GENET archive


4-Patents: USDA betrays public trust with two new terminator patents

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  USDA betrays public trust with two new terminator patents
        Will USDA's biotech advisory board demand accountability?
SOURCE: Rural Advancement Foundation International, RAFI  |
DATE:   March 24, 2000

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USDA betrays public trust with two new terminator patents
Will USDA's biotech advisory board demand accountability?

The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), an 
international civil society organization based in Canada, announced 
today that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) holds two new 
patents on the controversial Terminator technology, the genetic 
engineering of plants to render their seeds sterile. If 
commercialized, Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to 
save seeds from their harvest, forcing them to return to the 
commercial seed market every year.

"The US government is advancing research and squandering taxpayer 
dollars on a technology that has been universally condemned because 
it is bad for farmers, food security, and biodiversity," says Pat 
Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI. "It's an egregious misallocation 
of public resources for the sole purpose of maximizing seed industry 
profits," adds Mooney. 

"It's disgraceful," says Hope Shand, RAFI's Research Director. "We 
were shocked to discover USDA's new patents because when we met with 
US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Richard Rominger on two separate 
occasions last year, his staff assured us in no uncertain terms that 
there were no more patents in the works. Why didn't we get the 
straight story?" asks Shand. 

"Despite mounting opposition from national governments, United 
Nations' agencies, farmers, scientists, and civil society 
organizations around the world, USDA continues to ignore the public 
outcry at home and abroad," adds Silvia Ribeiro, RAFI Programme 
Officer. Last month for example, the Director General of the United 
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared FAO's opposition 
to Terminator. Earlier this month, the state of Maryland (US) 
introduced a bill to ban Terminator seeds. (See RAFI Communique, 
"Suicide Seeds on the Fast Track," Feb./March, 2000,http:// 

According to RAFI, the new patents on genetic seed sterilization were 
issued in 1999 (US Patent No. 5,925,808 issued on July 20, 1999 and 
US Patent No. 5,977,441 issued on November 2, 1999). The patents are 
jointly owned by USDA and Delta & Pine Land (the world's largest 
cotton seed company), the owners of the original 1998 patent. The 
USDA's new patents share the same titles, inventors, and abstracts as 
the earlier patent, but they describe new innovations and demonstrate 
that USDA scientists are continuing to refine the technology and 
advance the research.

On October 28, 1999 representatives from a broad base of civil 
society organizations (CSOs) met with US Secretary of Agriculture Dan 
Glickman to demand that his agency abandon research and development 
of genetic seed sterilization. Participants included the American 
Corn Growers Association, Consumers Union, National Family Farm 
Coalition, Ralph Nader of Public Citizen, International Center for 
Technology Assessment, Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, 
Consumer Federation, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, RAFI, and 
RAFI-USA. Less than five days later, USDA won a new patent on 

Duped and Betrayed:  "We feel duped and betrayed," says Gary 
Goldberg, CEO of the American Corn Growers Association.  "We demand 
to know why the USDA continues to invest taxpayer dollars on anti-
farmer research that, if commercialized, will hold farmers hostage to 
giant agribusiness corporations," said Goldberg. 

Destroying National Seed Sovereignty: USDA's growing portfolio of 
Terminator patents sends an ominous message to the rest of the world, 
says Rafael Alegria, General Coordinator of Via Campesina, the 
largest confederation of peasants' and small farmers' organizations 
in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and North America. "It 
amounts to a declaration of war against the 1.4 billion people who 
depend on farm-saved seeds - mainly poor people - and it's an assault 
on global food security," explains Alegria. 

Neth Dano, Executive Director of SEARICE, the Southeast Asian 
Regional Institute for Community Education, agrees, "This technology 
goes far beyond intellectual property. A patent expires after 20 
years, but if Terminator seeds are commercialized it will give a 
handful of multinational Gene Giants a monopoly with no expiration 
date. This technology aims to eliminate the right of farmers to save 
seeds and do local plant breeding, and it will destroy the concept of 
national seed sovereignty."

Litmus Test for USDA's Biotech Advisory Board: USDA's newly-appointed 
Biotech Advisory Board will hold its first meeting on March 29-30. 
"It's a litmus test for the USDA advisory board," explains RAFI's 
Shand. Will they or won't they demand accountability from USDA? 
There's no doubt that the biotech advisory board has a full plate and 
it's loaded with controversial GMO (genetically modified organisms) 
issues, but Terminator must be the number one priority," stresses 
Launching Pad for Bioserfdom: Without effective action by civil 
society and governments to ban Terminator seeds, RAFI concludes that 
suicide seeds will be commercialized, with potentially disastrous 
consequences for farmers, food security and the environment. 

"Terminator has grabbed the spotlight, but we are equally concerned 
about the closely related genetic trait control technologies (Traitor 
Tech) which enables a plant's genetic traits to be turned on or off 
with the application of an external chemical - the company's 
proprietary chemical," adds Ribeiro. "Although the USDA and Delta & 
Pine Land are the high-profile crusaders, the goal of genetic trait 
control is industry-wide," concludes Ribeiro.

Coming Soon: In May, 2000 RAFI will release a status report on 
Terminator and Traitor patents, which will examine the current goals 
of private and public sector institutions that are promoting 
bioserfdom with genetic trait control technology.

For more information:

Hope Shand, RAFI
Tel: 919 960-5223  

Silvia Ribeiro, RAFI

Julie Delahanty, RAFI
Tel: 819 827-9949 

Rafael Alegria 
General Coordinator, 
Via Campesina 
Tegucigalpa, Honduras, C.A.

Neth Dano 
Executive Director, 
The Philippines
Tel:  63-2-922-6710

Gary Goldberg
American Corn Growers Association, 
Tel: 918 488-1829

Action Needed:

1. USDA should cease negotiations with Delta & Pine Land on the 
licensing of it's jointly held patents, and abandon all research and 
patents on genetic seed sterilization.

2. USDA should adopt a strict policy prohibiting the use of taxpayer 
dollars to support genetic seed sterilization. 

3. USDA should terminate all research on Terminator seed technology 
as well as the closely related genetic trait control technologies. 
Remote control of a plant's genetic traits, triggered by proprietary 
chemicals, is grim news for farmers and the environment because, if 
commercialized, farmers will become more dependent on chemical inputs 
manufactured by the agrochemical/seed industry. 

4. USDA should use public research dollars to re-invigorate public 
plant breeding for family farmers and sustainable agriculture. 
Instead of engineering seeds for sterility, USDA should boost 
breeding programs that will lessen farmers' dependency on chemicals, 
fertilizers, and other expensive inputs. 

Send a Message of Protest to US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman:

A sample letter to US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman can be 
found on RAFI's web site:

Secretary Dan Glickman
200-A Whitten Bldg.
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250
Tel: 202 720-3631     
Fax: 202 720-2166

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. 


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