Organic Consumers Association

Monsanto Breaks Promise to Abandon Terminator Technology

News Release
23 April 2003

Broken Promise?
Monsanto Promotes Terminator Seed Technology

At its annual meeting on Thursday, April 24th, Monsanto's top brass will
greet shareholders with a dismal financial report, (a 15% drop in annual
sales - $4.7 billion in 2002, down from $5.5 billion in 2001) and a
shareholder resolution that urges the company to re-think the safety of
genetically engineered seeds - now the company's flagship product. But
there's potentially more troubling news - a little known position paper
that could rattle shareholders, irk investors and erode public confidence
still further in the biotech behemoth: Despite its 1999 pledge not to
commercialize Terminator technology, Monsanto has recently adopted a
positive stance on genetic seed sterilization, a technology that has been
condemned by civil society and some governments as an immoral application
of genetic engineering.

"If Monsanto is reversing its public pledge on Terminator, it will be
perceived as a colossal corporate betrayal of the public good - just one
more example of corporate greed and fickle governance," explains Hope
Shand, Research Director of ETC Group, "Market confidence in biotech is
already low - it could evaporate if Monsanto violates its public pledge on
Terminator seeds." ETC Group, formerly known as RAFI, is one of hundreds of
civil society, farmers and indigenous peoples organizations worldwide that
has called for a ban on Terminator as an anti-farmer, anti-diversity
technology that, if commercialized, would prevent farmers from saving seed
from their harvest.

Monsanto's new pro-Terminator position came to public light when the
Lyon-based International Seed Federation (ISF) released a position paper on
Terminator or GURTs (genetic use restriction technology - the scientific
name for Terminator) that defends the potential benefits of genetic seed
sterilization and extols the theoretical virtues of Terminator for small
farmers and indigenous peoples. Co-authored by Monsanto's Roger Krueger and
Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the ISF position paper on
Terminator was prepared for a February 19-21 meeting of an Expert Panel
convened by the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
that met to discuss the implications of Terminator technology for small
farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities.

The full text of ISF's position paper on Terminator is available here:

Both Krueger and Collins attended the Montreal meeting and served on the
Expert Panel. (Harry Collins of D&PL represented the International Seed
Federation at the meeting, and Roger Krueger of Monsanto represented the
Biotechnology Industry Organization.)

Corporate Amnesia? "It's not surprising that the International Seed
Federation is coming out in favor of a technology that is designed to
maximize seed industry profits," said Jim Thomas, Programme Officer of ETC
Group, "but it's alarming that one of the authors of the paper is an
employee of Monsanto - the multinational Gene Giant that, in response to
overwhelming public opposition, pledged in 1999 not to develop genetic seed

In October 1999, Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation
addressed the Monsanto Board of Directors and urged them to abandon pursuit
of Terminator seeds. Then-Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro responded in an open
letter to Rockefeller, in which the company pledged "not to commercialize
gene protection systems that render seed sterile."(1) Since Monsanto made
that pledge, the company was acquired by pharma giant Pharmacia, and then
spun-off again as a separate company. Shapiro is long gone, Monsanto's new
CEO resigned in December 2002, and there appears to be a total loss of
corporate memory on Terminator.

The ETC Group has learned that there were dissenting views amongst the Gene
Giants regarding the pro-Terminator position taken by the seed industry
trade group. Apparently some of the Gene Giants thought that the
pro-Terminator paper, "The Benefits of GURTs," was too risky - but the
pro-Terminator faction won the day. The International Seed Federation's
final position paper is unmistakably pro-Terminator:

"The International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that GURTs have the
potential to benefit farmers and others in all size, economic and
geographical areas...In reality, the potential effects of the GURTs may be
beneficial to small farmers and quite positive for the environment and

"It is the strong belief and position of the ISF that GURTs would
potentially provide more choice, to the farmers, rather than less

Silvia Ribeiro responds to the ISF position, "It's difficult to understand
how Terminator could offer more choice to farmers, especially given the
fact that Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds already account over 90%
of all biotech seeds planted worldwide. That's not more choice, that's

Testing the Waters? Now that Monsanto is publicly spearheading the seed
industry's pro-Terminator campaign, will it resurrect a program to develop
Terminator seeds? Or is Monsanto simply hoping to pave the way for other
companies to take the first step in commercializing the controversial,
anti-farmer technology? D&PL, the company that co-authored the ISF paper
with Monsanto, has publicly vowed to commercialize Terminator technology,
and jointly owns three Terminator patents with the US Department of
Agriculture. Is Monsanto testing the waters for a future acquisition of
Delta & Pine Land? The first attempt was botched at the end of 1998, when
Monsanto pulled out of its announced merger deal with D&PL, in large part
due to the Terminator seed controversy.

Biotech's Trojan Seeds: The Gene Giants are hoping that public opinion has
softened because of a campaign to "greenwash" Terminator as a biosafety
tool. They are eagerly endorsing Terminator as a technology that will
contain gene flow from GM plants. According to the ISF paper:

"It is believed that in the improbable event of transgenes in GURT crop
plants escaping, through pollen, to related wild species, the resulting
seed from these pollinations will not express the new trait or will be
unable to form a viable seed, thus preventing the possibility of
undesirable gene flow."(4)

"If Terminator is commercialized under the guise of biosafety, we know that
it will be incorporated in all genetically engineered seeds," explains
Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group, "Seed sterility is the ultimate
monopoly-maker. With sterile seeds, the Gene Giants have limitless control
over plant germplasm, with no expiration date, without patents or lawyers."

Ultimately, Monsanto's position on Terminator is of paramount importance to
world food security, particularly for over 1.4 billion people who depend on
farm-saved seed. In 2002, Monsanto's genetically engineered seed traits
were grown on 56 million hectares (138.3 million acres) worldwide.(5)

Mayday for Monsanto? With Monsanto's annual meeting taking place on April
24th, shareholders should demand corporate accountability for Monsanto's
public promises. Where does Monsanto really stand on Terminator? Will
Monsanto's shareholders get the straight story on the company's position?
Following a frosty reception in the heartland of the US for Monsanto's
genetically engineered wheat, and a tough-sell for GM seeds worldwide,
Terminator could be the seed that breaks the Mammoth's back.

For more information:

Hope Shand, ETC Group (USA)
Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK)
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico)

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 .

1 Monsanto's open letter to Rockefeller is available at: (We were not able to
locate the open letter on Monsanto's web site.)
2 Harry B. Collins and Roger W. Krueger, "Potential Impact of GURTs on
Smallholder Farmers, Indigenous & Local Communities and Farmers Rights: The
Benefits of GURTs," p. 1. Paper made available to the CBD's Ad Hoc
Technical Expert Group on the Impact of GURTs on Smallholder Farmers,
Indigenous People and Local Communities, February 19-21, 2003. The paper is
presented as the official position paper of the International Seed
3 Ibid., p. 3.
4 Ibid., p. 3-4.
5 Monsanto web site:

For more recent news and analysis related to Terminator, please see:

ETC Communique, "Terminator Five Years Later," released April, 2003:

ETC Genotype, "Who Calls the Shots at UPOV? US Govt. and Multinational Seed
Industry Force UPOV to Abandon Critique of Terminator," 17 April 2003

Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Donate | About Us | Contact Us

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.