RAFI News: Terminator Technology to Hurt Farmers (fwd)
Lawrence F. London, Jr. (email@example.com)
Wed, 18 Mar 1998 00:37:34 -0500 (EST)
>Date: Fri, 13 Mar 1998 14:34:09 -0500
>To: Multiple recipients of <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>Subject: RAFI News: Terminator Technology to Hurt Farmers
>RAFI News Release
>13 March 1998
>*** Biotech Activists Oppose the "Terminator Technology" ***
>*** New Patent Aims to Prevent Farmers from Saving Seed ***
>By the year 2000 - after a 12,000-year history of farming - farmers may no
>longer be able to save seed or breed improved varieties. The problem is
>not the Millennium Bug but the "Millennium Seed."
>The twelve thousand year old practice of farm families saving their best
>seed from one year's harvest for planting the next season may be coming to
>an end. On March 3rd, an American cotton seed company and the U.S.
>Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced they had received a patent on a
>technique that genetically-disables a seed's capacity to germinate when
>planted again. US Patent No. 5,723,765, granted to Delta & Pine Land Co.,
>doesn't just cover the firm's cotton and soybean seed business but
>potentially all cultivated crops.
>Under a research agreement with the USDA, the company has the exclusive
>right to license (or not) the new technology to others. While only cotton
>and tobacco seeds have been shown to respond to the new technique, the
>company plans to have what RAFI's Research Director Hope Shand has dubbed,
>"Terminator Technology" ready for a much wider range of crops shortly after
>the year 2000.
>According to USDA spokesman Willard Phelps, the primary targets for the
>Terminator are "Second and Third World" markets. Priority crops include
>rice, wheat, sorghum and soybeans - crops largely ignored by agribusiness
>breeders because they aren't readily hybridized (a tried-and-true
>biological means of forcing farmers back into the seed market every year).
>By and large, profit-hungry seed companies have shunned these crops because
>the returns don't match those for hybrid crops like maize and many
>vegetables. With the patent announcement, the world's two most critical
>food crops - rice and wheat, staple foods for three-quarters of the world's
>poor - potentially enter the realm of private monopoly.
>The patent has taken plant breeders by storm. The technique - if it works
>as advertised - has profound implications for agriculture. But the news
>has also created division. Some of those contacted by RAFI see benefits to
>the new technology. "For the first time, private companies will be
>encouraged to invest in the world's most vital food crops. We can look
>forward to a new flow of investment into crops whose yields have stagnated
>or even declined in the Nineties. Now such poor people's crops as rice and
>wheat will get the research support they so desperately need," one crop
>economist advised. The patent's defenders acknowledge that the Terminator
>Technology will mean a hefty hike in seed costs as farmers who now only buy
>seed when they change varieties are forced to make annual purchases. But
>they defend hiking seed prices by saying farmers will only opt for the
>"sterile" seeds if they offer a big advantage. Otherwise, farmers will
>keep with the current publicly-bred varieties.
>RAFI's Hope Shand disagrees. "Don't forget, the Terminator was developed
>by the public sector (USDA) together with the private sector. There will
>be enormous pressure on public breeders to adopt the technique in order to
>feed cash-starved government and university research department with
>corporate dollars." Edward Hammond of RAFI concurs, "Biotech companies
>that are already patenting specific crop genes and traits will probably
>insist that other breeders licensing their germplasm use the Terminator to
>protect their monopoly. It won't take long," Hammond adds, "before farmers
>run out of choices. Either they pay for the Millennium Seed or they
>replant older varieties from abandoned breeding programmes."
>"This is a patent that really turns on the greed gene," says Camila
>Montecinos of the Chilean-based Center for Education and Technology, "It's
>too profitable for companies to ignore. We will see pressure on national
>regulatory systems to marginalize saved-seed varieties and clear the way
>for the Terminator. One point four billion farm families are at risk."
>Aside from sky-rocketing seed costs, Neth Daņo of the Philippines-based
>civil society organization SEARICE sees a threat to the environment and to
>long term food security. "We work with farmers who may buy a commercial
>variety but its breeder wouldn't recognize it five years later. Women
>select the best seeds every year and - over time - the rice molds itself to
>the farm's own ecosystem. Women also cross the commercial variety with
>other rice strains to breed their own locally-adapted seeds. The Terminator
>could put an end to all this and increase crop uniformity and
>vulnerability. It poses a threat to the culture of seed sharing and
>exchange that is led primarily by women farmers."
>"Ultimately, the Terminator technology will severely limit farmer options,
>says Neth Dano of SEARICE. "Will we be left with rice varieties that taste
>like sawdust and which pests and diseases love to devour?" asks Daņo.
>Camila Montecinos of Chile-based CET is calling for a global boycott of the
>Terminator Technology. "Governments should make use of the technology
>illegal," she insists. "This is an immoral technique that robs farming
>communities of their age-old right to save seed and their role as plant
>breeders. It should be banned." To this, corporate breeders argue that
>the new technology simply does for hard-to-hybridize crops what the hybrid
>technique did for maize. Hybrid seed is either sterile or fails to
>reproduce the same quality characteristics in the next generation. Thus,
>most maize farmers buy seed every year. "Poor farmers can't afford hybrids
>either;" Montecinos points out, "but there's a key difference. The theory
>behind hybridization is that it allows breeders to make crosses that
>couldn't be made otherwise and that are supposed to give the plant higher
>yields and vigor. The results are often disappointing but that's the
>rationale. In the case of Terminator Technology, there's absolutely no
>agronomic benefit for farmers. The sole purpose is to facilitate monopoly
>control and the sole beneficiary is agribusiness."
>RAFI will be working with its partners around the world to encourage a
>global ban on the use of Terminator Technology. "By the time it's ready
>for market shortly after the year 2000, we hope that the Millennium Seed
>will succumb to the Millennium Bug," concludes RAFI's Shand.
>For further information (persons quoted in this release):
>Hope Shand, Research Director
>Edward Hammond, Programme Officer
>P.O. Box 640
>Pittsboro, NC 27312
>Ph. (919) 542-1396
>Fax: (919) 542-0069
>E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
>Neth Daņo, Executive Director
>83 Madasalin Street
>Sikatuna Village, 1101 Quezon City
>Ph. : 63 2 4337182
>Fax: 63 2 9217563
>CET (Centro de Educacion Y Tecnologia)
>Casilla 16557, Correo 9
>RAFI's New International Headquarters
>110 Osborne St., Suite 202
>WINNIPEG MB R3L 1Y5
>Tel: (204) 453-5259
>Fax: (204) 925-8034
>RAFI is a non-profit international civil society organization headquartered
>in Canada. For more than twenty years, RAFI has worked on the social and
>economic impact of new technologies as they impact rural societies.
>CET is Centro de Educacion y Tecnologia, an NGO based in Santiago, Chile
>with a long history of work on rural and agricultural issues.
>SEARICE is the Southeast Asian Regional Institute for Community Education -
>a non-profit international civil society organization based in the
>Philippines. SEARICE has more than two decades of work on rural
>development and agricultural biodiversity work at the community, regional,
>and international level.
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