Monsanto and Terminator Technology

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Monsanto came under heavy public fire with the development of their "Terminator Technology", a.k.a. "suicide seeds", known technically as V-GURTs (varietal Genetic Use Restriction Technologies) in which the seeds resulting from the first year's planting would be sterile thereby forcing farmers around the world in the Roundup Ready System to buy their seed from them every year rather than saving their best seed for the next years planting, a traditional and economical practice [1]. Seed saving has had the benefit of allowing farmers to continually improve the quality of their crops through careful artificial selection.

Fears were also expressed that Monsanto's terminator genes could spread to wild plants. According to the UN Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, "Cross-fertilising V-GURT containing crops may cause considerable effects in neighbouring crop stands and wild relatives.... The fact that in North America, where large stands of GMO varieties are now grown contamination of non-GMO varieties by GMO germplasm has been observed ... suggests that this scenario is a realistic probability" [2].

In 1999 Monsanto called the program off, even pledging "not to pursue technologies that result in sterile seeds" [3]. In 2000, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity "Conference of the Parties" recommended a de facto moratorium on field testing and commercial use of Terminator seeds [4] (paragraph 23). The moratorium was re-affirmed in 2006 [5].

Monsanto later reversed their promise not to pursue Terminator in a revised pledge which caused an uproar [6]. In any case, the messages from Monsanto on Terminator has been mixed and confusing - simultaneously "making a public commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technologies", even stating "We stand by our commitment to not use genetic engineering methods that result in sterile seeds. Period" whilst also stating "we 'constantly re-evaluate this stance as the technology develops'" and "we do not rule out their future development" [7][8]. Note that even a Monsanto press release on the subject apparently confused the wording in these latter statements which purportedly applies to T-GURTS by associating them with "sterile seed technologies" or V-GURTS). See also [9] [10]. June 1, 2007 Monsanto completed a takeover of Delta & Pine Land, bought for $1.5 billion, which holds three terminator patents with the USDA and has "publically declared its intention to commercialize terminator" [11][12]. Note: in the course of the purchase it was discovered that D&PL had bribed Turkish officials re its operations in Turkey. It was fined $300,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission for violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. See also [13].

The biotech industry is also creating other similar technologies ostensibly to control the spread of the industry's wandering transgenes. Dubbed Zombie seeds, Exorcist seeds and Pull-the-Plug plants, these T-GURTs, or trait-specific GURTs work by inserting further genes into transgenic crops designed to turn off the primary GM trait or to kill the plant outright. The genes are switched on either by application of an additional industry chemical, or by a developmental or environmental stimulus. Each of these "cures" has its own set of issues however [14].

"The solution to a flawed technology is not a new techno-fix. Ironically, society is being asked to foot the bill for another new and untested technology – one that is designed to maximize seed industry profits – in an attempt to reel in the genetic contamination problem caused by the very same companies. There is no such thing as a safe and acceptable form of Terminator. New research on molecular containment of transgenes will ultimately allow the multinational seed industry to tighten its grasp on proprietary germplasm, restrict the rights of farmers and dictate the conditions under which seeds and plants are viable. Under some scenarios, farmers will be obliged to pay for the privilege of restoring seed fertility every year – a new form of perpetual monopoly for the seed industry". [15].

On June 29, 2004 The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture went into effect giving farmers in those countries which have ratified it (the U.S. has not), the right to save seeds [16].

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External Links

Ban Terminator.

A Terminator timeline [17]