cj#894> Monsanto & terminator


Richard Moore

bcc: my family

dear cj,

I asked my family here in Kauai, and none of them had even heard of
terminator technology. Kind of boggles the mind.  If someone were plotting
how to eradicate the human race, this technology would be a very good
candidate method.  And yet it makes no appearance in the mass media.


Date: Wed, 06 Jan 1999
To: •••@••.•••
From: Eric Fawcett <•••@••.•••> (by way of Rycroft and
Pringle <•••@••.•••>)
Subject: Earth Int'l-- s4p-71: Privatising nature itself: Monsanto

The Age, Melbourne, Australia
Tuesday 15 December 1998

Meet the company that would privatise nature itself
Monsanto's seed patents have horrified plant growers everywhere.

By Matthew Townsend <•••@••.•••>

Monsanto, the company that gave the world Agent Orange, recombinant Bovine
Growth Hormones, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), is on a spending
spree. The world's largest agro-chemical producer has just invested about
$6 billion in seed operations in Africa, Asia, Central and Latin America
and Europe.

This might not mean much were it not for Monsanto's shareholding in the
company that owns the so-called "Terminator-patent" a process of
genetically modifying plants so they produce only sterile seeds. If
Monsanto and other seed companies succeed in inserting Terminator genes
into their expanding array of patented seeds, farmers around the world
could have little choice but to buy non-reproducing varieties.

As the New York Times put it, "The Terminator will allow companies like
Monsanto to privatise one of the last great commons in nature - the
genetics of crop plants that civilisation has developed over the past
10,000 years." The technology appears to be directed towards the
developing world. Willard Phelps, the Spokesman for the US Dept of
Agriculture, the government agency that co-sponsored the Terminator's
development, has reportedly acknowledged that the "second and third world
markets are the main targets for the Terminator seed."

Seed producers are worried that developing nations are saving their
patented seeds from one season to the next and thus reducing their
purchasing costs. For example, Monsanto demands that its Roundup Ready
seeds are only used once, and monitors compliance using private
investigators. However, companies have been unable to do the same in
developing countries, where patent protections are weak.

The primary inventor of the Terminator technology, Melvin J. Oliver, has
said: "Our mission is to protect American technology and to make us
competitive in the face of foreign competition." However, if Terminator
seeds become established in international markets, it could devastate
traditional farming practices.

The Director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) Mr.
Pat Mooney says: "Traditionally, women farmers not only save seed but they
use purchased seed to cross with other breeding stock to improve and adapt
the seed to their local needs. The Terminator makes all this impossible."
Monsanto responds that people who don't want the Terminator seeds don't
have to buy them. But in many developing nations government rules or
commercial credit often force farmers to grow particular crop varieties.

The threat posed by Terminator seeds is not only economic. If the
technology goes wrong, they could sterilise surrounding crops through
cross-pollination. It has already been shown that genes can jump from
crops into weeds, creating new species of superweeds resistant to
herbicides. An experimental crop of herbicide-resistant oilseed rape in
Britain had to be destroyed after it cross-pollinated nearby plants. The
British Government considered prosecuting Monsanto for allegedly
contaminating the environment.

There are also questions about the new seeds' potential toxicity. Martha
Crouch, Associate Professor of Biology at Indiana University, says: "The
key to Terminator is the ability to make a lot of a toxin that will kill
cells, and to confine that toxin to seeds." Yet she questions the toxin's
effect on other life-forms: "How will a particular toxin affect birds,
insects, fungi and bacteria that eat or infect the seeds?"  Professor
Crouch points out that even if the toxin is not harmful to animals, it
"may cause allergic reactions and if the seeds are being mixed with the
general food supply, it will be difficult to trace this effect."

The Terminator raises serious questions about food security. Indian
agriculturalists, for example, are concerned that once farmers in
developing countries are reliant on imported patented seeds, they may be
subject to gene tampering to make their crops either less productive or to
fail completely. Unsurprisingly, the public response to the
Terminator-gene has been poor.

Since the Terminator patent was granted in the United States last March,
concern has been expressed worldwide from environmentalists, farmers and
scientists. The world's largest agricultural research network, the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has now
announced it will boycott the use of Terminator technology. The group
expressed concerns about inadvertent pollination; the sale of flawed
seeds; the importance of farm-saved seed to resource-poor farmers; and the
potential impacts on genetic diversity.

The controversy surrounding the Terminator patent has done little to
dispel the criticism that the biotechnology industry is on the wild west
frontier of development, and that Monsanto is one of its principal cowboys.
Matthew Townsend is a barrister and lecturer in environmental
law at Victoria University of Technology. •••@••.•••

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