GENET archive


2-Plants: Update on Terminator discussion (1)

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Southern Farmers Confront Challenge of Terminator II
SOURCE: PANOS, UK, by Ebenezer Bifubyeka
DATE:   13 Mar 2006

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Southern Farmers Confront Challenge of Terminator II

Unknown perhaps to most farmers, the governments of Australia, Canada and
New Zealand - apparently prompted by Washington - have just been trying
to get the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD, to overturn a
six-year-old moratorium on the production and use of what have come to be
called 'Terminator Seeds'.

The technology, developed by multinational biotech companies, is
controversial because the genetic code that causes seeds to self-destruct
after harvesting just once robs farmers of the opportunity to save and
sow again season after season - as they have done ever since agriculture
began thousands of years ago.

'Suicide seeds'

Officially known as Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT), it is
aimed at stopping farmers from freely reproducing seeds developed by
large companies who put considerable funds into research and development.

It was jointly developed in the early 1990s by the US government's
Department of Agriculture and the Delta and Pine Land Company. They hold
a US patent on the technology, and in October 2005 were granted the first
European terminator patent.

The initial bid to introduce these seeds - also called 'Suicide Seeds' -
in the late 1990s was met by massive public opposition across the world,
with campaigners pointing out that 1.4 billion farmers worldwide depend
on saved seeds and that the majority of them could not afford to buy new
seeds every season.

The outcry led the CBD to agree an international de-facto moratorium on
use of Terminator in 2000.

A 'bewildering' return

However, at a meeting of the CBD in Granada, Spain, on 23 to 27 January
2006, Australia, Canada and New Zealand successfully argued that the
technology could actually increase productivity. Making a case that some
anti-GM campaigners called "bewildering", these countries argued that the
new technology causes all crops to ripen at the same time - with minimum
losses to storms and pests - which could increase profits for farmers.

New wording added to the CBD by these countries at the working group
meeting in Granada threatens to overturn the moratorium, advocating
instead "a case-by-case risk assessment basis with respect to different
categories of GURTs technology".

In tandem, Monsanto, one of the largest biotech companies in the world,
appears to have reversed a pledge made in 1999 not to commercialise
Terminator technology in food crops.

Monsanto's new policy says that although the company continues to "stand
by that commitment today", it "does not rule out the potential
development and use of one of these [GURTs] technologies in the future.
The company will continue to study the risks and benefits of this
technology on a case-by-case basis".

The new text from Granada is to be placed before a high-level meeting of
the CBD at Curitiba in Brazil in March. Campaigners say the stand taken
by the European Union at Curitiba will be key to the fate of the
moratorium. Although the EU itself takes a 'case-by-case' approach to
GMOs, whether or not it will want to harmonise CBD provisions with its
domestic regulations remains unclear.

In the meantime, just as in the 1990s, farmers' groups from around the
world - particularly Africa - are up in arms.

Ugandan challenge

The situation in Uganda captures the challenges facing farmers across the
developing world - not only is knowledge about this technology scant, but
governments do not have the expertise and technologies needed to assess
the health and environmental risks posed by it.

Food Rights Network (FORINET), an alliance of farmers' organisations,
community-based organisations and civil society organisations based in
Eastern Uganda, wrote to the CBD's scientific advisory body last year
saying there was little knowledge about the potential health and
environmental risks of using Terminator technology.

"Uganda has no systems in place to monitor any negative impacts of the
new GMO technology called GURTS or 'Terminator'," FLORINET said.

Individual farmers, once informed about the technology, have also
expressed concern.

A farmer in Bushenyi district in western Uganda said on condition of
anonymity that if farmers are forced to buy seeds every season, they will
become dependent on multinational companies controlling the production
and sale of these seeds.

"Farmers in poor countries will lose their seed saving practices and seed
heritage thus losing ownership, sovereignty, independence, and dignity.
We shall also lose export markets in countries that have rejected GM
foods," she added.

Cross-pollination fears

One of the main fears farmers have is over the environmental effects of
Terminator seeds - that they may cross-pollinate with non-GM plants in
neighbouring fields and make the indigenous crops sterile too.

