India Government on Alert for Terminator Gene
2) AGRICULTURE-INDIA: BIOTECH FIRMS SOW SEEDS OF DISCORD
OTC 16.07.98 02:32
NEW DELHI, Jul 15 IPS - India's agriculture scientists are hunting for the
'Terminator,' a gene developed by U.S
biotechnologists, which they say threatens the livelihood of 400 million
farmers and food security in this country.
"We will not allow the Terminator to enter this country," Dr. R.S. Paroda,
director-general of the prestigious Indian Council
of Agricultural Research (ICAR) told IPS.
But Dr. Paroda admitted that there is no reliable way of ensuring that the
gene which 'self-destructs' does not sneak past the
National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources which is charged with the job of
analyzing seed samples that enter the country.
Scientists here fear that if it infiltrates the porous quarantine system,
uncontrolled cross-pollination could kill off India's
famed millennia-old cereal varieties such as the long- grained, aromatic
'Basmati' rice, already under attack by biopirates.
Plant biotechnology project-director at ICAR, Dr. R.P. Sharma said there is
no telling what havoc Terminator can wreak as
yet. "We will have to estimate its dispersal by studying pollen
characteristics -- meanwhile this country should not accept
this technology or allow it past the borders," he said.
Developed and patented by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly
with one of the world's largest seed
transnationals (TNCs), Delta and Pine Land Inc., Terminator will ensure
that farmers buy seed afresh rather than set part of
their harvest aside for sowing.
"The seeds may give a good crop in the first year of sowing but farmers who
try to store crops for replanting will find that
they are sterile -- and this will make them completely dependent on seed
companies," Sharma said.
Such a development spells doom for Indian farmers who mostly cultivate
small plots of land averaging one acre in size. Also
the thousands of crop varieties they have developed with their genius will
give way to monocultures promoted by U.S seed
Once farmers in India and other developing countries get under their yoke,
the TNCs could easily program their seeds not
only for self-destruction but also for the size of the crops depending on
their own commercial interests in the global grain
"At least they can control the price of the seeds," Sharma said. What is at
stake, he said, is India's independence in the area
of grain production which has been the mainstay of its economy for decades
now, he said.
Delta and Pine Land, recently acquired by the global biotech giant
Monsanto, has already announced its intention to apply
Terminator technology to staple food crops like wheat, rice and sorghum of
which Indian farmers produce 200 million tons
annually using their own seeds.
So far, the U.S-based TNC has contented itself with incorporating
Terminator into easily hybridized cash-crops such as
tobacco and cotton but the sheer size of the rapidly liberalizing Indian
market has made it take a second look at
cross-pollinated staple crops.
Activists in this country are now prodding the government to make
representations to the USDA through diplomatic
channels and to sound a warning to other developing countries for concerted
action at the World Trade Organization (WTO)
and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
"Unless India leads the developing countries to rise against this terribly
dangerous application of "cutting-edge" technology,
seed companies will play havoc with ancient, well- perfected farming
systems," says Devinder Sharma, coordinator of the
independent Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.
"The Terminator is a serious threat to the right of farmers as breeders,
users and managers of biodiversity, to save, exchange
and improve seeds in the time-honored way," Sharma said.
But the USDA has other ideas and its spokesman, Michael Ruff, is on record
saying that his country's priority lies in
protecting the emerging multi-billion dollar biotechnology seed industry --
meaning it is less concerned for the interests of
Third World farmers and for biodiversity.
Indeed, for some time now the United States has viewed farmers' rights as
not being compatible with the Intellectual
Property Rights (IPR) regime that emphasizes private monopolies, which it
seeks to foist on the world.
"Having been thwarted at international fora by world opinion, the U.S
has now developed a biotechnological solution in
the shape of the aptly-named Terminator," Sharma said.
Another well-known activist, Vandana Shiva has objections to the
agriculture machismo emanating from U.S biotechnology
firms which produce herbicides that go under such names as 'Assert',
'Avenge', 'Squadron', 'Prowl', and 'Pentagon'.
"Monocultures and monopolies symbolize a masculinization of agriculture.
The war-mentality underlying military-industrial
agriculture is evident from the names given to herbicides which destroy the
economic basis of the survival of the poorest
farmers in the rural areas of the third world," she said.
According to Shiva, agriculture based on globalization, genetic engineering
and corporate monopolies on seeds will establish
a food system and worldview in which TNCs will control everything grown and
"Corporations investing financial capital in theft and biopiracy will
present themselves as creators and owners of life," she
ICAR's Dr. Paroda describes India's policy so far as one of wait-and-see.
"They are yet to try out the Terminator in any
country on a large-scale. What else can we do meanwhile?"
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