As negotiations come to a head in Kuala Lumpur at the first meeting of the Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the United States along with Canada and a few Latin American states seem poised to render the 86-nation agreement irrelevant. News earlier this week that the Argentine Government has offered to collect taxes from its GM soybean farmers in lieu of royalty payments has stunned many delegations attending the meeting in the Malaysian capital.
Recent Content Related to Terminator & New Enclosures
Since 1994, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been promising "benefit sharing" to Indigenous Peoples in return for access to biodiversity (i.e., bioprospecting). During these ten years, Indigenous Peoples and farming communities have worked long and hard to realize this goal.
This document is referenced in the ETC News Release: "Broken Promise? Monsanto Promotes Terminator Seed Technology" of 23 April 2003
Over half of the world's 100 largest economic entities are transnational corporations (TNCs), not nations. TNCs have unprecedented power to shape social, economic and trade policies. Corporate hegemony is usurping the role and responsibilities of national governments, threatening democracy and human rights. Over the past two decades ETC Group (formerly as RAFI) has monitored corporate power and trends in the "life sciences." Consolidation, technological convergence and non-merger corporate alliances are among the trends examined in this issue of ETC Communiqué.
Terminator – or genetic seed sterilization – has been on the agenda of the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for five years. If the Gene Giants and governments get their way, the CBD will be conducting studies on Terminator for years to come – long after suicide seeds are commercialized and show up in farmers’ fields.
At the ninth meeting of the CBD’s scientific advisory body (SBSTTA 9) held November 10-14 in Montreal, four governments – Canada, New Zealand, Argentina and Brazil – were allowed to highjack debate and stall action on Terminator by insisting that the CBD postpone consideration of an expert technical report on the impacts of genetic seed sterilization, arguing that the report lacks scientific rigor. While the report will be forwarded to next February’s Conference of the Parties (COP7) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it will go with a recommendation that COP7 forego action and re-direct the report to the next meeting of the scientific body (SBSTTA10) – in late 2004 or 2005 – with the aim of providing advice to COP8 in 2006!
Mexico City, Mexico
* Contamination has been found in cornfields in the states of Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tlaxcala and Veracruz
* Analyses show contamination with the genetically modified (GM) variety Starlink, prohibited for human consumption in the United States
* Some plants found to show presence of two, three and four different GM types, all patented by transnational biotechnology corporations
New Developments: While claiming not to have reversed their position against commercialization of Terminator seeds, some Gene Giants are continuing to seek new patents on genetic seed sterilization and others are boldly advocating in favor of GURTs (genetic use restriction technology) in intergovernmental negotiations. Stung by negative publicity related to the escape of DNA from genetically modified (GM) plants, industry continues to "greenwash" Terminator by promoting it as a biosafety tool for containing unwanted geneflow from GM plants. Biotech company Maxygen has unveiled a new technology designed to banish foreign DNA from GM plants as a way to silence critics of genetic engineering. ETC Group calls it the "Exorcist" technology.
After delays, denial, and double standards, Monsanto maintains unjust monopoly on major food crop. Time to talk to the cooks about a new recipe?
At its annual meeting on Thursday, April 24th 2003, Monsanto's top brass will greet shareholders with a dismal financial report, (a 15% drop in annual sales - $4.7 billion in 2002, down from $5.5 billion in 2001) and a shareholder resolution that urges the company to re-think the safety of genetically engineered seeds - now the company's flagship product. But there's potentially more troubling news - a little known position paper that could rattle shareholders, irk investors and erode public confidence still further in the biotech behemoth: Despite its 1999 pledge not to commercialize Terminator technology, Monsanto has recently adopted a positive stance on genetic seed sterilization, a technology that has been condemned by civil society and some governments as an immoral application of genetic engineering.
After two days of intense diplomatic wrangling in Geneva, April 10-11 2003, US patent officials succeeded in turning the expert advice of an intergovernmental secretariat critical of Terminator technology into little more than a promotional paper for plant breeders' rights.
UPOV has succumbed to the strong-arm tactics of the US government and the multinational seed industry, both of whom have vested financial interests in Terminator technology. If member governments of UPOV had any doubts about who determines policy within the Union, they need only examine the recent case of Terminator.
