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ISSUE: Plants
TITLE: Biodiversity Convention's Terminator Decision Fails Biodiversity and
Fails Farmers  
SOURCE: RAFI
DATE: 29 June 1999


RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International) 
News Release - 28 June 1999 

Biodiversity Convention's Terminator Decision Fails Biodiversity and Fails
Farmers 

SBSTTA Decision sticks out as a lonely defense of Terminator against a global
background of rejections. 

While momentum to ban Terminator Technology builds across the world, the UN's
Convention on Biological Diversity has taken a large step backwards in its
recent decision on Terminator and related technologies it calls "GURTs"
(Genetic Use Restriction Technologies).   Rather than banning them - or even
calling for a moratorium - the Biodiversity Convention's scientific body
(called SBSTTA) adopted a decision that gives a green light to their
commercialization.  The SBSTTA decision even restricts the rights of countries
to impose national bans on Terminator by linking moratoria to trade
sanctions. 
Says RAFI's Executive Director Pat Mooney, "The CBD isn't regulating GMOs -
Genetically Modified Organisms, it is becoming a GMO - a Governmentally
Modified Organism." 

Challenge to Sovereignty:  Failure of SBSTTA to take a stand on Terminator,
despite the strong efforts of Norway, India, Ecuador, Cote d'Ivoire, and many
other countries to establish a moratorium, has turned the Terminator into a
critical test for the Biodiversity Convention (CBD).  Adopted in 1992 at the
Rio Earth Summit, the CBD has been hailed by governments in the South as a
treaty that once and for all establishes under international law that national
governments have sovereignty over their biological resources.  SBSTTA's
decision on GURTs challenges and may undermine that sovereignty by allowing
the
wide commercialization of a technology that puts seed life or death in the
hands of corporations and allows industry to move beyond patents to use
technology to control seeds and traits indefinitely.  Once GURTs are in the
field, countries could become utterly dependent on annual shipments of seeds
and chemical trait activators for their Food Security.  Developing countries
sovereignty over their agricultural systems will be seriously threatened. 

Says RAFI's Program Officer Edward Hammond "A handful of countries that
have the
GURTs made the rules at SBSTTA.  The UN's CBD appears highly pliable to the
commercial interests of a few rich countries who manipulated the will of the
majority in a closed contact group in Montreal.  The SBSTTA decision
provides a
policy framework for GURT-owning countries to force sterile seed technology on
the rest of the world."  Says Mooney, "GURTs challenge the legal
sovereignty of
developing countries over their biodiversity, a cornerstone of the CBD.  If
the
Convention cannot take a stand on Terminator, what can it do?" 

Out of Step with Events:  Going into last week's Montreal meeting, SBSTTA knew
that: 

* AstraZeneca and Monsanto, two GURT owners, made misleading statements in
documents provided to delegates... 
* The world's largest public agricultural network (CGIAR) had sworn off the
technology... 
* One of Terminator's primary promoters, Monsanto, had tacitly agreed to a
moratorium... 
* India had banned Terminator seeds and that initiatives elsewhere to do the
same were gaining momentum.... 

Policy heavyweights from across the globe, including M.S. Swaminathan of India
and Maurice Strong, the Secretary General of the Rio Earth Summit, had also
endorsed government action.  As SBSTTA delegates debated the technology in
Montreal last week, a dramatic series of events unfolded elsewhere that
heightened pressure for a Terminator ban. 

* On Tuesday, the Senate of the U.S. State of New Hampshire voted nearly
2-1 to
ban Terminator from its soil.  
* Late on Thursday, European Union Environment Ministers approved a de facto
moratorium on new releases of transgenic crops, including GURTs, leaving many
Southern delegates on Friday morning wondering about the different European
positions on different sides of the Atlantic. 
* Also late on Thursday, even the Rockefeller Foundation - a major promoter of
biotechnology and Green Revolution crops - turned on Terminator.  Foundation
President Gordon Conway, addressing the Monsanto Board of Directors in
Washington, DC, urged the company to abandon its plans to commercialize
sterile
seeds. 

Science on the Sidelines:   SBSTTA was presented with an independent
scientific
study of GURTs authored by a blue ribbon panel. The study detailed many
negative impacts of GURTs and raised a large number of policy issues. 
Governments agreed that the study was broadly based and well executed.  Many
delegates, NGOs, and UN staff saw the study as a significant sign of
maturation
of SBSTTA into a more "science-based" body, as has been called for by North
and
South governments for years.  

But when it came time to consider issues raised in the science report, "The
GURT-owning countries retreated to power politics as usual and ignored
anything
in the report they didn't like." says Hammond, "It's ironic to have heard the
same GURT-owning countries who have clamored 'science, science, science' for
years become so myopic when they perceived their commercial interests to be
threatened."  For example, Australia fought and succeeded to eliminate a
SBSTTA
call to study Terminator technology's broader impacts on the agriculture
sector, a subject of major concern addressed extensively in science report. 

