As promised, the RAFI press release on Zeneca's terminator
technology; release is datelined 24 August 98.
Europe's answer to the American Home "Monster" Terminator Technology
is the Verminator, a new chemically activated seed killer. The
Verminator kills seeds - in one of the invention's claims - by
switching on rodent fat genes that have been bioengineered into
crops. Zeneca BioSciences (UK) is vying with the "Monster"
(Monsanto) to become Top Cat in the global seed industry even if it
means playing cat and mouse with farmers and destroying their age-old
practice of saving and breeding crop varieties.
Zeneca, the life industry spin-off of the old ICI (Imperial Chemical
Industries), says it will apply for patents in 58 countries for its
invention that renders it impossible for farmers to save "protected"
seed from growing season to growing season (WO 94/03619). The
technology, which activates a "killer" gene (or prevents the
expression of genes crucial to normal plant development), weighs in
whenever a chemical "trigger" is applied to seed at a desired point
during plant maturation. For example, genetically engineered seed
could be produced that would not germinate unless exposed to
Zeneca's private chemical trigger. Or, plants growing in the field
could be genetically programmed to become stunted, not properly
reproduce, or not resist disease(s) unless sprayed with Zeneca's
In the patent description, Zeneca described the source of one such
"killer" gene as coming from "mammalian uncoupling protein isolated
from the brown adipose tissue of Ratus ratus" - or the "Fat Rat" gene.
The move by the British firm is hard on the heels of the US patent (US
5,723,765) granted in March to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
and Delta and Pine Land Company for what RAFI dubbed "Terminator
Technology". Within weeks of that patent announcement, the US
agrochemical behemoth Monsanto bought Delta and Pine for US$1.76
billion. Then, in June, Monsanto and American Home Products, one of
the biggest cats in the chemical jungle, announced that they would
merge. The union instantly created the world's largest pesticide
firm, second largest seed enterprise, and a giant that ranks in the
top ten in pharmaceuticals and veterinary medicines. Zeneca is
currently the world's fifth largest seed company with annual sales of
US$437 million in 1997. It is also an important crop chemical and
"The Verminator is a broader and more pervasive variation on the
Monster's Terminator," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI.
"It looks like Zeneca can either choose to sell seeds that are already
incapable of replanting - or trigger the "killer" by chemical spraying
at a later date." RAFI's Edward Hammond adds, "Zeneca may also be in
a position to attach its genetic 'bomb' to destroy specific genes or
gene sequences within the plant. This could allow the seed to be
regrown while still eradicating key genetic traits."
A major objective of both the Verminator and the Terminator (which
Monsanto euphemistically describes as a "Technology Protection
System") is to provide a technological platform (or Trojan Horse) upon
which any number of proprietary genes can rest with impunity. The
traits will function for the bought seed but either not rejuvenate (in
the case of both Verminator and Terminator) or (for Verminator alone)
not function in subsequent generations.
Camila Montecinos, an agronomist coordinating the Latin America-wide
Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation (CBDC) Programme
based in Temuco, Chile, is incensed. "The patent absurdly suggests
that the Verminator will benefit farmers by being a 'container' for
genetically-engineered varieties or by preventing seed sprouting
before harvest," she says (seeds of small grain cereals like wheat or
rice sometimes germinate on the plant when conditions are too hot or
humid or the harvest is delayed. This can lead to a loss of market
quality.) "But the real goal is to hook farmers on genetically
/mutilated/ seed that does not properly reproduce. Farmers will lose
their 12,000 year-old right to save seed. This is biological warfare."
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, Rome) estimate that 1.4
billion poor people depend on farm-saved seed for their food security.
The farmers involved often grow their food under unfavourable
conditions of little commercial interest to global seed companies.
Thus, the farmers adapt or breed their own varieties that meet their
own conditions and needs. Verminator and Terminator can make it
impossible for these farmers not only to save seed but to create the
varieties they need to feed people.
Half a world away, Monica Opole of Kenya, the CBDC's project
coordinator in that country, agrees. "The flexibility of the
Verminator is scary," Opole says, "In practice, farmers could buy seed
believing it can be reused a second season only to find that it cannot
or that it is debilitated by inherited Verminator genes. Worse still,
the farmer could find that their neighbor bought the Verminator and it
outcrossed into their field, leaving them with dead seeds. The farmer
loses her crop, the family loses their food. Who knows how the
Verminator will interact with nature, especially as it spreads out
over time and inevitably crosses with farmers' varieties. This kind of
patent is a threat to family food security."
In her office in the suburbs of metro Manila, Neth Dano, executive
director of SEARICE (Southeast Asian Regional Institute for Community
Education) is furious. "Monsanto and Zeneca have a large chunk of the
global seed industry. Where they lead, others will follow. Farmers are
under attack. Acting like God, these companies are pulling farmers to
their knees to pray 'Give us our daily bread' by forcing them to buy
seeds every season. This is grossly immoral and perverse! Our
governments have got to come to our defense. Both the Terminator and
the Verminator should not be accepted for patenting on the grounds
that they violate ordre public."
RAFIis research director, Hope Shand has been tracking the Terminator
Trend for some time. "It's not just these two technologies," Shand
asserts, "Monsanto and Pioneer are also developing new wheat hybrids
they believe can take over the market." Hybrids are the "Terminator
Rex" of crops. The second-generation seed will either not breed true -
or it will be sterile. Until recently small grain cereals such as
wheat and rice were difficult to commercially hybridize. "Now, that
seems to be changing," says Shand, "The opportunity to force farmers
back to buy seed every season has led the multinationals to focus on
hybrid terminators too."
"With hybrids, the critical technology is CMS - cytoplasmic male
sterility," Rolf Johnsson of Swedenis Friends of the Earth reports.
"The Terminator Trend is becoming so wide spread, we need to form a
global coalition to fight for the right of farmers to save seed." When
studying the Terminator, Johnsson spotted an oblique reference to the
Verminator and alerted fellow NGOs to the patent. Together with a
large number of civil society organizations, RAFI is studying a number
of other patents and technologies associated with the Terminator
For background on the Trend and on the activities of the global seed
trade, please visit RAFI's homepage at http://www.rafi.org.
For further information:
Pat Roy Mooney, Executive Director
110 Osborne St., Suite 202
Winnipeg MB R3L 1Y5 CANADA
Tel: (204) 453-5259
Fax: (204) 925-8034
Hope Shand, Research Director
Edward Hammond, Program Officer
P.O. Box 640
Pittsboro NC 27312 USA
Tel: 	(919) 542-1396
Fax: 	(919) 542-0069
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Salamanders are important. --Mister 3D
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