to squelch concerns and amend the BCD's conclusions." RAFI's Edward Hammond writes from Bratislava "This is a technology that deliberately sterilises farmer's fields, that offers zero agronomic benefit, that is openly aimed at the South, and that is now in the hands of a giant aggressive multinational with more that enough resources to follow through." (RAFI Press Release, May 14, 1998)
And on June 1, 1998 it was announced that Monsanto will be bought by American Home Products Corporation (AHD) for $33.9 billion, and it is estimated that this will now be the largest agrochemical/life industries company in the world.
Look out life, the Terminator is stirring.
The Ark Institute. http://www.arkinstitute.com
InterPress Service. http://www.oneworld.org
MoJo Wire. http://www.motherjones.com
The New Scientist. http://www.newscientist.com
Rural Advancement Foundation International. http://www.rafi.ca
The WINDS. http://www.thewinds.org