"If the indigenous crops are contaminated with GMOs or Terminator through
cross-pollination, it will destroy the local seed biodiversity and it
will be difficult for the affected farmers to claim for compensation from
the seed companies because it's not easy to provide scientific proof,"
said Christopher Benon Kababi, a bean and maize corn farmer at Mbarara in
south-western Uganda.

"Besides, poor farmers won't be able to pay for expensive legal action,"
he added.

While most Ugandan farmers that Panos spoke to were strongly opposed to
terminator seeds, a small minority saw in them an opportunity to increase

Mbarara farmer Elkad Bakeihahoki, who harvests 100 bags of indigenous
maize corn each season said: "I have never grown the GM crops or
Terminator seeds. But I like improved varieties, so if Terminator seeds
are commercialised and they yield well, I would buy and plant them."

But Jeconious Musingwire, south-western zonal officer for the
government's National Environmental Management Authority urged caution.
"Terminator and other GM varieties may have a disastrous impact on the
environment, and communities have the right to say 'no'," he said.

"Governments should ask seed manufacturing corporations to carry out
independent social, environmental and economic impact analysis and report
this to the affected communities."

'No GM seeds for planting' - minister

Minister for agriculture, fisheries and animal husbandry, Mary Mugyenyi
was categorical that the Uganda government has not accepted GM seeds,
including Terminator seeds, for planting.

"We don't accept GM seeds for planting at all. We only accept modified
[GM] food like maize flour but not seeds for planting," Mugyenyi told Panos.

The government's position was articulated forcefully at the Granada CBD
meeting where the Ugandan representative spoke on behalf of all African

"Perhaps the impacts of GURTs would not be felt more than on the African
continent, where 90 per cent of all seed planted is from farm-saved
sources; and where most of the farmers are small-scale subsistence
farmers, predominantly local and indigenous communities," David
Hafashimana told the meeting.

"The basis of survival of biological diversity lies in the ability of all
living organisms not only to live and die, but to replace themselves
before they die," he added.

Campaigners, scientists unite

African campaigners are also worried that further liberalisation of
international trading rules - being negotiated at the UN World Trade
Organisation - may ease the entry of Terminator and other GMOs into
countries such as Uganda, where the use of GM seeds and plants is banned.

The forum also heard the CBD's own scientific advisors advocate caution,
and African NGOs slam the move to overturn the moratorium.

The CBD's Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological
Advice (SBSTTA) was clear in its assessment: "In the current absence of
reliable data on GURTs, without which there is inadequate basis on which
to assess their potential risks, and in accordance with the precautionary
approach, products incorporating such technologies should not be approved
by parties for field testing" until further tests had been carried out
and their results made known to farmers.

Additionally, a coalition of African NGOs told the meeting:

"We find bewildering the insistence by industry, and the countries that
are promoting the use of GURTS (Australia, Canada, the US and New
Zealand), that this technology will lead to food security and improved
yields. We can only shake our heads in wonder at the logic. To us it is
obvious. There can be no food security if there are sterile seeds," they said.

"Perhaps it is harder for those from developed countries to appreciate
what seed means to us. But let us assure you that when we have described
this technology to farmers, their response is one of disbelief, fear and

Ebenezer Bifubyeka is a reporter with The New Vision newspaper in Uganda
and founder of the Mbarara Environmental Advocates Link (MEAL), which
seeks to create environmental awareness among local leaders, politicians,
academics and the general public.

His coverage of GM issues has won him a Panos fellowship to report on the
WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December 2005 and from the CBD
meeting in Brazil in March 2006.

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  The war over 'suicide seeds'
SOURCE: CanWest News Service, Canada, by Kelly Patterson
DATE:   12 Mar 2006

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The war over 'suicide seeds'

Critics charge that the 'terminator' will put the global food business
into the hands of a few powerful companies

Some see them as the seeds of salvation, bringing bumper crops to
millions of struggling farmers.

Others call them "suicide seeds" that could decimate the world's food
supply, sentencing billions to starvation.

They're the so-called terminators -- a new breed of seed designed to
produce plants incapable of reproducing.

