Fifteen Francophone African states, among them some of the poorest countries in the world, are under pressure to sign away the right of more than 20 million small-holder farmers to save and exchange crop seed. The decision to abandon Africa's 12,000-year tradition of seed saving will be finalized at a meeting February 22-25 in the Central African Republic. The 15 governments have been told to adopt draconian intellectual property legislation for plant varieties in order to conform to a provision in the World Trade Organization (WTO) that obliges signatories to protect" plant varieties. The legislation (a kind of legal "Terminator" because it prohibits farmers from replanting "protected" seed) is also known, euphemistically, as "Plant Breeders' Rights". If adopted, the legislation will throw some of Africa's poorest countries into an intellectual property cartel dominated by a handful of OECD states led by the USA, the UK, and Japan.
The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a Canadian-based rural advocacy organization, announced today that it has uncovered over three dozen new patents describing a wide range of techniques that can be used for the genetic sterilization of plants and seeds. The patents reveal that engineered seed sterility is not an isolated research agenda - it's the Holy Grail of the ag biotech industry," says Pat Mooney of RAFI. The disclosure follows on the heels of a controversial patent unveiled last year, christened the "Terminator" by RAFI, that continues to generate worldwide protest and debate because it renders farm-saved seed sterile - forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. The Terminator patent is jointly owned by the US Department of Agriculture and a Monsanto subsidiary, Delta & Pine Land Co.
This is an appendix to RAFI's Communique on Traitor Technology, published in January 1999.
Rural advocacy organizations learned that Monsanto, arguably the world's least popular biotech multinational, held a high-level meeting yesterday to consider whether or not to abandon its quest for an exclusive license on the Terminator technology , US patent no. 5,723,765 , which its subsidiary, Delta & Pine Land Co., co-owns with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).* The patent covers a system for genetically engineering suicide seeds" that cannot be replanted, thus forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. Philip Angell, Director of Monsanto's Corporate Communications, confirmed that Monsanto held a meeting to discuss Terminator yesterday and that Monsanto's President, Bob Shapiro, attended. Angell declined to offer details, but he told RAFI that "it's an issue we have to wrestle with."
Problems resulting from the continued widespread use of pesticides has prompted some biologists to pursue other means of controlling insects. While there have been some success stories in biological control, these have not been numerous, and spraying with toxic chemicals continues to be the norm. The Texas patent attempts to address this problem by incorporating a toxic component in the genome of fertile insects.
Under attack for blatant abuses to its Plant Breeders' Rights (intellectual property) legislation and accused of abetting the biopiracy of Farmers' Varieties around the world - including Australian Aboriginal varieties - Canberra's beleaguered PBR Office has issued new regulations intended to prevent piratical plant patents. But will they? What about past abuses? What does it mean for the renegotiation of the WTO's TRIPS" (patent) chapter this December 1-2 (1998)?
The Terminator - and related genetic seed sterilization technology - has been banned from the crop breeding programs of the world's largest international agricultural research network. The strong and unambiguous policy was adopted by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) at a meeting at the World Bank in Washington on Friday, October 30th.
It's a courageous decision. The CGIAR has done the right thing, for the right reasons," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI, "a ban on Terminator is a pro-farmer policy in defence of world food security."
The CGIAR is a global network of 16 international agricultural research centres, which collectively form the world's largest public plant breeding effort for resource-poor farmers. The Terminator genetic engineering technique renders farm-saved seed sterile, forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. The technology is aimed primarily at seed markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seed and on-farm plant breeding. If widely adopted, the Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to save seed and breed their own crops.
With more than 70% of the Third World's rice and wheat crops based upon its crop breeding programmes, the world's largest network of agricultural research institutes is vowing not to useTerminator Technology (a biotech-based strategy that prevents seed from regerminating in a secondgrowing season). The decision is a slap-in-the-face to one of its major funders - the US Government, and to Monsanto Corporation - who claim their technology will help feed the hungry.
After 17 years - a 17 day wonder? Now the question is, what next?
In search of vindication and vision, the CGIAR's first Systemwide Review in 17 years is indeed a vociferous defence of the past but its recommendations for the future vacuous and doomed to be discounted. After 18 months and $1.5 million is the System back where it started? How will it recover from its post-harvest losses?
Plant patent" offices in several industrialized countries are knowingly granting plant variety monopolies to plant breeders for cultivars actually bred by farmers in at least 43 Third World countries. RAFI and Heritage Seed Curators Australia (HSCA) today are presenting a roster of 147 "dubious" plant variety claims to challenge the World Trade Organization's edict that countries must grant intellectual property "protection" over living plant varieties. The WTO is meeting in Geneva September 17-18 to discuss procedures for reviewing the controversial clause in 1999. Now, the question shouldn't be "What the WTO is going to do about plant breeders rights?" rather, it is "What are the WTO and the various intergovernmental 'patent' conventions going to do about plant breeders wrongs?"