4-Patents: USDA betrays public trust with two new terminator patents
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TITLE: USDA betrays public trust with two new terminator patents
Will USDA's biotech advisory board demand accountability?
SOURCE: Rural Advancement Foundation International, RAFI
www.rafi.org | email@example.com
DATE: March 24, 2000
-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------
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
Tegucigalpa, Honduras, C.A.
American Corn Growers Association,
Tel: 918 488-1829
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
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