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2-Plants: USDA refuses to abandon terminator technology

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TITLE:  USDA refuses to abandon terminator technology
DATE:   July 2000

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USDA Refuses to Abandon Terminator Technology
Delta & Pine Land Gets One Step Closer to Commercialization

Two days of contentious debate on Terminator has ruptured the US 
Department of AgricultureÕs (USDA) Advisory Board on Agricultural 
Biotechnology. Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of 
plants to produce sterile seeds, has been widely condemned as a 
dangerous and morally offensive application of agricultural 
biotechnology, because over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved 
USDA ignited the worldwide controversy in March 1998 when it won the 
first of three patents on genetic seed sterilization, which it holds 
jointly with Delta & Pine Land - the worldÕs largest cotton seed 

At its second meeting, July 26-27, the 38-member advisory board 
learned that the USDA has decided not to unilaterally terminate its 
contractual agreement with Delta and Pine Land, despite the fact that 
they have the legal option to do so. Instead, the Board was given the 
option of exploring restrictions on the exclusive licensing of its 
Terminator patents to Delta & Pine Land. In the end, however, all 
licensing restrictions would have to be mutually agreed upon by both 
the USDA and Delta & Pine Land. 

"Taking this issue to the Advisory Board and calling for public 
comment on Terminator was a giant charade, and a mockery of the 
democratic process" concludes Hope Shand, Research Director of RAFI. 
"Apparently, the USDA had already decided that abandoning the 
Terminator was not an option."

At the Advisory Board meeting this week, the Agency revealed that an 
official public comment period on agricultural biotechnology, from 
March 30-July 21, 2000 yielded 213 comments. Of the comments 
received, 207 were negative towards biotechnology, and 162 comments 
called on USDA to ban and abandon its work on Terminator technology. 
"There is no public support for Terminator, because itÕs anti-farmer 
and benefits only the corporate seed industry," concludes Shand. 

Despite intense opposition from some members of the Advisory Board, 
the group discussed one possible caveat to the licensing agreement, 
though even this condition must first be accepted by the seed 
enterprise. "Faced with almost total global opposition to Terminator 
from the United Nations, scores of national governments, scientific 
institutions, and a commitment by the USDA not to use the technology, 
the Advisory Board considered a proposal that Delta & Pine Land agree 
not to apply Terminator to heirloom seeds and existing varieties!" 
Hope Shand reports. "Delta & Pine Land has no interest in heirloom 
seeds. By definition, heirloom seeds and existing varieties are not 
transgenic anyway. Infected with the suicide sequence, any variety 
becomes "new"! This option is inane and nonsensical."

"USDA obviously favors private gain over the public good and the 
rights of farmers," said Michael Sligh, a member of the Advisory 
Board and RAFI-USAÕs Director of Sustainable Agriculture. "All 
members of the Advisory Board have 30 days to submit their views in 
writing, but USDA has already concluded that abandoning the patents 
and condemning the technology is not an option." 

RAFI and its sister organization, RAFI-USA met with Secretary 
Glickman and/or senior USDA officials several times in the past year. 
At every meeting, the officials expressed embarrassment about the 
technology and vowed that the USDA would not support further 
Terminator research nor permit its use in breeding programs for 
public release. "We advised them to abandon the patents and to adopt 
a policy prohibiting public funding of genetic seed sterilization," 
Michael Sligh recalls, "Their response was always that they wanted to 
use the deal as 'leverage' on the company to protect the public 

"Secretary Glickman needs to tell the world why this deal is being 
cut," asserts Julie Delahanty of RAFI. "During the UN Biodiversity 
Convention meetings in Nairobi in May, the delegates agreed to a 
moratorium on all field testing and commercialization of Terminator 
and other similar technologies. Many countries requested an outright 
ban on Terminator, and others expressed the concern that Terminator 
could be used as a trade weapon to force them to obey US trade and 
patent laws. Some countries even see Terminator as a form of 
biological warfare since poor farmers could become dependent on seeds 
that they are prohibited from saving. To date, nobody in the 
Administration has offered a convincing excuse for giving the 
technology the go-ahead," concludes Delahanty.

Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman took the helm of USDA in March, 
1995. During his watch USDAÕs Agricultural Research Service applied 
for and received three Terminator patents with Delta & Pine Land. 
"Terminator is a bitter biotech legacy to leave to the worldÕs 
farmers," notes Shand, "and thatÕs how GlickmanÕs USDA will be 
remembered, unless the Agency reforms its pro-Terminator policy."

For Further Information:

Hope Shand, RAFI - 919 960-5223
Julie Delahanty, RAFI - 819 827-9949
Michael Sligh, RAFI-USA - 919 929-7099

RAFI-USA is a private, non-profit organization based in Pittsboro, NC 
dedicated to community, equity and diversity in agriculture.

RAFI (The Rural Advancement Foundation International) is an 
international civil society organization based in Canada. RAFI is 
dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, 
and to the socially responsible development of technologies useful to 
rural societies. RAFI is concerned about the loss of agricultural 
biodiversity, and the impact of intellectual property on farmers and 
food security. 

RAFI International Office, 110 Osborne Street, Suite 202, Winnipeg, 
Manitoba, R3L 1Y5 Canada
Tel: 204 453-5259 Fax: 204 925-8034 email: http://


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