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NGOs Hit Out at Australia, Canada, New Zealand for Opening Door to Terminator

Immediate release (2 Feb 2006)

Press enquiries to: Finola Robinson, Progressio’s Press Officer, on 0207 354 0883 or via email at: finola@progressio.org.uk

An alliance of leading environment and development organisations has condemned Australia, Canada and New Zealand for attempting to open the door to Terminator technology, a form of genetic-modification that would make seeds sterile and threaten the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

The alliance, which is known as the UK Campaigning Group on Terminator technology, has sent letters of protest to the High Commissioners of all three countries to raise concerns over proposals to weaken the global moratorium on Terminator technology, which would effectively give Terminator the green light.

The alliance’s response follows a meeting of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Spain from 23 to 27 January, which was attended by representatives from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, among others. The meeting reaffirmed the CBD moratorium on Terminator technology, but recommendations were made for case-by-case risk assessment. This would ignore the serious concerns raised globally by Indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers on the negative potential impacts of Terminator. Instead, these recommendations would mark a move towards assessing applications of Terminator on a country-by-country basis.

The alliance is also concerned about the influence of the US on decisions around Terminator. The US refused to sign the Convention on Biodiversity but works through other countries to influence decision-making at crucial meetings. The alliance fears that the governments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand are working in collusion with the US administration and the biotechnology industry.

Elisabet Lopez from the UK Campaigning Group on Terminator Technology, said today:

We are deeply concerned that the US can still influence the result of CBD meetings despite not being Party to the Treaty. The recommendations coming from last week’s meeting open the door for Terminator to be introduced. As signatories to the first Millennium Development Goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, Australia, Canada and New Zealand cannot justify their support for Terminator technology in the face of massive opposition from Southern countries and farmers around the world.

Terminator technology is a technology designed to make seeds sterile. As a result, it would prevent farmers from saving seeds from their own crops each year. This would threaten global food security and the livelihoods of 1.4 billion small-scale farmers who depend on seeds they save or exchange with neighbours and other communities. This traditional practice of seed saving has the twin benefits that seeds are adapted to local conditions and are free of charge.

Terminator is being developed to stop farmers from saving seeds and to ensure that biotech companies can gather royalty payments and technology fees from farmers each year. The US Department of Agriculture is a joint patent holder for one type of Terminator patented in the US, Europe and Canada. The major biotechnology corporations have also obtained patents for their versions of Terminator technology.

The issue now moves to the major CBD meeting in Brazil from 20 to 31 March.

Notes

– 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 and Munlochy GM Vigil. Link to www.eco-matters.org for free copies of a leaflet on Terminator Technology.

– The global moratorium is CBD Decision V/5 section III agreed in 2000. This decision states that products incorporating Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs) should not be approved for field-testing or commercial use.

– The fourth meeting of the Working Group on the implementation of Article 8j of the CBD (concerning the preservation and use of Traditional Knowledge for the conservation of biodiversity in indigenous and local communities) was held in Granada on 23-27 January.

– The official name for Terminator is Varietal Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (V-GURTs). Terminator prevents seeds forming embryos and therefore they fail to germinate. Seeds are soaked in particular chemicals to switch on the Terminator gene before they are sold to farmers.

– Terminator is a biological way to protect patents on GM crops. “The goal of (the Terminator technology) is to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and Third World countries,” Willard Phelps, USDA spokesperson, March 1998.

– The US Department of Agriculture jointly holds the patent for one version of Terminator technology with the US corporation Delta & Pine Land in the USA (1998) and Europe and Canada (October 2005).

– On Tuesday 14 February (3:30-4:45pm) Joan Ruddock will chair a parliamentary briefing on Terminator technology in the House of Commons (Committee Room 6). For invitations see contact details below.

– Cross party Early Day Motion 1300 Terminator technology has to date been signed by 57 MPs from all major parties.
Press enquiries to: Finola Robinson, Progressio’s Press Officer, on 0207 354 0883 or via email at: finola@progressio.org.uk