Gutted Behind Closed Doors: In their assessment of GURTs, no Party to the
Convention concluded that the benefits of Terminator technology outweighed the
costs, and only one non-party, the United States, said that it thought GURTs
were more good than bad.   After the Government of Norway proposed a
moratorium
on field trials and commercialization of GURTs, more than a dozen Asian,
African, and Latin American countries lined up in support, with the USA and
Canada most vocally opposed.  By mid-week, a compromise resolution was
presented by the UK (second only to the USA in Terminator patents).  The UK
resolution did not call for a moratorium (although simultaneously in
Luxembourg
EU Environment Ministers were approving a de facto moratorium on all new GMO
crops); but its convoluted provisions would have had a similar result of no
commercialization. Surinam then moved to amend the UK resolution to also stop
field-testing of GURTs. 

The UN Convention originally assumed that the discussion of the science report
would take up to a day at most, however the debate that began last Tuesday was
still raging late Thursday and a small "contact group" of countries met to try
to resolve the impasse between supporters of the Norwegian and UK positions. 
When delegates went into the room, the split amounted to a North/South divide,
with only Norway siding with the South.  When governments came out, the draft
resolution came close to complete surrender to the seed companies.  

Canada was reportedly very active in the contact group discussions. 

"The result is an entirely voluntary resolution," says Hammond, "governments
may, if they wish, prevent field trials and commercialization; but potentially
at a severe cost [see below], and there is no intergovernmental recognition
that
the Terminator is a direct threat to biodiversity or national sovereignty over
genetic resources."  

RAFI's Silvia Ribeiro adds "I don't know what happened in that room at that
late
hour.  There were two reasonably strong resolutions when they went in and one
very weak proposal came out.  I think the South has been tricked." 

When the new text came out of the contact group, Australia - perceived to be
working as a U.S. proxy - immediately pounced to further weaken the
resolution.  Together with other members of the "Miami Group" made
notorious in
Cartagena, Colombia earlier this year for scuttling the CBD Biosafety Protocol
negotiations, the Aussies proceeded to dismember the few positive elements
that
remained.  In the feeding frenzy, a representative from the seed industry
became so excited that he took the floor, presumed the prerogative of a
government, and proposed additional resolution text to restrict Farmers'
Rights
to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed.  Although industry was
rebuffed by
the Chair, the incident is indicative of how unashamed and aggressive
GURT-owners were in removing anything they found to their distaste in the
draft
resolution.  

In the end, the resolution adopted was a weak and watered-down compromise, and
while many governments 'fought the good fight' and can cling to a few
pieces of
the resolution which may prove beneficial, the day was won overwhelmingly by a
handful of GURT-owners intent on keeping their technology clear of UN
restrictions. 

Trade Sanctions:  At Friday's SBSTTA plenary, RAFI pointed out that among
Australia's amendments to the draft decision was a provision that restricted
countries rights to impose a moratorium on Terminator by linking any
moratorium
to potential trade sanctions.  A few governments were surprised by this
analysis and privately questioned if the collapse from the moratorium proposal
had been so complete.  Shortly before the debate ended, the U.S. delegation
made an ugly and aggressive intervention that put the question to rest:  The
U.S. bluntly threatened trade sanctions on countries that impose a moratorium
and made clear that it was willing to use the WTO to force Terminator down the
world's throat. 

"Agroterrorism":  Civil Society Organizations attending the Biodiversity
Convention warned governments Monday that Terminator Technology could be used
as a biological trade enforcement mechanism. Plant suicide sequences can be
turned on or off with the application of a chemical like a herbicide or a
fertilizer.  The suicide trait can remain dormant for several generations and
then be turned on if a routinely used chemical is withheld.  By threatening to
halt the export of the chemical, a country like the USA could hold an
importing
country to ransom and force them to comply with their trade rules.  The
potential for agroterrorism has suddenly become a hot topic.  The June
issue of
Scientific American warned that economic warfare on both crops and
livestock is
both easy and likely.  Recently, NATO experts met in Bucharest to discuss the
threat, and the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research service,
Floyd Horn, was quoted in the American press last week as being alarmed by the
prospects of "agroterrorism."  The Terminator has a high weapons potential but
Dr. Horn's colleagues in Montreal tried hard to play down the concern. 

CBD Credibility Threatened:  "If the Biodiversity Convention lacks the guts to
fight GURTs and defend genetic diversity, food security, and national
sovereignty, it will lose its credibility as an effective intergovernmental
mechanism," says RAFI's Research Director Hope Shand.  Mooney adds "To
maintain
credibility, the CBD must move to improve this embarrassing decision at the
earliest possible opportunity, maybe even this week at the intercessional
meeting on the operations of the Convention." "At the least," says RAFI's
Hammond, "the intercessional meeting should request SBSTTA to reconsider its
GURTs decision at the SBSTTA meeting planned for January 2000.  By doing so,
much better, much more appropriate, and much more effective recommendations
can
be made for approval at the next meeting of the CBD Conference of the Parties
in Nairobi." 

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RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation Int'l.) 
110 Osborne St., Suite 202 
WINNIPEG  MB   R3L 1Y5 
CANADA 
Tel: (204) 453-5259 
Fax: (204) 925-8034 
E-mail:  rafi@rafi.org 
Internet:  <http://www.rafi.org/>www.rafi.org 



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URL: http://www.grain.org/
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