Sat, 8 May 1999
Leora Broydo, "A Seedy Business," Mojo Wire, April 27, 1998.
Chakravarthi Raghavan, "New Patent Aims to Prevent Farmers from Saving Seed," Third World Resurgence, April 1998.
Hope Shand and Pat Mooney, "Terminator Seeds Threaten an End to Farming," Global Pesticide Campaigner, June 1998, and Earth Island Journal, Fall 1998.
Brian Tokar, "Monsanto: A Checkered History" and "Revolving Doors: Monsanto and the Regulators," the Ecologist, September-October 1998.
For 12,000 years farmers have followed a simple process: save the best seed from each harvest and use it to plant the next year's. Seed saving lets farmers cultivate the most useful and robust strains, improving the food supply. The plants we eat today were produced by thousands of years of human selection.
That could all be over in the next decade, thanks to the biotechnology industry and the United States Department of Agriculture.
In March 1998 the USDA and cottonseed giant Delta and Pine Land Co. announced a new patent: a genetic technology that stops plants from reproducing. Soon seed companies will be able to breed the gene, which some call the "terminator," into their products. Those seeds will produce crops that don't reproduce, forcing farmers to buy new seeds every year. Seeds with the terminator gene should be on the market by 2004.
Biotechnology companies produce the strongest, highest yielding seeds. When they add terminator technology to their products, farmers who hope to compete will have little choice but to purchase new seeds every year.
Melvin J. Oliver, the USDA scientist who developed the terminator gene, told Global Pesticide Campaigner why the U.S. government wants to stop farmers from saving seeds: to fatten the profits of American seed companies. "Our mission is to protect U.S. agriculture," he said.
Two months after the announcement, agrochemical conglomerate Monsanto bought Delta and Pine for almost $2 billion. Monsanto is world leader in bioengineered crops; with the USDA's new technology, it will be able to create an endless market for its products.
Farmers in the developing world will feel the terminator's harshest effects. The gene will allow commercial seed producers to profit from self-pollinating crops, including rice and wheat. As the seed industry continues to consolidate, the ability to produce those two crops, the staple foods for three-quarters of the world's poor people, could depend on a private monopoly.
Censorship takes many forms: The Ecologist's printer of 26 years refused to release the magazine's special issue on Monsanto and discarded 14,000 copies, citing fears of a libel suit.
For more information, go to http://www.rafi.org