- There have been times in human history
when the line between genius and insanity was so fine that it was barely
perceptible. In the world of biotechnology and food, that line has just
been obliterated. Announcements made over the past 90 days suggest that
an ingenius scientific achievement and subsequent, related business developments
threaten to terminate the natural, God-given right and ability of people
everywhere to freely grow food to feed themselves and others. Never before
has man created such an insidiously dangerous, far-reaching and potentially
"perfect" plan to control the livelihoods, food supply and even
survival of all humans on the planet. Overstatement? Judge for yourself.
- On March 3, 1998, the U. S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) and the Delta and Pine Land Company, a Mississippi
firm and the largest cotton seed company in the world, announced that
they had jointly developed and received a patent (US patent number 5,723,765)
on a new, agricultural biotechnology. Benignly titled, "Control of
Plant Gene Expression", the new patent will permit its owners and
licensees to create sterile seed by cleverly and selectively programming
a plant,s DNA to kill its own embryos. The patent applies to plants and
seeds of all species. The result? If saved at harvest for future crops,
the seed produced by these plants will not grow. Pea pods, tomatoes, peppers,
heads of wheat and ears of corn will essentially become seed morgues.
In one broad, brazen stroke of his hand, man will have irretrievably broken
the plant - to - seed - to - plant - to - seed - cycle, THE cycle that
supports most life on the planet. No seed, no food..unless you buy more
seed. This is obviously good for seed companies. As it turns out, it
is also good for the US Department of Agriculture.
- In a recent interview with RAFI, the
Canada-based Rural Advancement Foundation International, US Department
of Agriculture (USDA) spokesman, Willard Phelps, explained that the USDA
wants this technology to be "widely licensed and made expeditiously
available to many seed companies." The goal, he said, 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." The USDA
and Delta & Pine Land Co. have applied for patents on the terminator
technology in at least 78 countries!
- Once the technology is commercialized,
the USDA will earn royalties of about 5% of net sales. "I think it
will be profitable for USDA," Phelps said. (Royalties? Profits?
For a Department of the US Federal Government? What's wrong with this
- The Terminator Technology was created
to prevent farmers from saving non-hybrid, open-pollinated or genetically
altered seed sold by seed companies. Open-pollinated varieties of crops
like wheat and rice staples for most of the world's population are typical
examples. The stated logic for Terminator Technology is simple, really.
A seed company invests money to develop and produce new varieties of seed.
It hopes to sell a lot of that seed to recoup monies spent on crop research
and seed development, and then to realize a profit on their investment.
Fair enough, it would seem, but there are BIG concerns around the world
about how much profit, how much control many of these multinational seed
companies actually seek. Many of their proprietary seeds are no more than
genetically altered versions of older, reliable, conventionally bred strains
that have been in the public domain for many, many years. Change a gene
to give a seed resistance to some new strain of disease, the logic goes,
and the seed no longer belongs to the people to grow and save as they
like, but to the seed company. In the past several years the world community
has been outraged as some multinational seed companies have brazenly tried
to claim ownership of whole species of food plants based on the logic that
they had altered a gene in a member of that species and, hence, now owned
its whole genome!
- In a world of burgeoning population growth
and, hence, demand for food, giant, multi-national seed companies hope
to sell a lot of proprietary, genetically engineered seed. Food is a
BIG business that will only get bigger, and they want farmers around the
world to need to come back to them, year after year, to buy the seed and,
in some cases, even the chemicals, to grow it. Plant patents, gene licensing
agreements, intellectual property laws, investigations and lawsuits brought
against farm families for infringing on a seed company's monopoly on seed
varieties are some of the means now used to protect their interests.
- The new Terminator Technology could render
even these modern, legal measures of control obsolete, as it is potentially
so powerful, so effective and so flawless in its applicability that its
corporate owners and licensees will literally have complete biological
control over the food crops in which it is applied. Seed companies have
been working hard to prevent farmers around the world from saving their
own seed from plants originally grown with seed purchased from these companies.
They are also trying to find ways to encourage farmers around the world"in
the U.S., Europe and especially the huge market represented by farmers
in South America, Mexico and Asia, to switch to genetically engineered,
proprietary seed instead of relying on the eons-old practice of saving
their own locally produced and conventionally bred seed. If they can
produce and offer their "improved" seed cheaply enough to convince
even poorer, Second and Third World farmers to switch, they will have captured
much of the global market. The Terminator will ensure that this market"these
farmers and the communities and countries they feed will be completely
dependent on the company in order to continue to eat.
