The newest spin on the “necessity” of Terminator technology

Auto Date Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I mention Terminator technology in my book, but this is a new twist. Not surprising that biotech now claims this “new” GMO technology is necessary to deal with the problems caused by their own GE crops; however they assume people will not see through the spin by “green washing” it and calling it a solution to the “environmental crisis.”

Aside from the issue of food sovereignty, what isn’t addressed here is the bigger picture: what will happen when Terminator seeds contaminate and mutate soil, grass, forests, or other crops? What will happen when nature adapts and takes on the Terminator gene?

Perhaps that’s the intention of the biotech industry…to contaminate as much of nature as possible with Terminator (and Zombie) technology so nothing will grow without their patented chemicals.

The following was edited from April 2008 Seedling, “Seeds of Passion” by Veronica Villa from GRAIN:

Years ago movements throughout the world had won the battle to ban Terminator seeds. But the biotechnology companies are back on the offensive, arguing that the urgent need to combat global warming and GMO contamination makes it imperative to use Terminator technology.

Terminator technology runs counter to the conception of peasant life, food sovereignty, and work by creating GM crops that have seeds that poison themselves and become sterile, so that farmers cannot save the seeds produced in the harvest and sow them again. They will be forced every year to buy new seeds from the companies and/or to buy another product from the companies to “activate” the seeds.

The biotech industry wants to present the environmental crisis and their own products and GMO contamination as an argument in favor of the new GMOs.

There is no doubt that contamination is a serious problem. Neither industry nor government authorities have been able to control or contain GMOs. Between 1996 and 2006 at least 146 cases of transgenic contamination were documented in 42 countries on six continents. Genetic contamination has massive legal and economic implications, not only for farmers, but also for agribusiness and the food processing industry.

A case of contamination (caused by Starlink corn in the United States in 2000) has to date cost the companies more than $600 million. In 2006 Bayer’s transgenic rice, Liberty Link, affected 40 per cent of United States exports of rice and represented a financial loss of $520 million for US farmers and food industry.

Along with the Terminator, one goal is to develop “reversible transgenic sterility.” It has been called “Zombie technology” because the idea is that the seeds will “return from the dead” with the application of an external stimulus, such as a chemical.

Biotech companies will offer new GM traits that are supposedly more productive, always affordable and are genetically sterile “to prevent accidents.” They will keep the price low, at least at first, to test their product. Once they have trapped farmers into adopting their technology, they can raise the price of restoring fertility as high as they want.

Farmers who depend on food aid risk devastating crop losses if they sow seeds provided as food aid and these contain Terminator genes. Of course, poor farmers will not knowingly plant Terminator seeds, but they might end up doing so if agencies introduce them in the technological packages they provide as aid.

Three-quarters of the world’s farmers exchange saved seeds with their neighbors. Community selection and improvement of crops are the basis of local food security. It seems clear that Terminator technology is an assault on local communities: it may well reduce the capacity of farmers to produce food and it threatens biodiversity.

What do they really want to control?

Seeds are the first link in the food chain. Biotech companies want to control them because this is how they can ensure their power along the whole chain. This is why manipulation of seeds has so many implications, and why the genetic diversity of crops threatens biotech company profits.

Biotech companies want to eliminate genetic diversity so that their GMOs are the only seeds available. The greater the presence of GMOs in a country, the easier it is to criminalize farmers’ varieties. Such laws increasingly make the latter illegal and hand over control to the big chemical, pharmaceutical, and seed companies.

A technology that reduces the capacity of farmers and peasants to produce food, and that puts an end to their age-old right to save the best seeds threatens food sovereignty, food security and biodiversity. It is a danger to crops and therefore to people. From an ethical and logical point of view, genetic sterility is not in any way “safe” or “acceptable.”

If governments do not react and ban Terminator, the technology will become available on the market. Brazil and India have already tried to take this step and a bill banning the Terminator was sent to the Canadian Parliament in June 2007.

To read the actual (PDF) article, “Seeds of Passion” by Veronica Villa, click here.

GRAIN is an international non-governmental organization which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on peoples’ control over genetic resources and local knowledge.

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