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Monsanto May Commercialize Terminator: Alliance calls for ban

Immediate release (21 Feb 2006)

Calls to Patrick Mulvany 07949 575711 Pete Riley 07903 341065/ 0207 837 0642

Biotech Giant reverses pledge on GM Terminator Technology as global

UK Campaigning Group on Terminator Technology

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed and biotechnology company, has withdrawn its high profile promise not to commercialise GM ‘Terminator Technology’ [1] made in 1999 [2]. The announcement has been condemned by groups representing farmers and indigenous people around the world.

Monsanto now says it may develop or use the so-called ‘suicide seeds’ after all in non-food crops – and does not rule out other uses of Terminator in the future [3].

Monsanto’s back tracking on their 1999 pledge means that the company may use Terminator sterility genes in cotton, tobacco, pharmaceutical crops and grass . Monsanto’s new policy says:

Monsanto does not rule out the potential development and use of one of these technologies in the future. The company will continue to study the risks and benefits of this technology on a case-by-case basis.

Monsanto’s shift in policy comes to light as the biotech and seed industry prepares for next month’s meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). At pre-meetings in Spain last month the pro- biotech governments of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, orchestrated by the biotechnology industry and the US government, pressed for new wording which would allow a “case by case” assessment of Terminator technology [4]. These amendments will be pushed hard at next month Conference of the Parties of the CBD (COP8) [5]. The existing CBD agreement of 2000 [6] bans testing and commercial growing before scientific, ecological, socio economic and cultural assessments are made and evaluated. To date, no assessments have been done.

The main concerns are that the sterile seeds produced by Terminator technology threaten biodiversity and would destroy the livelihoods and cultures of 1.4 billion people who depend on farm-saved seed.

Alejandro Argumedo, a Peruvian Quecha spokesperson from the Association ANDES commented:

The world’s farmers and Indigenous peoples cannot trust Monsanto. Monsanto’s broken promise is a deadly betrayal because Indigenous peoples and farmers depend on seed saving for food security and self-determination.

Chee Yoke Ling of Third World Network said:

Monsanto’s modified policy resonates closely with the views of a few rich governments that are promoting Terminator in UN meetings. It looks like Monsanto and other corporations are behind the strategy to unleash Terminator at the upcoming meetings of the CBD.

The Ban Terminator campaign has today released the names of 300 organisations worldwide which are calling for a ban on Terminator technology. The organisations are from every region of the world including small farmer movements, Indigenous peoples organisations, civil society and environmental groups, unions, faith communities, international development organisations, women’s groups, consumer organisations and youth networks. [7]

Patrick Mulvany speaking for the UK Campaigning Group on Terminator technology [8] said:

It is now clear that Monsanto and the biotechnology industry are behind the surprising actions of a few OECD governments to end the UN moratorium on Terminator. We are calling on national governments to reject Monsanto’s tactic of ‘case by case risk assessment’ in favour of an all-out ban on Terminator. We invite many more organisations to join with us in the battle against Terminator next month in Brazil

Ends

Calls to Patrick Mulvany 07949 575711 Pete Riley 07903 341065/ 0207 837 0642

Notes
[1] Terminator technology was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and US seed company Delta & Pine Land to prevent farmers from saving and re-using harvested seed, forcing them to buy new seeds each season by making seeds sterile (embryos are prevented from developing). The technology has never been field-tested and is not yet commercially available, although Delta & Pine Land is now testing Terminator plants in greenhouses and vows to commercialize them. After delaying for many years, the European Patent Office granted a patent on this technology on 5th October 2005. Both the UN and Monsanto refer to Terminator as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs).

[2] In response to worldwide opposition, Monsanto publicly pledged not to commercialize Terminator seeds in October 1999. Then-CEO of Monsanto, Robert Shapiro, wrote in an open letter to the head of the Rockefeller foundation, “I am writing to let you know that we are making a public commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technologies, such as the one dubbed ‘Terminator.’”

[3] 2005: From Monsanto’s 2005 Pledge Report, Genetic Use Restriction Technology, p. 29. On the Internet: www.monsanto.com/monsanto/content/media/pubs/2005/pledgereport.pdf

[4] The text of the recommendations is available from: www.etcgroup.org/documents/8jWorkingGroupRecommendations.pdf

Monsanto’s new stance on Terminator is part of an industry-wide attempt to remove a de facto moratorium on Terminator. Last year at a smaller UN meeting in Bangkok (the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Assessment – SBSTTA) Canadian government delegates, working hand in hand with the biotech industry, made a surprise attempt to overturn the moratorium and allow Terminator into fields. Last month, at another preparatory meeting in Granada, Spain (known as the Working Group on 8j), the Australian government, advised by a US State Department representative, also attacked the moratorium. In a new tactic the Australian government introduced text recommending that Terminator technologies be approached on a “case by case riskassesment” basis.

[5] The Conference of the Parties of the CBD (COP8) will meet in Curitiba, Brazil (March 20-31 2006)

[6] CBE COP5 in 2000 Decision V/5, section III, Paragraph 23 clearly states that “products incorporating such technologies should not be approved by Parties for field testing until appropriate scientific data can justify such testing, and for commercial use until appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled scientific assessments with regard to, inter alia, their ecological and socio-economic impacts and any adverse effects for biological diversity, food security and human health have been carried out in a transparent manner and the conditions for their safe and beneficial use validated”. To date no scientific data exists that can justify field-testing of Terminator technology nor any studies of potential ecological or socio-economic impacts; indeed, there is no published information on this technology despite well over a decade’s worth of development.

[7] Other organizations are invited to join the alliance at www.banterminator.org

[8] The UK Campaigning Group on Terminator Technology includes UK Food Group, Progressio (formerly CIIR), Friends of the Earth, GM Freeze, GeneWatch UK, The Gaia Foundation, EcoNexus, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Munlochy GM Vigil. Link to www.eco-matters.org for free copies of a leaflet on Terminator technology.

An Early Day Motion (EDM 1300) calling for the moratorium on Terminator to be maintained has been signed by 107 MPs from all parties. (See: http://edmi.parliament.uk/edmi/).