In the USA, senior science policy makers and industry players are devising a new-style 'Manhattan' or 'Apollo' project to merge strategic technologies at the nano-scale (one billionth of a meter). Their aim is to combine biotechnology, information technology and cognitive (neural) science with atomtechnology at the nano scale (see The Big Down). The operative unit in information science is the Bit; nanotechnology manipulates Atoms; cognitive science deals with Neurons and biotech exploits the Gene. Together they make B.A.N.G. Merging these technologies into one, proponents say, will drive a huge industrial revolution and a societal "renaissance" that will guarantee American dominance - military and economic - through the 21st century.
Thirteen months ago, the agbiotech industry wakened to a nightmare. Illegal and unwelcome, the presence of genetically-modified (GM) maize was reported smack in the crop's center of genetic origin in Mexico. There's never a good time for a political/ecological calamity, but the beleaguered Gene Giants were already struggling to persuade consumers, following the Taco Debacle (Starlink), that companies could control their inventions and their inventory. The seed companies were also hoping to arm-twist EU ministers into lifting the ban on GM products in Europe.
ETC Group participated at the Johannesburg Summit 2002. Pat Mooney and Silvia Ribeiro were present for the entire WSSD and conducted five seminars on major issues related to ETC's agenda.
Indigenous peoples' and farmers' organizations from the Andes and the Amazon gathered at the offices of the Ecological Forum in Lima, Peru on 28 June 2002 to formally denounce US patents on maca, the high-altitude Andean plant (of the Cruciferae [mustard] family) that has been grown for centuries by indigenous peoples in the Puna highlands of Peru, both as a staple food crop and for medicinal purposes. Today, maca-based products are commonly promoted as natural enhancers of sexual function and fertility, and demand for maca is growing in the US, Europe and Japan.
The theme for the NGO/CSO Forum during the World Food Conference in Rome in early June 2002 is Food Sovereignty – the rights of small producers to provide and of poor consumers to eat. For the fifth time since it was founded in 1945, FAO is trying to get governments to wake up to their national and global obligation to end food insecurity. Past conferences have bred platitudes without progress.
The genetic modification of plants to produce sterile seeds has been widely condemned by civil society, scientific bodies, and many governments as an immoral application of agricultural biotechnology. If commercialized, the technology will prevent farmers from saving seed from their harvest for planting the following season. The aim of genetic seed sterilization is to maximize seed industry profits by destroying the right of farmers to save their seeds and breed their own crops. We cannot depend on the good will of transnational corporations to prevent Terminator seeds from becoming a commercial reality.
An essay by ETC Group's Hope Shand entitled "Intellectual Property: Enhancing Corporate Monopoly and Bioserfdom", appears in Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture. Edited by Andrew Kimbrell and published by the Foundation for Deep Ecology in 2202. Fatal Harvest offers a visually stunning collection of photos and essays on the myths and tragedy of US-bred industrial agriculture. It also offers a vision for a food and farming system that is socially just, ecologically and culturally diverse and sustainable.
It is revisionist history, and a cynical strategy, to suggest that Terminator was developed as a biosafety tool.
ETC Group is alarmed and insulted by the campaign to promote Terminator as a biosafety mechanism. It is unacceptable and dangerous to suggest that agriculture is dependent on genetic seed sterilization as a method for minimizing genetic pollution from genetically modified plants.
Some biotech companies are claiming that GM (genetically-modified) seed can best be controlled if they also apply Terminator technology to the seed. The Terminator makes the seed sterile at harvest time so that farmers have to purchase new seed every growing season. When ETC group learned that suicide seeds were being hailed as a "green" technology, we decided to hold a contest. The winner is announced today at the Biodiversity Convention in The Netherlands.
ETC group's April Fool's Day Contest - to come up with the best conclusion to the sentence, "Using Terminator to halt GM seed contamination is like..." has a winner. The global contest, which began in early February and ended on April Fool's Day resulted in more than 110 entries from 21 countries. Many hundreds more visited the special website set-up for the contest to see the answers.
Rather than enter into a marriage that even the U.S. Government would find unpalpable, the world's two most powerful Gene Giants have decided to live in sync by sharing their proprietary agricultural biotechnologies with one another. Unless the two titans are committing to long-term monogamy, such a tech-swap is the corporate equivalent of "unprotected sex". It seems the risks in this particular union will be offloaded on farmers with fewer choices and higher prices - the corporate notion of "Fee Love"?