- There is another potential dark side
to the Terminator. Molecular biologists reviewing the technology are divided
on whether or not there is a risk of the Terminator function escaping the
genome of the crops into which it has been intentionally incorporated and
moving into surrounding open-pollinated crops or wild, related plants
in fields nearby. The means of this "infection" would be via
pollen from Terminator-altered plants. Given Nature's incredible adaptability,
and the fact that the technology has never been tested on a large scale,
the possibility that the Terminator may spread to surrounding food crops
or to the natural environment MUST be taken seriously. The gradual spread
of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that
could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans, from the
- According to USDA researchers, they
have spent about $190,000 over four years working on the joint project.
(Yes, you and I supported this research.) For its share, the Delta &
Pine Land Company has reportedly devoted $275,000 of in-house expenses,
plus an additional $255,000. Combined, these dollars are a mere drop in
the bucket compared to the potential profitability of the technology to
its owners. According to USDA's Willard Phelps, the Delta & Pine Land
Co. retains the option to exclusively license the jointly-developed technology.
In its March 3rd press release, the company claimed that the new technology
has "the prospect of opening significant worldwide seed markets to
the sale of transgenic technology for crops in which seed currently is
saved and used in subsequent plantings." In a recent communique,
RAFI states: "If the Terminator Technology is widely utilized, it
will give the multinational seed and agrochemical industry an unprecedented
and extremely dangerous capacity to control the world's food supply."
That fear may be realized much sooner than anyone could have imagined.
- At the time of the March 3 announcement
of the US government-supported technology, it was common knowledge that
multinational seed and pesticides giant, Monsanto, was a minor (8%) shareholder
in the Delta & Pine Land Co. The two jointly have a cotton seed venture
in China. On May 11th, a mere nine weeks after the announcement of the
Terminator Technology, Monsanto bought the Delta & Pine Land Co.
and, with it, the complete control of the Terminator Technology. For an
even bigger picture of the implications of this acquisition, here,s a summary
of some published information on Monsanto's current agricultural holdings
- * The purchase of Delta & Pine now
gives Monsanto an overwhelming 85% share of the US cotton seed market and
a dominant global position in this crop. * On May 11th, Monsanto also announced
the take-over of Dekalb, the second largest maize (corn) company in the
US. * In January of 1997, Monsanto acquired Holden,s Foundation Seeds.
A company spokesman said at the time that its goal was to get its bioengineered
seed on at least half of the then 40 million acres that Monsanto had access
to via its acquisitions. It is estimated that 25-35% of US corn acreage
is planted with Holden,s products. The Holden and Dekalb acquisitions make
Monsanto the dominant player in the corn market. * In November, Monsanto
acquired Brazilian seed company, Sementes Agroceres. This acquisition
gave Monsanto 30% of the Brazilian corn seed business. Brazilian farmers
who have been breeding and saving their own seed for centuries are considered
primary targets for terminator and apomictic (below) corn seed products.
* On January 20th, the USDA won another patent no. 5,710,367 covering "apomictic
maize". This corn trait speeds hybrid seed production by allowing
the plant to produce hybrid clones, lowering the price of hybrid seed.
Third World farmers unable to afford more expensive hybrid seed could
potentially buy these less expensive clones. Unlike other hybrids, apomictic
corn can be regrown but its genetic uniformity (remember, clones) would
make it more likely to lose its disease resistance more frequently, forcing
farmers to buy seed more often. There are fears that Monsanto will obtain
these license rights from the USDA. Monsanto,s recent corn company acquisitions
and, now, near monopoly in corn, make this a critical concern. * A Washington
connection, according to RAFI: "In the past two years, a number of
high-ranking White House and USDA officials have left Washngton for the
allure of Monsanto,s headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri."
