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Ban on Terminator Seeds Continues--For Now

From: <> Feb. 17, 2005

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Last week¹s massive global response to the news that the Canadian government
was planning to force acceptance of Terminator seeds seems to have worked...
for now.

³Terminator² seeds have been genetically modified to produce crops that are
sterile. Not only will they create total dependency on GM companies, but
they can spread sterility to local crops and wild relatives, and pose a huge
threat to food security and farmers¹ rights. Since 1998 an international
ban has been in place, however the GM industry¹s first attempt to push for
acceptance took place last week, through the Canadian government¹s
delegation at a UN meeting in Bangkok last week.

But according to ETC Group, the NGO that originally alerted the world to
leaked Canadian documents, the government was forced to soften its position
after being swamped with emails and letters of protest. The New Zealand
government, which supported the proposals, was also inundated with

Unsurprisingly, the draft text proposed by Canada looked like it had been
written by the GM industry, and was strongly in favour of Genetic Use
Restriction Technology (GURTs), known by many as Terminator. But objections
from Norway, Sweden, Austria, the European Community, Cuba, Peru and
Liberia, on behalf of the African Group meant that the worst wording was
removed from the text, keeping the ban in place.

However, the text has been left in a way that opens the door for future
debate about the ban. And we can be sure that the GM industry (and its
friendly governments) will continue to push for Terminator¹s acceptance this
year and beyond.

What this means is that African governments considering opening up to GM
must now realise that Terminator could in future be an unavoidable part of
that package.

In the meantime, prepare for a year of fighting Terminator.

Best wishes,

1. Suicide Seeds - Bombshell in Bangkok. Canadian-Led Coup to Allow
Terminator Technology Narrowly Squelched at UN Meeting
Press Release from ETC Group. Date: 11 February 2005
2. Ban Endures On Terminator Seeds
Article from Inter Press Service. Date: 11 February 2005
Stephen Leahy
3. NZ's Terminator Stance Appalling
Press Release from Soil and Health Association (New Zealand).

Date: 11 February 2005
4. Government Caught In Secret Deal:Terminator Genes
Press Release from GE Free NZ

1. Suicide Seeds - Bombshell in Bangkok. Canadian-Led Coup to Allow
Terminator Technology Narrowly Squelched at UN Meeting

Press Release from ETC Group. Date: 11 February 2005

Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto, spoke today at
a UN meeting in Bangkok - harshly criticizing his governments' efforts to
promote field-testing and commercialization of Terminator seeds (plants
genetically-modified to render seeds sterile at harvest time).

"The Canadian government has acted shamefully. It is supporting a dangerous,
anti-farmer technology that aims to eliminate the rights of farmers to save
and re-use harvested seed," said Schmeiser. "Instead of representing the
good will of the Canadian people or attending to the best interests of the
Biodiversity Treaty, the Canadian government is fronting for the
multinational gene giants who stand to win enormous profits from the release
of Terminator seeds around the world."

Schmeiser is the 74-year old Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto for
patent infringement when the company's patented, genetically modified canola
seed invaded his farm - unwanted and unwelcome. A victim of genetic
pollution and a champion of Farmers' Rights, Schmeiser courageously fought
Monsanto all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court.

A Canadian government proposal to unleash Terminator was leaked to the ETC
Group on the first day of a UN meeting in Bangkok, February 7-11 (SBSTTA,
the scientific advisory body to the Convention on Biological Diversity -
CBD). The news stunned farmers' organizations, government delegations, and
civil society worldwide. Ottawa's instructions to the Canadian delegation
in Bangkok called for an all-out push for field-testing and
commercialisation of sterile seed technologies, effectively un-doing the
precautionary, de facto moratorium on Terminator seeds adopted by
governments in 1998. Even worse, the Canadian delegation was instructed to
"block consensus" by governments attending the meeting if it didn't get its
way. ETC Group has also learned that, in advance of the Bangkok meeting,
Canadian embassies around the world asked governments to support a
recommendation for "field testing and commercial use" of Terminator.
Canada's blatant promotion of an anti-South technology does not bode well
for the G8 meeting of world leaders in July in Scotland where Canada will
propose to introduce nanotechnology on the G-8 agenda.

After being swamped this week by protest emails and letters, the Canadian
government was forced to soften its public position on Terminator, but it
continued to press a solidly pro-Terminator view in the corridors and in a
committee appointed to negotiate draft text on Terminator. (The drafting
group on Terminator included representatives from Canada, the European
Community, Peru, Tanzania, and the Philippines.) By Thursday morning Canada
and its seed industry allies had drafted text that included language
promoting Terminator field trials, capacity building for the use of
Terminator in the developing world and specifically invited the research
participation of "private sector entities."

"The draft text on Terminator released Thursday morning was appalling - it
looked like it was written by the multinational seed industry," said Jim
Thomas of ETC Group, speaking from Bangkok. "It strongly reflected the
Canadian government 's pro-Terminator position as revealed earlier this week
in the leaked document."