The seeds were invented to ensure farmers of genetically modified crops
buy seed every year rather than growing from their own seed stock.

Industry giants such as Syngenta and DuPont, which together account for
almost 20 per cent of the world seed trade, have already taken out
patents on the technology, which is still in development.

Terminator seeds are also meant to stop genetically modified crops from
contaminating neighbouring fields -- an increasingly common problem in
North America.

But critics fear terminator's sterility trait will, like other traits
from genetically modified crops, escape into nature, threatening the
world's food supply. They also fear the cost of buying seed every year
will break the backs of farmers, especially in the developing world.

India and Brazil have banned the seeds, and a host of other developing
countries vehemently oppose the technology, facing off against countries
such as Canada and the United States, which have embraced genetically
modified crops.

Genetically enhanced crops offer farmers "higher yields, more efficient
production and less disease," argues Harry Collins, a geneticist who
heads the sterile-seed effort at the U.S.-based Delta and Pine Land
Company, which pioneered the process in partnership with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture in 1998.

Such crops can help small-scale farmers make the leap to large-scale
production, he says.

Collins also says genetically modified crops can open up previously
barren land to cultivation.

But seed companies must ensure they'll be paid for their work or future
innovation will be doomed, the industry argues.

Collins says fears the sterility trait will spread are far-fetched, and
points out such scenarios are purely "theoretical" since the seeds have
yet to be field-tested.

The fate of terminator seeds hangs in the balance as the 188 members of
the UN Convention on Biological Diversity decide whether to give the
green light to further development of the technology at a meeting March
20 to 31 in Brazil.

Six years ago, a report for the convention effectively banned the seeds,
calling on governments to block the field-testing and sale of any form of
the technology, pending research into its implications.

Canada has played a prominent part in opposing the ban: A memo leaked to
the media last year showed Canada planned to overturn the blanket ban and
would veto "any other outcome" at a key 2005 meeting. (Canada backed down
in the face of an international outcry.)

Critics say the blanket ban was finally overturned this January after
Australia, backed by Canada and New Zealand, successfully pushed for
evaluations to be allowed on a case-by-case basis (the U.S. is not a
convention member).

Infiltration of genetically modified crops is a headache not only for
organic farmers but also for any producer who exports to markets such as
the European Union, where regulators have for years blocked genetically
modified imports.

But terminator seeds would put an end to such problems, Collins argues.
It's a "bio-safety tool. Some people have said transgenics can spread to
wild species. If (terminators) were effective, it should prevent that
from happening."

Critics scoff at that reasoning.

"The companies that caused the contamination -- who told us there would
be no contamination because they had good scientific practices -- are now
saying, 'Trust us, we've got the solution to the problem we caused,'"
retorts Pat Mooney, of the Ottawa-based ETC Group, a conservation
watchdog organization.

Critics are even more worried about the risk of genetic mutation or a
failure of the intricate process by which sterility is induced.

Citing scientific studies that have noted problems such as the "temporary
silencing of a gene" in other genetically modified plants, Lucy Sharratt
of the Ottawa-based Ban Terminator campaign argues that "terminator
wouldn't work 100 per cent."

Plants in which the technology fails could introduce impaired
reproductive systems into nature, she says. Collins concedes safety is a

"I'm not willing to concede that it's the only important thing, but it is
important that we have a high rate of sterility."

That's all the more reason for the UN body meeting later this month to
allow further testing, Collins argues.

"We don't know whether (the seeds) would be 100 per cent sterile . . .
Until we've had an opportunity to test it, we can't know that. We simply
ask for it to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. That can't be done if
there's a ban on it."

Giuliano Tolusso, senior policy analyst for Agriculture and Agri-food
Canada, which has pushed hard for the UN to allow further terminator
testing, echoes that argument.

"There's always a risk with any technology. You have to (assess) that
before you make a decision whether or not to use it," he says.

But the terminator debate is not just about the science. It's also about
control of the food supply.

"This is not about helping farmers make a living," says Colleen Ross, an
Ottawa Valley farmer and women's president of the National Farmers Union,
which strongly opposes the technology. "It's about corporate control over
seeds and ultimately over food."

