October 02, 2015

Brazil Aims to Torpedo International Moratorium on Terminator Seeds

Farmers’ Rights and Food Sovereignty Under Fire

At a time when just three corporations – Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta – control 55% of the world’s commercial seeds, industrial farming interests in the Brazilian Congress have introduced a bill that aims to overturn the country’s 10-year old ban on Terminator technology – seeds that have been genetically modified to render sterile seeds. The technology is designed to secure corporate profits by eliminating the age-old right of farmers to save and re-plant harvested seeds.

If passed, the bill before the Brazilian Congress – PL 1117/2015 – would violate an international moratorium on the field testing and commercialization of Terminator seeds – unanimously adopted in 2000, and re-affirmed in 2006 by 192 governments at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Curitiba, Brazil.[1]

For nearly two decades, the controversial Terminator technology has been widely condemned by farmers, scientific bodies, governments and social movements/civil society as a threat to food sovereignty, biodiversity and human rights. In May, Pope Francis wrote of the threat posed by “infertile seeds.”[2]

In March 2005 Brazil passed a national biosafety law that banned Terminator technology. Just months later, then-Deputy Kátia Abreu introduced a bill that would overturn the ban by allowing exemptions. Abreu was appointed Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture in December 2014. The new bill, which allows for Terminator to be used in any crop where its use is deemed “beneficial” as a “biosafety tool,” is essentially the same text as Abreu’s 2005 draft bill.

According to Maria José Guazzelli of Centro Ecológico in Brazil, “Rather than admit the biosafety risks of GM crops and the failure to prevent unwanted gene flow, corporate interests in Brazil are trying to legalize Terminator under the guise of biosafety. In any case, scientists agree that Terminator technology will not prevent genes from escaping.”

Gerson Texeira, president of the Brazilian Association for Agrarian Reform (ABRA) adds, “It’s outrageous that the Congressional Commission on Environment and Sustainable Development – not to mention the public – has been excluded from the consultation process, given the bill’s grave implications for biodiversity, peasants and the environment.”

Pat Mooney of ETC Group, now attending a meeting of the International Seed Treaty in Rome, warns, “Brazil is moving dangerously close to a clear intent to violate the international moratorium. Both the Seed Treaty and the upcoming meeting of FAO’s Committee on World Food Security must urgently address the renewed threat and remind Brazil of its commitment under the Biodiversity Convention. The issue must also go to the governing body of the Biodiversity Convention (COP13) in Cancún, December 2016.”

* * * * * *


Draft Bill PL 1117/2015 would allow specific exemptions for the use of Terminator, referred to in the bill as Genetic Use Restriction

Technology (GURTs). GURTs is the term used by the United Nations and the scientific community to refer to Terminator or genetic seed sterilization.[3] The exempted uses include:

a)         When the genetic use restriction technologies are introduced in bioreactor plants or in plants that can be multiplied vegetatively;

b)        When the use of the technology has proven to be a biosafety measure beneficial to the activity.

(ETC Group translation from the Portuguese.)

Bioreactor plants refers to crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical ingredients, fuels or other industrial products (e.g., plastics).

The text as written allows Terminator to be applied to any plant that can be vegetatively propagated – this would include, for example, sugarcane and eucalyptus trees – major industrial biofuel crops in Brazil.

The text contains a giant loophole that would allow Terminator to be used for ANY crop when it is considered beneficial for biosafety. Industry has long argued that engineered sterility offers a built-in biosafety feature for genetically modified plants because, if a Terminator crop cross-pollinates with a related plant nearby, the seed produced from unwanted pollination would be sterile. In reality, molecular containment strategies will not provide a fail-safe solution to prevent the escape of transgenes, but it could cause significant damage to biodiversity.

Corporate Context: Efforts in Brazil to undermine the global moratorium on Terminator are taking place at a time when the world’s largest agrochemical and seed corporations are consolidating corporate control over the first link in the food chain: Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont already control one-third of the global agrochemical market and 55% of the world’s commercial seeds. Although Syngenta, Monsanto and DuPont (and/or their subsidiaries) are among the companies that have applied for and won patents on Terminator technology, all three companies have previously pledged not to commercialize the technology.  However, Monsanto’s most recent pledge does not include non-food crops.[4]

The trend in corporate concentration is particularly ominous for farmers in Brazil, which is the single largest market for the global pesticide industry, and the second largest market for both Monsanto and Syngenta. In August, Syngenta rejected Monsanto’s $47 billion takeover bid – but other mergers and acquisitions are in the works.