- * "In October 1997, Monsanto and
Millenium Pharmaceuticals (another US-based genomics company) announced
a 5 year collaborative agreement worth over US $118 million, including
the creation of a new Monsanto subsidiary with about 100 scientists to
work exclusively with Millenium to use genomic technologies. The exclusive
agreement is not limited to a single crop or geographic location it covers
all crop plants in all countries. Monsanto considers the new subsidiary
an integral part of its life sciences strategy and hopes to gain a competitive
edge in the search for patentable and likely "Terminator-able crop
genes." Monsanto has pioneered enforcement strategies for protection
of its plant patents. Much of this pioneering has been centered on its
genetically altered soybeans which have the ability to withstand spraying
with the company's leading herbicide, Roundup. (Weeds and other native
plants die, beans live.) In 1996 the company set a new precedent requiring
farmers buying its genetically engineered "Roundup Ready Soybeans"
to sign and adhere to the terms of its "1996 Roundup Ready Gene Agreement."
Terms: The farmer must pay a $5 per bag "technology fee"; the
farmer must give Monsanto the right to inspect, monitor and test his/her
fields for up to 3 years; the farmer must use only Monsanto,s brand of
the glyphosate herbicide it calls Roundup; the farmer must give up his/her
right to save and replant the patented seed; the farmer must agree not
to sell or otherwise supply the seed to "any other person or entity."
The farmer must also agree, in writing, to pay Monsanto "...100 times
the then applicable fee for the Roundup Ready gene, times the number of
units of transferred seed, plus reasonable attorney's fees and expenses..."
should he violate any portion of the agreement. The farmers' outcry against
the stringent inspection and monitoring of their private property caused
Monsanto to modify that part of the agreement in 1997. The company has
used a similar licensing agreement for its genetically engineered cotton
and, according to a spokeswoman, plans to introduce licensing agreements
with all genetically engineered seeds Monsanto brings to market. These
will include Roundup Ready canola (canola oil), corn, sugarbeets, etc.
(Keep in mind that now Monsanto has Terminator Technology to license,
as well. It is applicable to all food crops according to its primary inventor.)
- Four days ago, the scope of the potential
impact of the Terminator Technology on global agriculture broadened explosively
with the announcement that American Home Products Corporation (AHP) had
agreed to buy Monsanto Co. for $33.9 billion in stock. "AHP,"
according to its press release, "is one of the world's largest research-based
pharmaceutical and health care products companies....It is also a global
leader in vaccines, biotechnology, agricultural products and animal health
care." Reuters reports that the acquisition will create "a powerful
pharmaceutical company with a massive presence in the growing market for
genetically engieered agricultural products."
- Actually, AHP is a family of companies
including American Cyanamid, Cyamid Agricultural Products Group, Wyeth
Ayerst, and others. It is the third largest in the US in herbicides, insecticides
and fungicides but, with its acquisition of Monsanto, it is now estimated
that the combined companies will become the largest agrochemical/life industries
company in the world, beating Swiss global giant, Novartis. It does not
take a giant mental leap to see the massive potential for the application
and marketing of Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed and licensing agreements
and the Terminator Technology to an increasing number of companies and
food crops. If the Terminator technology is not globally banned, its
eventual incorporation into all genetically engineered and open-pollinated,
non-hybrid food crops is predictable.
- As most of you are aware, I have often
fretted in these pages about the vulnerabilities of our increasingly centralized,
computer-based, bottom-line driven, large corporation-dominated food
production, processing and distribution system. Extreme weather patterns,
toxic waste-contaminated fertilizers, epidemic bacterial contamination
of food and the year-2000 crash of computers responsible for keeping the
whole, complex system running have been big concerns. I have warned you
of the planned disappearance of non-hybrid, open-pollinated seeds that
let you retain the means of growing your own food if you want or need to;
seeds that ensure protective biodiversity; seeds that may provide personal
food security in insecure times. Now the Terminator threatens even these.
- Make no mistake about it widespread global
adoption of the newly patented Terminator Technology will ensure absolute
dependence of farmers, and the people they feed, on multinational corporations
for their seed and food. Dependence does not foster freedom. On the contrary,
dependence fosters a loss of freedom. Dependence does not increase personal
power, it diminishes it. When you are dependent, you relinquish control.
History is full of examples of peoples and cultures who lost fundamental
freedoms who were controlled by their need for food. This shouldn't happen
to Second and Third World farmers. It shouldn't happen in any of the 78
countries in which the patent has been applied for. It shouldn't happen
- The Terminator Technology is brilliant
science and arguably "good business", but it has crossed the
line the tenuous line between genius and insanity. It is a dangerous,
bad idea that should be banned. Period..........Geri Guidetti, The Ark
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