The world's largest peasant farmer organization, La Via Campesina, which
represents about 80 million farmers worldwide, vehemently opposes
terminator seeds.

One spokesman recently predicted that if the UN allowed "case-by-case
assessment of terminator, it means farmers will be carried off the land
coffin by coffin."

Indigenous groups have also condemned the technology as an affront to
their cultures, in which fertility in nature is revered.

As for farmers in the developed world, no one knows how they feel.

Agriculture Canada's

Tolusso admits the government has not asked farmers what they think.

Defenders of the technology say the market will show whether farmers take
to terminator. If the popularity of genetically modified crops so far is
any measure, the sterile seeds would dominate farmland across the
country: Already last year, about 40 per cent of all soybeans and corn
grown in Ontario were genetically modified; the same was true in Quebec,
according to Statistics Canada.

Ann Clark, a plant-agriculture specialist at the University of Guelph,
says it is "disturbing in the extreme that the Canadian government . . .
would be taking the lead on this" without consulting farmers.

"In the future," she warns, "a handful of companies could be controlling
the entire seed supply of all crops via vehicles such as terminator.

"The implications are absolutely staggering."

                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Defra is sowing the seeds of poor farmers' destruction
SOURCE: Guardian, UK, by Michael Meacher,,1730692,00.html
DATE:   15 Mar 2006

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Defra is sowing the seeds of poor farmers' destruction

The claim by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Defra) that it has not altered its policy on genetically modified
terminator technology - used to sterilise farm-saved seeds, thereby
protecting corporate seed sales - does not stand up to serious scrutiny.
The Defra policy, published on February 21 in advance of the meeting
later this month of the eighth conference of the parties to the UN
convention on biodiversity (CBD), calls for a case-by-case assessment of
terminator crops. It differs significantly from what I approved in 2000.

I could see the need for a global agreement on how to prevent the release
of terminator. The parties to the CBD agreed with me and decided that
terminator technology, a varietal-genetic use restriction technology (v-
GURT), posed a greater threat than any other type of GM seeds because it
would undermine farmers' seed saving - as practised by 1.4 billion people
worldwide - and would threaten food security and agricultural
biodiversity. Using this technology would force more farmers to buy new
seed each season from corporations whose control over seeds is already
substantial - just 10 corporations control more than 50% of global seed sales.

The result was the global de facto moratorium agreed by the CBD.

This decision, in 2000, stated that no terminator licences should be
approved until the potential socio-economic impact of the technology on
farming communities around the world had been assessed. To date, no such
assessments have been published.

So what is the basis of the change in UK policy? Could it be Defra has
swallowed the corporate hype that terminator will prevent GM genes
contaminating neighbouring crops or wild plants. This is nonsense because
terminator cannot provide 100% sterility, nor prevent normal cross-
contamination through pollen drift. In any case, that is not its purpose;
it is to make the seeds agronomically unviable in order to ensure seed sales.

Defra's published policy has retroactively reinterpreted the CBD decision
in favour of a national case-by-case approach, which is EU policy for any
GMO approval. Terminator crops would thus be subject only to a scientific
risk assessment, as required by EU directive 2001/18. Socio-economic
factors, such as the impact on poor farmers' livelihoods, would be
ignored. Without internationally accepted assessments of impacts, and
globally-binding rules, poor southern countries would struggle to
withstand pressure from biotechnology companies to license terminator
seeds. Is this Defra's ulterior motive?

The policy as now stated by Defra undermines the international agreement
signed in 2000, by opening up the possibility of terminator creeping on
to the market by stealth. Ministers and officials must review their
document, making it clear that the UK is not in favour of terminator at all.

There can be no doubt that public opinion in Britain remains
overwhelmingly against GM, and would be even more strongly against
allowing use of the terminator technology if it was understood that this
would endanger food security across all developing countries and would
worsen world poverty.

Defra has a duty to do whatever is necessary at the CBD meeting to ensure
this potentially devastating technology never sees the light of day.

