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TITLE:  Biodiversity Convention's Terminator Decision Fails
        Biodiversity and Fails Farmers
SOURCE: Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
        Press Release
DATE:   June 28, 1999

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


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 fewrich 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 resultis an entirely voluntary resolution," says Hammond,
"governmens 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 diret threat to biodiversity or national sovereignty over
genetic resurces." 
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 theprerogative of a government,
and proposed additional reolution 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: www.rafi.org



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