RAFI Global Action Alert on Terminator & Traitor Seeds

Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
News Release
29 March 1999

** TRAITOR TECHNOLOGY: "Damaged Goods" from the Gene Giants **

New report from RAFI details over 2 dozen "Terminator II"
patents that link suicide seeds to proprietary chemicals,
genetically-weakened plants, and the patented power to
make genetically-inviable plants rise from the dead.

Beyond the prognostications of even its most pessimistic critics,
Terminator science is snowballing into the corporate profit centre of the
next decade and beyond. And, if the major seed and agrochemical
multinationals have their way, Terminator and Traitor (negative trait)
technologies will come on the heels of the new millennium to a farm near
you. RAFI's Executive Director Pat Mooney declares, "With this report and
our previous work on the Terminator, RAFI is sounding the alarm that
without government action, these technologies will be commercialized within
a few years with potentially disastrous consequences."

Says RAFI Programme Officer Edward Hammond, "Since we discovered the
original Terminator patent a year ago, even at our most pessimistic we
never forecast negative trait genetic engineering to explode as quickly as
it has." Most observers thought there would be a delay of two or three
years before second and third generation Terminator refinements were
patented; but instead says Hammond, "a survey of patent offices reveals
that the cat is completely out of the bag. In fact, the original Terminator
may be a dead letter because enhanced Terminator seeds are already in the

RAFI reports that every Gene Giant multinational has patented, or admits it
is working on genetically-sterilized or chemically-dependent seeds. RAFI's
report provides details and analysis on over two dozen such patents
recently obtained by 12 institutions. The patents seek to exploit - or
could exploit - new genetic engineering techniques that use inducible
promoters to disable critical plant functions governing reproduction,
disease resistance, and seed viability.

If commercialization of such seeds proceeds, farmers worldwide will be
tangled in an expensive web of chemicals, intellectual property, and
disabled germplasm that leads to bioserfdom. The technology spells
disaster for farmers and global food security because over three quarters
of the world's farmers - mainly poor farmers - depend on farm saved seed.
The complete removal of farmers from the age-old process of plant breeding
through sterilized seed could also signify a disastrous narrowing of the
genepool on which everyone depends for food security.

SCARY SCOPE: According to RAFI's Research Director Hope Shand, "The
patents describe the use of external chemicals to turn on and off genetic
traits in plants and go well beyond DeltaPine's original 'Terminator'
patent. They are techniques to control a wide variety of 'input' and
'output' (production and processing) traits by spraying with proprietary
herbicides or fertilizers. Others take us beyond crop plants to the use of
Terminator-style tactics on insects and even possibly mammals."

switch the plant's germination on or off. AstraZeneca's Verminator patents
use what it calls 'killer genes' for this purpose. Yet AstraZeneca has
been telling governments, scientists, and the press that despite their
continuing pursuit of its patents around the world, they won't stop farmers
from saving seed. RAFI's Pat Mooney says, "Something didn't add up, so we
set out to investigate."

Newly discovered patent claims explain the confusing AstraZeneca position.
The new patents refine AstraZeneca's "Verminator" technology that links
plant growth and germination to repeated application of proprietary
chemicals. Without specific patented chemicals, the plant doesn't grow.
"Essentially," says RAFI's Edward Hammond, "they're talking about the
manufacture of junkie plants that are physically dependent on a patented
chemical cocktail." AstraZeneca says it will patent the technology in 77

See AstraZeneca's Verminator II patent:

Says RAFI's Mooney, "So, you see AstraZeneca and the other Gene Giants
don't want farmers to buy new seed every year so much as to force them to
repurchase their old seed." Monsanto is already pioneering such 'pay by
the generation' techniques through legal means - the infamous grower
agreements - in the US and Canada; but research is steering toward
biological means of achieving the same sad end. Mooney says "It will be
vastly more profitable for multinationals to sell seeds programmed to
commit suicide at harvest so that farmers must pay the company to obtain
the chemicals to have them re-activated for the next planting - either
through a seed conditioning process or through the purchase of a
specialized chemicals that bring saved seed back to life, Lazarus-style."

"In effect, this shifts all the seed costs to farmers, and the companies
won't have to multiply, ship, and warehouse massive seed stocks," Hammond
adds, "As the seed oligopoly strengthens, companies will have less and less
incentive to invest in plant breeding research, after all they'll already
have the farmers in a position of utter dependency." Pat Mooney agrees,
"With these 'Lazarus-link seeds' the advertising investment will continue
but the research investment will wither away."

