Stopping the Terminator Seeds

Recently, a friend described her spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at growing seeds gathered from imported vegetables. What she had probably encountered are Terminator Seeds. No, this is not the latest Sci-Fi movie from Arnold “Terminator” Swarzeneger. It is rather a technology that genetically engineers plants to produce sterile seeds.
In 2000, the nations that are party to the Convention on Biological  Diversity (CBD) agreed to adopt a moratorium on these sterile seed technologies, also known by the great sounding name of  GURTS (Genetic Use Restriction Technologies). But, now in the upcoming meeting of the CBD in Brazil to be held from March 20th to 31st, the powerful biotechnology companies are planning to go all out to have the moratorium canceled.

Monsanto, the world's largest seed and agri-tech company has said that it will use Terminator seeds in non-food crops and does not rule out other uses of Terminator in the future. In 1999, the company had made a landmark public pledge not to commercialize "Terminator Technology". But now it has reneged on this promise.

Why should we be worried about what some may think are issues remote to our lives? In reality Terminator Seeds concern everyone from the US to Seychelles. More than 300 organizations from around the world have recently said there should be a global ban on Terminator Technology because it threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods and cultures of the 1.4 billion people who depend on saved seeds.

Terminator Seeds are called “suicide seeds” by some farmers because they have led to hundreds of farmers in India and other places committing suicide because the seeds they saved from planted crops did not grow and therefore ruined them.

In a statement broadcasted over the internet, Via Campesina, an organization representing hundreds of millions of peasant farmers worldwide said: “Terminator is a direct assault on farmers, indigenous cultures and on the food sovereignty and well-being of all rural people, primarily the very poorest. If Monsanto bullies the UN into allowing Terminator, it means farmers will be carried off the land coffin by coffin."

Environmentalists say Monsanto and other companies are determined that nothing should be grown unless their fees and licenses are paid.  If governments at the CBD give in to the companies and undermine the Terminator moratorium everyone from large to small countries will suffer, say the environmentalists. Without doubt, the collateral damage will be the integrity and fertility of nature. Seychelles is a party to the CBD and at the meeting in Brazil we must join with other countries to stop this assault on the environment and on people’s livelihoods.

By Nirmal Jivan Shah, 9th March 2006

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