 Michael Meacher MP is a former [UK] environment minister

                                 PART IV
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TITLE:  Rural Women support ban on "Terminator"
SOURCE: Rural Women New Zealand, Press Release
DATE:   16 Mar 2006

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Rural Women support ban on "Terminator"

Rural Women New Zealand calls on Government to support ban on
"Terminator" gene seed trials

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) is urging the Government to safeguard New
Zealand's biosecurity along with the livelihoods of millions of farmers
in the third world by dropping its support for lifting the moratorium on
'Terminator' gene seed trials.

"We are asking the Government to take a firm line against sterile seed
technology," said RWNZ National President Sherrill Dackers today.

RWNZ is making the call as New Zealand and other parties to the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meet in Brazil to discuss this
and other biosecurity issues.

"We are very concerned that New Zealand gave support to Canada's call to
lift the moratorium on field trials of "Terminator" seeds, in Montreal in

If sterile seeds are inadvertently or deliberately released into poor
countries it would have disastrous results.

"Up to eighty percent of the farmers in third world countries are women,
many of whom follow traditional farming practices, saving seed each
season for the next year's crop. They are amongst the poorest people in
the world and buying seed each year is not possible, or desirable."

RWNZ also advocates stricter labelling rules for Genetically Modified
Organisms. Our organization supports the development of rules that would
oblige anyone sending food and animal feed to specify not just the
intended content of shipments, but the actual content, as it relates to GMOs.

"It is vital that we know what is actually in the food we eat, or that
our stock eats, especially as technology now allows scientists to
engineer plants to produce pharmaceutical and industrial substances. If
such organisms were inadvertently introduced to New Zealand it would be a
threat to our rural economy as well as posing health risks," said Ms Dackers.

"We need to know what is actually being imported into the country through
accurate testing and labelling."

                                 PART V
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TITLE:  Support for suicide seed alarms GM opponents
SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, by Wendy Frew
DATE:   18 Mar 2006

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Support for suicide seed alarms GM opponents

THE Federal Government is pushing to weaken an international moratorium
on so-called "terminator technology", a form of genetic engineering that
makes harvested seeds sterile.

The technology - which prevents farmers from saving and reusing harvested
seed, forcing them to buy new seeds every year - should be assessed case
by case, Australian government officials told a United Nations meeting in
Spain in January.

Such a move would open the door to commercial use of the so-called
"suicide seeds", according to environmentalists who are especially
concerned about the ramifications for farmers in poorer countries who
traditionally harvest seed from their crops.

At a time when the world's $28 billion seed market is consolidating into
fewer corporate hands, it could also become increasingly difficult for
farmers in countries such as Australia to buy seeds that aren't produced
with terminator technology.

"Australia's brazen move confirms that an alarming government-industry
strategy is in play to overturn the UN moratorium on Terminator," said
Lucy Sharratt, of the Canadian-based Ban Terminator Campaign.

Ms Sharratt, who attended the meeting in Spain, said Australia's position
dismissed the ramifications the technology could have for indigenous
farmers in developing nations who could not afford to buy new seeds every
season. But the Federal Government told the Herald allegations it was
seeking to overturn decisions taken under the convention were false. A de
facto terminator moratorium has been in place since 2000.

It said a blanket ban on terminator technology was not a good approach
because it would block research. However, it said genetically modified
organisms produced using terminator technology "would be subjected to a
rigorous, scientific assessment by the Gene Technology Regulator under
the Gene Technology Act 2000".

However, like many OECD nations, Australian regulations consider only the
health and environment risks associated with GM. They do not assess the
effect GM technology, such as suicide seeds, would have on agricultural
and food markets, or address any broader economic or socio-economic issues.

Australian farmers have not been lobbying for the introduction of
terminator technology, according to the chairman of the NSW Farmers
Association's Bio-Technology Taskforce, Hugh Roberts.

"I cannot see, as of 2006, there is any advantage of having [terminator
technology] in the Australian market," he said.

Some proponents of terminator technology have argued that its
introduction could prevent the contamination of fields free of GM crops.

However, Mr Hughes, who is in favour of the commercialisation of GM
crops, believes concerns about the risk of contamination were unfounded,
and therefore terminator technology would have no role to play there either.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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