GENETIC MUTILATION: An especially disturbing feature of some of the new
patents profiled in RAFI's report is the deliberate disabling of natural
plant functions that help to fight disease. Swiss biotech giant Novartis
is most advanced in this aspect of Traitor technology. Novartis blandly
refers to it as "inactivation of endogenous regulation" so that "genes
which are natively regulated can be regulated exclusively by the
application to the plant of a chemical regulator."

Among the genes which Novartis can control in this manner are patented SAR
(systemic acquired resistance) genes which are critical to plant's ability
to fight off infections from many viruses and bacteria. Thus, Novartis has
patented techniques to create plants with natural healthy functions turned
off. "The only way to turn them back on and fix these 'damaged goods' "
says RAFI's Edward Hammond, "is, well, you guessed it, the application of a
propietary chemical."

See the Novartis antisense regulation of SAR systems patent:

TIGHT-LIPPED MONSANTO: Caught like a deer in the headlights during recent
battles over genetically-modified plants - especially in Europe - Monsanto
has sought to deflect questions and criticism about Terminator technology
by saying that the Terminator belongs to its soon-to-be subsidiary Delta
and Pine Land Company. As such, the oft-repeated PR position goes, Monsanto
doesn't yet have access to the Terminator and can't inform concerned
governments and people about plans for Terminator seed.

"It's been their mantra across the world." says RAFI's Mooney, "We've heard
the same confusing statements from Monsanto representatives in New Zealand,
India, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Brazil, the EU, and the US." Even last week, at a
Harvard University presentation, Monsanto's representative similarly
shrugged off the question. "In fact," says RAFI's Mooney, "it's a
deliberate ploy - or, at best, incomplete information - that obfuscates
facts about the company's own research agenda. Monsanto already has its
own in-house, patented Terminator technology, which it says it will patent
in a whopping 89 countries. Obviously, the company is not being
forthright. If Monsanto doesn't start coming clean, it risks further
damage to its already tarnished image."

See Monsanto's Terminator II patent:

WILL TERMINATOR WORK? RAFI notes that some plant scientists are skeptical
that Traitor Technology will work successfully in the field. Monsanto, one
of the original Traitor Tech proponents, is encouraging this view. There
is no doubt that Traitor Tech will be continually refined as it moves
toward the market; but terminator plants are already in the greenhouse and
profit estimates are being calculated. "It's only a matter of time. Every
major pesticide-producing Gene Giant is hard at work perfecting the
technology." Shand adds, "Companies don't patent for the fun of the
paperwork and paying lawyer's fees. Those who think corporations will drop
the Terminator - or think it won't make it to market - are living in
Fantasyland. There's too much money to be made. Unless it is banned by
governments, Terminator is going to happen, and probably sooner rather than

WILL FARMERS BUY IT? Delta & Pine Land and Monsanto insist that no one
will force farmers to buy Terminator seed. The real question is, will
farmers have a choice? The commercial seed industry is imploding, and a
handful of Gene Giants already control a rapidly expanding share of major
seed markets. After DuPont announced earlier this month that it would buy
Pioneer Hi-Bred, the world's largest seed company, the Wall Street Journal
concluded that the deal "effectively divides" most of the US seed industry
between DuPont and Monsanto. With the disappearance of public sector plant
breeders, farmers are becoming increasingly vulnerable and have fewer
choices in the marketplace.

TERMINATING THE TERMINATOR: RAFI and its partners around the world are
contacting governments asking them to declare all of the Terminator-style
patent claims as contrary to ordre public. In January, Global Response (a
US based non-profit organization) encouraged its 4,000 members in forty
countries to write to the Director-General of FAO asking him to oppose the
Terminator as a matter of world food security. FAO has replied that
governments may take up the issue in Rome April 19 to 23 during the meeting
of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. RAFI
will be at that meeting and will make a presentation to governments.
Further, concerned individuals from 71 countries have sent almost 7,000
letters to US Agriculture Secretary Glickman asking him to ban the

Although global opposition is mounting, RAFI worries that the UN's
Biodiversity Convention may go "soft" on the environmental and social
implications of the technology. When the Convention meets in Montreal in
June, it is to receive a scientific study on Terminator. "We will read and
respond to that study very quickly," Pat Mooney advises.


For further information:

Website: http://www.rafi.org

Pat Roy Mooney, Executive Director, RAFI
110 Osborne Street South, Suite 202
Winnipeg, MB, R3L 1Y5 CANADA
Tel: +1 204 453-5259
Fax: +1 204 925-8134
E-mail: rafi@rafi.org

Hope Shand, Research Director, RAFI
Tel: +1 717 337-6482
Fax: +1 717 337-6499
E-mail: hope@rafi.org

Edward Hammond, Programme Officer, RAFI
Tel: +1 206 323-7378
Fax: +1 206 323-6052
E-mail: hammond@rafi.org