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The Teminator Technology: RAFI-USA Press Release

Rural Advancement Foundation International - RAFI
Press Release - 27 January 1999
http://www.rafi.org

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Genetic Seed Sterilization is "Holy Grail"
for Ag Biotechnology Firms
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New Patents for "Suicide Seeds" Threaten
Farmers and Food Security Warns RAFI

The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a Canadian-based
rural advocacy organization, announced today that it has uncovered over
three dozen new patents describing a wide range of techniques that can be
used for the genetic sterilization of plants and seeds. "The patents reveal
that engineered seed sterility is not an isolated research agenda - it's
the Holy Grail of the ag biotech industry," says Pat Mooney of RAFI. The
disclosure follows on the heels of a controversial patent unveiled last
year, christened the "Terminator" by RAFI, that continues to generate
worldwide protest and debate because it renders farm-saved seed sterile -
forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. The
Terminator patent is jointly owned by the US Department of Agriculture and
a Monsanto subsidiary, Delta & Pine Land Co.

"The notorious Terminator patent is just the tip of the iceberg," explains
RAFI's Mooney, "Every major seed and agrochemical enterprise is developing
its own version of suicide seeds," he adds.

"We've uncovered dozens of patents that disclose new and more insidious
techniques for genetic sterilization of plants and seeds - and even
animals," says Edward Hammond of RAFI. "Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Monsanto
are among the Gene Giants who have sterile seeds in the pipeline, while
others like Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc, and DuPont have technologies
that could easily be turned into Terminators." The primary goal of several
of the the newly patented techniques is to sterilize seed so that farmers
cannot save and re-plant seed.

A number of the patents use benign-sounding technical terms such as
"controlled gene expression" linked to "inducible promoters" to describe
their sterilization techniques. Other patents describe "killer genes" that
destroy pollen, or "GRIM proteins" that do the same to invertebrates or
even mammalian cells. A patent owned by Astra/Zeneca candidly admits that
their sterilization processes "are not desirable per se."

Sterile Seeds: Why Worry? "These technologies are extremely dangerous,"
explains RAFI's Mooney, "because over 1.4 billion farmers - primarily poor
farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America - depend on farm-saved seed as
their primary seed source. If they can't save seed, they can't continue to
adapt crops to their unique farming environments, and that spells disaster
for global food security."

"Genetic seed sterility is not about improving the productivity or quality
of crops, it's a quest to increase seed industry profits," adds Mooney,
"First and foremost, these technologies are intended to force farmers to
buy seed every season and to take still more crop production control away
from farmers."

A Platform for Inducing Chemical Sales: The new generation of patents goes
beyond the genetic neutering of crops. The patents reveal that companies
are developing suicide seeds whose genetic traits can be turned on and off
by an external chemical "inducer" -- mixed with the company's patented
agrochemicals. In the not-so-distant future, we may see farmers planting
seeds that will develop into productive (but sterile) crops only if sprayed
with a carefully prescribed regimen that includes the company's proprietary
pesticide, fertilizer or herbicide. The latest version of Monsanto's
suicide seeds won't even germinate unless exposed to a special chemical,
while AstraZeneca's technologies outline how to engineer crops to become
stunted or otherwise impaired if not regularly exposed to the company's
chemicals. RAFI calls it "Traitor Technology."

Sound far-fetched? Not according to Novartis (a Swiss life industry
giant), whose patent (US 5,789,214) describes a process for chemically
regulating a number of developmental processes in plants -- such as
germination, sprouting, flowering, fruit ripening, etc. The patent
specifically mentions that the chemical regulator can be applied to plants
in combination with a fertilizer or herbicide. "If the companies can
genetically program suicide seeds to perform only with the application of
proprietary pesticide or fertilizer, it means they will increase sales of
their patented agrochemicals and other proprietary inputs," explains Edward
Hammond of RAFI. "Chemically-dependent suicide seeds are a dazzling
technological achievement and a brilliant marketing strategy, but it's grim
news for farmers and the environment," concludes Hammond.

From Biosafety to BioSerfdom: "We'll be hearing plenty of industry
arguments in favor of engineered seed sterility and Traitor Technologies,
but the ultimate goal," says Pat Mooney of RAFI, "is not breeding benefits
or biosafety, but bioserfdom."

"If Traitor technologies are developed for commercial sale," predicts
RAFI's Mooney, "farmers will be forced to surrender control of their seed
supply and the Gene Giants will ultimately dictate what the farmer grows,
how to grow it, and where to sell it. Seed sterility is not about insuring
quality or productivity, it's a power grab pure and simple," concludes
Mooney.

"The seed and agrochemical industry will argue that engineered seed
sterility is highly beneficial to the environment because it will eliminate
the problem of horizontal gene transfer - it will prevent cross-pollination
and thus the escape of engineered genes from transgenic plants to nearby
weeds or wild relatives," explains Hope Shand of RAFI. There is concern
that transgenic plants could pass genes on to wild plant relatives - thus
creating "superweeds" that could wreak havoc on the environment. Suicide
seeds could put to rest the specter of genetic pollution, and it
conveniently offers a "green" rationale for acceptance of genetic seed
sterility. The industry will also argue that suicide seeds prevent
pre-harvest crops from sprouting prematurely, and that it will decrease the
cost of producing hybrid seeds. Finally, industry will argue that they
can't continue to develop new, more productive varieties for agriculture
unless they get a fair return on their investment.

No matter what rationale is used by the Gene Giants to engineer social
acceptance of seed sterility, the technology is unacceptable to growing
numbers of civil society organizations around the world who are calling for
Terminator Technologies to be banned by governments. According to RAFI, the
easiest way to ban Terminator is for national patent offices to reject
Traitor claims on the legal grounds of ordre public (against public
morality).

The specter of genetic seed sterilization is so serious that Terminator
technologies will be debated at several United Nations bodies, including UN
Food and Agriculture Organization in April, the Convention on Biological
Diversity in May, the UN Commission on Science, Technology, and Development
in May.

A RAFI report to be released later this week, "Traitor Technology" provides
an in-depth analysis of the seed sterility patents. For this study and a
detailed chart of patent claims, visit RAFI's homepage at:
http://www.rafi.org

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CONTACTS:

Pat Mooney, Executive Director
RAFI
Tel: +1 204-453-5259
E-mail: rafi@rafi.org

Edward Hammond, Program Officer
RAFI
Tel: +1 206-323-7378
E-mail: hammond@rafi.org

Hope Shand, Research Director
RAFI
Tel: +1 717-337-6482
E-mail: hope@rafi.org

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