April 22, 2003

Broken Promise? Monsanto Promotes Terminator Seed Technology

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.

"If Monsanto is reversing its public pledge on Terminator, it will be perceived as a colossal corporate betrayal of the public good - just one more example of corporate greed and fickle governance," explains Hope Shand, Research Director of ETC Group, "Market confidence in biotech is already low - it could evaporate if Monsanto violates its public pledge on Terminator seeds." ETC Group, formerly known as RAFI, is one of hundreds of civil society, farmers and indigenous peoples organizations worldwide that has called for a ban on Terminator as an anti-farmer, anti-diversity technology that, if commercialized, would prevent farmers from saving seed from their harvest.

Monsanto's new pro-Terminator position came to public light when the Lyon-based International Seed Federation (ISF) released a position paper on Terminator or GURTs (genetic use restriction technology - the scientific name for Terminator) that defends the potential benefits of genetic seed sterilization and extols the theoretical virtues of Terminator for small farmers and indigenous peoples. Co-authored by Monsanto's Roger Krueger and Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the ISF position paper on Terminator was prepared for a February 19-21 meeting of an Expert Panel convened by the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that met to discuss the implications of Terminator technology for small farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities.

The full text of ISF's position paper on Terminator is available here.

Both Krueger and Collins attended the Montreal meeting and served on the Expert Panel. (Harry Collins of D&PL represented the International Seed Federation at the meeting, and Roger Krueger of Monsanto represented the Biotechnology Industry Organization.)

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