Suicide Seed Squad: Canada hasn't been working alone in Bangkok. The UN
meeting was crawling with representatives from the biotech industry and
related trade groups - including Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land, Crop Life
International, PHARMA (pharmaceutical manufacturers), the International Seed
Federation and more - who lobbied against current restrictions on the
development of suicide seeds. New Zealand and Australia also backed the
position of industry and Canada, while a fleet of US government
representatives observed from the sidelines. (The US government is not a
Party to the Biodiversity Convention.)

Thankfully, disaster was averted due to key interventions by the governments
of Norway, Sweden, Austria, the European Community, Cuba, Peru and Liberia,
on behalf of the African Group.

The good news is that these governments managed to delete the most offensive
wording. The final text and recommendations reaffirm earlier decisions,
amounting to a continuing, but fragile, de facto moratorium on Terminator.
The issue now bounces to another CBD advisory body (the Working Group on
8(j)) in March 2006.

Interminable Terminator? The bad news is that decisions made in Bangkok
will allow the issue of Terminator to be re-examined and re-studied
interminably. In ETC Group's view, the CBD continues to dilly-dally and
delay decisions on Terminator while the industry is moving full-speed ahead
to bring sterile seeds to market.

"The international community needs to know that Terminator technology is a
real and present danger. The biotech industry is chomping on the bit to
commercialize suicide seeds. Nothing short of an all-out ban on Terminator
will stop it from being unleashed in farmer's fields," said Hope Shand of
ETC Group.

For more information:

Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada)
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA) 919
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) 52 55 55 632 664
Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK) 44 (0)7752 106806 (mobile)

Note to Editors:

Terminator technology was first developed by the US Department of
Agriculture and the multinational seed industry to prevent farmers from
replanting saved seed. When it came to public light in 1998 massive public
opposition forced Monsanto and Syngenta to disavow the technology.

SBSTTA is the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological
Advice, a body that advises the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The United Nations refers to Terminator seed technology as GURTs (genetic
use restriction technology).

For more information on Percy Schmeiser's court case, see:

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is
an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC
group is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity
and human rights. The ETC group is also a member of the
Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC). The
CBDC is a collaborative experimental initiative involving civil society
organizations and public research institutions in 14 countries. The CBDC is
dedicated to the exploration of community-directed programmes to strengthen
the conservation and enhancement of agricultural biodiversity. The CBDC
website is


2. Ban Endures On Terminator Seeds

Article from Inter Press Service. Date: 11 February 2005
Stephen Leahy

An international moratorium on the use of controversial "terminator
technology" in genetically engineered crops survived efforts to overturn it
at a United Nations interim meeting on the Convention on Biological
Diversity in Bangkok Friday.

The Canadian government initiated the move to lift the de-facto moratorium
and allow testing and commercialisation of the genetically engineered
technology that makes seeds sterile.

"It was a complete surprise to see this coming from Canada," said Jim Thomas
of the ETC Group, a Canadian-based NGO.

"Canada's proposal could easily have been mistaken for one written by
(agribusiness giant) Monsanto," Thomas told IPS from Bangkok.

Leaked Canadian government documents obtained by ETC Group state that
negotiators were instructed to "block consensus" on any other option.

However, African countries, Austria, Switzerland, Peru and the Philippines
strongly objected to Canada's proposal, and on the final day of meetings
Friday were successful in keeping the moratorium in place, he says.

The precautionary moratorium was first instituted at a Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) conference in 1998 over fears about the
technology's impact on agricultural biodiversity, farmers' ability to save
seeds, and the risk of "sterilisation genes" ending up in wild plants.

"Terminator", a term coined by activists for a specific technology developed
in the late 1990s and now owned by Monsanto and the U.S. government, is just
one type of genetic trait control technology. The official CBD term is
genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). Several other seed
sterilisation or trait controls are in development.

"There's no scientific reason why GURTs should be banned before we've been
able to evaluate them in field trials," says Stephen Yarrow, national
manager of the Plant Biosafety Office at the Canadian Food Inspection

"The Canadian government supports farmers and seed saving," Yarrow told IPS.
"However GURTs are a whole class of new technologies that offer a number of
potential advantages."

"We're not pushing this technology. And we're quite upset at being
characterised (by activists) that way."

Others believe that GURTs would be useful in non-food crops that are
genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical products to prevent
formation of seeds.

"Used correctly GURTs can be a benefit to society," says Manjit Misra,
director of the Seed Science Centre at Iowa State University in the United

The technology could have prevented the ProdiGene incident where an unwanted
second generation of experimental maize plants containing a protein for a
pig vaccine grew in a field of soy in the U.S. Midwest. The contamination
was discovered post-harvest and resulted in about 14 million kilogrammes of
soybeans being destroyed.

"This technology is also very important for the protection of intellectual
property," he said. In preventing the re-use of seeds, seed companies can
get a better return on their research and development costs.