Pat Mooney, Executive Director ETC Group, etc@etcgroup.org, Tel: +1 (613) 241 2267

Maria José Guazzelli, Centro Ecológico, Brazil, mariajose.guazzelli@gmail.com

Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America Director, ETC Group, grupoetc@etcgroup.org


More background information:

For background information, see ETC Group publications related to past moves in the Brazilian Congress to legalize Terminator:

ETC Group News Release, “Brazilian Commission to ‘Terminate’ Seeds This Week,” 10 Dec. 2013: http://www.etcgroup.org/content/brazilian-commission-“terminate”-seeds-week

ETC Group News Release, “Suicide at the Carnaval? Terminator is back in the Brazilian Congress,” 28 Feb. 2014: http://www.etcgroup.org/content/suicide-carnaval-terminator-back-brazilian-congress


[1] Convention on Biological Diversity, Decision V/5, section III, paragraph 23.

[2] Pope Francis, Praise Be to You: On Care of Our Common Home, 24 May 2014. See paragraph 134. “In various countries, we see an expansion of oligopolies for the production of cereals and other products needed for their cu

ltivation. This dependency would be aggravated were the production of infertile seeds to be considered; the effect would be to force farmers to purchase them from larger producers.”

[3] Genetic Use Restriction Technology is a broad term that refers to the use of an external chemical inducer to control the expression of a plants’ genetic trait. GURTs is often used as a synonym for genetic seed sterilization or Terminator technology.

[4] http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/terminator-seeds.aspx


A Timeline: “I’ll be back,” says Terminator, again and again and again.


1998: US Patent & Trademark Office awards patent # 5,723,765 to USDA and Delta & Pine Land Company (bought by Monsanto in 2006) on a method to make seeds sterile in their second generation. ETC Group (then called RAFI) exposes the patent, denouncing the “Technology Protection System” – as the inventors refer to their seed sterilization technique – as a major threat to biodiversity and farmers. RAFI dubs the technology “Terminator;” amid Terminator’s growing disapprobation by international civil society and scientific bodies, the issue goes to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

2000: All CBD governments (there are currently 196 Parties) agree not to allow Terminator for field testing or commercial use, thereby establishing a de facto moratorium (known as Decision V/5).

2001: The government of India bans the registration of Terminator seeds.

2005: In February, at a CBD scientific advisory meeting in Bangkok, the government of Canada moves to weaken the consensus of support for the Terminator moratorium.

2005: In March, the government of Brazil enacts a national Biosafety Law prohibiting the use, sale, registration, patenting and licensing of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs, a.k.a. Terminator).

2005: In September, a draft bill is introduced in the Brazilian Congress by then-Deputy Kátia Abreu (PL 5964/2005), which would allow exemptions to Brazil’s ban on GURTs in the case of “bioreactor plants” (genetically modified to produce industrial substances).

2006: At a CBD Working Group meeting in Granada in January, Australia, New Zealand and Canada move to weaken the international moratorium by introducing wording for “case by case risk assessment,” suggesting that Parties should consider conditions in which the use of Terminator could be approved.

2006: After massive mobilization by Via Campesina and other social movements and civil society organizations from Brazil and around the world, CBD Parties meeting in March in Curitiba, Brazil (COP8) reject proposals for case by case risk assessment and agree to uphold and strengthen the Terminator moratorium; addressing the Ministerial meeting following COP8, then-Brazilian President Luíz Inácio da Silva acknowledges that the survival of the Terminator moratorium was one of the significant outcomes of COP8.

2007: A second draft bill is introduced in the Brazilian Congress (PL 268/2007), which would allow exemptions to the ban on GURTs imposed by the country’s 2005 Biosafety Law. The bill, roundly denounced by national and international civil society, stalls in Congress.

2009: A third piece of draft legislation (PL 5575/2009) allowing GURTs is introduced in the Brazilian Congress, but does not move forward.

2013: (October-December) The proposed legislation introduced in 2007 (PL 268/2007) begins moving through several commissions of the Brazilian Congress until it reaches the Congressional Judiciary Commission (CCJC). The resuscitated bill garners national and global opposition, including a petition on change.org signed by nearly 70,000 individuals and organizations. The Bill stalls in December at the close of the congressional session; fears that a new session of Congress and a new president of the Judiciary Commission would revive the bill in 2014 are not realized.

2014: (December) President Dilma Rousseff appoints Kátia Abreu, agribusiness booster and author of the 2005 pro-Terminator draft legislation introduced in the Brazilian Congress, as the country’s new Minister of Agriculture.

2015: (May) Pope Francis writes encyclical focusing on the environment; in it he warns of the harm, particularly to small producers through increased dependency, which would result from infertile seeds.

2015: (April) Deputy Alceu Moreira da Silva, from PMDB, the same political party as Minister Kátia Abreu, introduces new legislation in the Brazilian Congress (PL 1117/2015) that reproduces the core text of Abreu’s pro-Terminator bill from 2005, which would allow Terminator to be used for industrial crops (e.g., pharma or fuel crops) and for any plant that can be multiplied vegetatively, and, potentially, for ANY crop where its use is deemed beneficial as a “biosafety tool.” 


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