TERMINATOR: THE RETURN

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TERMINATOR: THE RETURN

Terminator technology is not yesterday's news it is a serious and immediate threat to crop diversity and food sovereignty worldwide. Governments are drafting proposals to permit the field-testing and commercialisation of Terminator seeds. The International Seed Federation now openly endorses Terminator and is working hand-in-hand with industry-friendly governments to dismantle the United Nations' de facto moratorium. An all-out ban is the only defence against suicide seeds.

What is Terminator?

Terminator technology refers to plants that have been genetically modified to give sterile seeds when harvested. Terminator technology was initially developed by the multinational seed/agrochemical industry and the US government to prevent farmers from re-planting harvested seed and to maximise seed industry profits. Terminator has not yet been commercialised or field-tested, although trials are currently being conducted in greenhouses in the US.

Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURTs) is the 'official' term used by the United Nations and the scientific community to refer to Terminator. GURTs is a broad term that refers to the use of an external chemical inducer to control the expression of a plant's genetic trait. GURTs is often used as a synonym for genetic seed sterilisation or Terminator technology.

Why is Terminator a problem?

Over 1.4 billion people, primarily small-scale farming families in the developing world, depend on farm-saved seed as their primary seed source. Terminator seeds will force dependence on external seed sources and disrupt local and indigenous peoples' seed exchange practices, as well as the age-old practice of farmer selection and breeding the foundation for local seed security. If Terminator is commercialised, seed sterility is likely to be incorporated in all genetically modified plants, because seed sterility secures a much stronger monopoly than patents. Unlike patents, there's no expiration date, no exemption for plant breeders, and no need for lawyers.

Who owns Terminator?

The US Department of Agriculture and Delta & Pine Land, the world's seventh largest seed company, jointly hold three patents on Terminator technology. Syngenta, DuPont, BASF and Monsanto are among the other multinational companies that have won patents. Syngenta won its most recent US patent on Terminator technology in March 2004. A Delta & Pine Land representative is now travelling worldwide to promote his company's Terminator technology.

Terminator is NOT a Biosafety Issue

The multinational seed industry is waging a public relations campaign to promote Terminator technology as a way to contain unwanted gene flow from GM plants, particularly from new products being developed, like GM trees and plants modified to produce drugs and industrial chemicals. Industry argues that engineered sterility offers a built-in safety feature for GM plants, because if genes from a Terminator crop cross-pollinate with related plants nearby, the seed produced from unwanted pollination will not germinate. Escaped genes from GM plants are causing genetic contamination and pose threats to agricultural biodiversity and the livelihoods of farmers especially in centres of crop genetic diversity. For example, studies confirm that DNA from GM maize has contaminated traditional maize grown by indigenous farmers in Mexico.

The very companies whose GM seeds are causing unwanted contamination are now suggesting that society accept a new and untested technology to contain genetic pollution. If GM seeds are unsafe they should not be used. Most importantly, food security for small-scale farmers must not be sacrificed to solve the industry's genetic pollution problem.

What impact will Terminator seeds have on small-scale farmers?
Genetically modified Terminator seeds are not relevant to the needs of small-scale farmers, but that does not mean farmers will not find Terminator seeds in their fields if they are commercialised. If imported grain contains Terminator genes, and farmers unknowingly plant it as seed, it would not germinate. Similarly, farmers who depend on humanitarian food aid risk devastating crop loss if they unknowingly use food aid grain containing Terminator genes as seed.

International moratorium under attack

In 2000 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recommended that governments do not field-test or commercialize genetic seed sterilisation technologies thus creating a de facto international moratorium. Many governments, indigenous peoples and civil society organisations have repeatedly called for the CBD to ban Terminator technology because it threatens biodiversity, indigenous knowledge systems, small-scale farmers and global food security. But when the scientific advisory body to the CBD met in February 2005 in Bangkok, industry and allied governments almost succeeded in overturning the existing moratorium. A leaked memo revealed that the Canadian government was prepared to introduce language allowing for field-testing and commercialisation. Disaster was averted due to interventions by many governments but the moratorium on Terminator is now under attack.

Action needed at all levels

Campaigning for national bans on Terminator is critical and there are important precedents. In 2005 the government of Brazil passed a law that prohibits the use, sale, registration, patenting and licensing of Terminator technology. The Indian government banned the registration of Terminator seeds in 2001. Local, national and regional campaigns to ban Terminator will also encourage governments to work for an international ban.

On 23-27 January 2006, the CBD's Working Group on Article 8(j) will meet in Spain and recommend action on Terminator to the biennial CBD meeting (COP8) in Brazil, March 20-31 2006, where governments will have an opportunity to ban Terminator once and for all.

Join the new Ban Terminator Campaign

Outraged and alarmed by the Canadian government's attempt to push Terminator, Canadian-based groups (ETC Group, Inter Pares, National Farmers Union, USC Canada) are now asking you to join them in forming a new international Ban Terminator Campaign. We must put pressure on the UK government to support a ban on terminator technology at the CBD meetings in Spain and Brazil.