"Without intellectual property protection, private companies won't make
those investments. This is something developing countries don't appreciate,"
he said.

There are lots of uses for GURTs and intellectual property protection is one
of them, agrees Dick Crowder of the American Seed Trade Association. Crowder
couldn't say what his association's position is on the moratorium. However,
the U.S. is not a signatory to the CBD.

"I'm aware it's a controversial issue," he said.

Canada's National Farmer's Union (NFU) was upset to learn that their country
wanted to overturn the moratorium. In a letter to the country's prime
minister, they said the terminator technology is "the most controversial and
immoral agricultural application of genetic engineering to date". They asked
Canada to support the moratorium.

"We're very concerned. It's just another way to keep farmers from saving
seed," said Terry Pugh, NFU executive secretary.

"It would give seed corporations tremendous amounts of power," he told IPS.

Pugh rejects the notion that GURTs could prevent GE pollen and seeds from
contaminating fields or breeding with wild plants. "First they unleash this
contamination problem on us and then they say this (GURTs) is the solution?"

Compounding the problem is the consolidation within the seed industry.
Monsanto is buying up all sorts of smaller seed companies, said Pugh, citing
the 1.4-billion-dollar purchase of Seminis, Inc., a California-based seed
company in January.

As for the future of the CBD moratorium, ETC Group's Thomas says the
consensus is very fragile. It will be debated at future meetings and there
is continuing pressure to allow field trials of GURTs and then

Permanently terminating the terminator technology will be difficult, he


3. NZ's Terminator Stance Appalling

Press Release from Soil and Health Association (New Zealand).
Date: 11 February 2005

The Soil and Health Association is appalled that New Zealand is pushing to
effectively reverse the ban on terminator technology at a UN meeting today.
The aim of terminator technology is to make seed sterile, preventing the
choice of farmers and gardeners from saving seed for next seasons crops.
Canada is leading the charge and Australia and New Zealand appear to be
joining in the call to remove the ban, rather than cementing it.

Considering the public opposition to such technology, it is strange that the
current Government should take this line said Steffan Browning, Co-chair and
spokesperson of Soil & Health. This technology would be a major tool for the
few big seed companies to control food supplies around the world. Ultimately
it would reduce options for 1.4 billion seed saving farmers worldwide
according to ETC Group an international social and environmental justice
organisation, to who the report on Canada's intentions was leaked.

Organic growers and many other small growers have taken pride in the strains
of seed they have developed and the heritage seed lines they have
maintained. The enormous risks, should seed sterility spread, must be treated in a
precautionary way, said Mr Browning. Instead Canada and our government are
saying there is not consensus so it must be able to be considered for

The Canadian instructions to their staff at the meeting in Bangkok later
today is to block consensus on supporting a ban on terminator technology. The
technology has been described as the most controversial and immoral
agricultural application of genetic engineering so far. In fact where risk
is unknown, but effects may be major, the sound approach is to tread extremely
carefully and maintain some form of ban.

Soil & Health call on the government to instruct the New Zealand team to
encourage their Australian and Canadian friends to reconsider and work with
consensus which would likely enforce the ban. The world will be a better
place for it and New Zealand can maintain its clean green reputation said Mr


4. Government Caught In Secret Deal: Terminator Genes

Press Release from GE Free NZ

The government has been revealed to have made a deal that has set New
Zealand against the rest of the world by supporting the introduction of Terminator

Earlier this week news leaked from Canada that a plan had been hatched by
its representatives to overturn the de facto global moratorium on Terminator
genes that are designed to render all seeds barren after the first
generation. In leaked documents it was clear that Canada would block
consensus if it couldn't win sufficient backing from the rest of the world.

Initially Canada was believed to working alone at the UN-backed convention
in Bangkok- possibly as a front for Biotech interests in North America. But
during the conference New Zealand and Australia were reported to have
supported Canada in a move that will anger New Zealanders and threatens to
undermine our standing in the international community.

Marion Hobbs - Minister of Environment has been challenged to front up on
the issue and there is widespread support for an immediate change policy before
the vote on Friday 11th February..

Terminator is an anathema to indigenous peoples, farmers and civil society
as it threatens basic rights, the environment and food security. Such was the
terror created by the concept in the late 1990's that industry agreed not to
use it, until the current push by Canada and New Zealand to bring it in
."The government has to back down on this. It goes to the heart of our
relationship with the rest of the world. It is completely contradictory to any claims the Labour Government makes for New Zealand as a caring, concerned or descent member of the world community," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment."

GE Free NZ in food and environment has also contacted Prime Minister Helen
Clark and other Ministers asking them to intervene before the vote on

"We have had emails and calls from around the country and from overseas sent
by people shocked that New Zealand is caught up in this deal.

"New Zealand is making a fundamental mistake that we may never live down. It
is completely unethical for us to be part of this grubby arrangement to
scupper protection for the world's most vulnerable people and the