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Indigenous Farmers Denounce Syngenta's Patent on Terminator Potatoes

MEDIA RELEASE
22 March 2006

FROM: Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (Peru) and the International Institute for Environment & Development

Indigenous farmers in Peru, the birthplace of the potato, have pleaded with agribusiness Syngenta International to publicly abandon its patent on "terminator" technology to control sprouting potatoes which could put at risk more than 3,000 potato varieties in the region and undermine efforts to reduce poverty.

More than 40 indigenous leaders from potato producing communities in the Andean region of Peru came together this weekend (18 March) in the Sacred Valley in Cusco to sign a strongly-worded letter to the company's Chief Executive demanding immediate action.

Syngenta's patent (US Patent 6,700,039) is of particular concern because it describes a technology that could be used to prevent the sprouting of potatoes, unless they are treated with chemicals supplied by the patent owner.

The call to the Swiss-based company comes as government officials meet in Brazil this week for a United Nations biodiversity conference where terminator technology will be hotly debated.

Genetic Use Restriction Technology, dubbed "terminator", would mean that patented plants are genetically-modified to switch off seed fertility. Local farmers would be prevented from saving and reusing terminator type seeds and storage organs such as potato tubers, thus increasing corporate control over the global food system.

Indigenous people fear that it would destroy the sharing of seeds, a centuries-old tradition, and with it their cultural and social way of life. As a result of biosafety and other concerns, an international moratorium under the Convention on Biological Diversity has stopped the field testing and commercial use of terminator technology since 2000.

Some governments want to relax the UN's biosafety regulation, but the main biotech companies have accepted that public concern and environmental risk is too great to press ahead.

Alejandro Argumedo, Associate Director of the Quechua-Aymara Association for
Nature and Sustainable Development, said: "We want the big companies like Syngenta to show corporate social and environmental responsibility. The irresponsible attempt by some governments to bust the moratorium is motivated by power and greed at the expense of people, the environment and poverty reduction. Syngenta could prove that they are on the right side by abandoning their patent on the terminator potato."

The meeting of indigenous people was hosted by the Association of Communities in the Potato Park in Pisaq near Cusco. The park aims to put indigenous people back in charge of managing biological resources by developing locally controlled food systems and institutions.

Dr Michel Pimbert of the International Institute for Environment & Development, which supported the establishment of the Potato Park and this weekend's meeting on Syngenta's patent, said: "Sterile seed technology is dangerous and will further erode the rights of indigenous people and farmers to save and reuse seeds. Terminator is not a solution and the moratorium must be upheld. It is a great shame that a few governments have been able to hijack this important UN meeting when the debate should be focused on tackling the root causes of dwindling biodiversity and deepening poverty." Ends.

For further information Alejandro Argumedo (ANDES) +55 41 8441 5484 Liz Carlile (IIED) +44 207 388 2117 Tony Samphier +44 208 761 8155

Notes to editors The Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8) takes place in Curitiba, Brazil, from 20 to 31 March 2006. The issue of terminator technology is expected to be discussed during the second and third days of the meeting (21/22 March).

The Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development (ANDES) is governed by a general assembly which is largely composed of indigenous people from Andean villages. ANDES has three professional staff in their office in Cusco, in southern Peru, while another 15 technicians and university-trained professionals and 25 local villagers work in the field with local communities.

The International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) is a London-based think tank working for global policy solutions rooted in the reality of local people at the frontline of sustainable development. www.iied.org A full text of the letter from indigenous leaders to the Chief Executive of Syngenta International is available at www.iied.org


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