Terminating the 'Terminator' Seed

Broken promises and sterile seeds could alter the lives of food producers


| March 2, 2006


For many, the controversy over sterile seeds, or 'Terminator Technology,' -- also known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs) -- was over in 2000. The agribusiness giant Monsanto had agreed not to release the controversial genetically modified plants commercially, and the UN had imposed a 'de facto' ban on the technology. But the victories gained by environmental and agricultural activists now seem short lived, as a new controversy erupts over a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) this month that could sow disaster for many farmers.

Companies such as BASF and Monsanto hold patents on technology for the production of genetically modified plants that give off sterile seeds. Farmers who buy these plants would be unable to replant the seeds they produce, forcing them to buy new seeds every year from the multinational corporations.

Jim Thomas and Lucy Sharratt of Ban Terminator, an organization committed to fighting this technology, write in ZNet that 1.4 billion people rely on farm-saved seeds. The proliferation of sterile seeds could have severely detrimental effects on all of them. According to author Marya Skrypiczajko, writing in Common Ground , the proliferation of Terminator Technology would lead to a 'loss of [farmer's] locally adapted crop varieties, their cultural knowledge, and their food sovereignty.'

On Feb. 21, Ban Terminator released an article accusing Monsanto of going back on its promise. A 2005 pledge report by Monsanto contained language that, according to Ban Terminator, 'opens the door to the use of Terminator in cotton, tobacco, pharmaceutical crops, and grass with sterility genes.' The new report says that Monsanto will not proceed with Terminator Technology 'on food crops,' and will decide the fate of this technology on a 'case by case basis.'



Monsanto responded with a vehement denial of accusations that it plans to commercialize the Terminator Technology, but Ban Terminator remains unconvinced. The next meeting of the UNCBD takes place March 20-31, and some see this meeting as an opportunity to scale back the UN's de facto ban and 'unleash' the genetically modified plants.

Industry supporters are strong. Monsanto alone had approximately $6.3 billion in sales last year, and companies like Dell & Pine Land have made known their intention to commercialize the Terminator Technology. More than 400 organizations, including Greenpeace International and La Via Campesina have joined Ban Terminator in the fight against suicide seeds, with many viewing this as a battle for life and death. Thomas and Sharratt quote Chukki Nanjundaswamy of La Via Campesina saying, 'If Monsanto bullies the UN into allowing 'case by case' assessment of Terminator, it means farmers will be carried off the land coffin by coffin.'














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