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Terminator Seeds: the end of the line is in sight

Terminator technology creates seeds that produce sterile plants, so that new seeds must be purchased every year. No seeds from the plant will grow. This technology will make farmers totally dependent on one multinational corporation: Monsanto. And then, if Monsanto goes down, thanks to Y2K or some other catastrophe, we'll be one year from global starvation. You can't find co-stupidity of this caliber anywhere outside of MAD magazine. And that's not all: the technology was developed by our own US Department of Agriculture. I wonder who they work for.... (And I wonder who's going to do something about this... Me? You?)
-- Tom Atlee
[and consider what's beyond terminator technology]

Note: TIME has a two-page article on Monsanto's "Terminator" technology with diagram showing how it works.

FEBRUARY 1, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 4

The Suicide Seeds - By Jeffrey Kluger
Terminator genes could mean big biotech
bucks--but big trouble too, as a grass-roots
protest breaks out on the Net


December 18th, 1998

To whom it should concern:

Hi. My name is Bob Mueller. I'm not a paid activist, nor am I
really an activist at all, aside from the fact that I've been
jostled out of complacency enough to write this alert. I am,
however, an ordinary citizen who is quite unsettled by one
specific issue: U.S. Patent 5,723,765, entitled "Control of
Plant Gene Expression". The patent covers technology referred to
as a plant "Technology Protection System" (TPS), otherwise known as
Terminator Technology.

My goal is simple: to share my concern with you, in the hope
that you will be alarmed enough to more completely educate yourself
regarding this matter. For if I can accomplish this, I am
convinced, you will surely ACT.

The USDA, spending public money, has developed a technology
whereby seeds can be stripped of their ability to propagate.
They are in the process of patenting the process worldwide on
behalf of Monsanto, through a subsidiary (Delta and Pine Land

The driving force behind the Terminator technology is the ability
for Monsanto, and Delta and Pine Land Co., to protect their
"inventions" from being "duplicated" unlawfully, which, granted,
sounds appropriate and fair.

The result, however, will be to replace natural crops worldwide,
with genetically enhanced, superior, high yield crops. Superior,
that is, except for the fact that they can no longer reproduce
themselves, effectively forcing farmers worldwide to buy their
seeds annually from Monsanto...the world's only supplier.

The patent applies to ALL PLANTS.

This is the ultimate in Capitalism. We're going to remove
nature's ability to propagate herself, so we can charge money for
that privilege.

However, I only wish this were the full extent of the issue.
The part that pushes my button; the part that really unnerves me,
is the probability that, for all their careful planning, this
genetically altered organism will share its suicidal genes with
OTHER plant species.

Most children know about the "birds and the bees" ...

Indeed, Martha L. Crouch, Associate Professor of Biology at
Indiana University, has published a series of papers specifying
how the resulting castrated plants WILL be able to sterilize
nearby normal species, via the spread of Terminator pollen. Not
only that, but how these plants will be able to actually *pass*
the toxin gene to other plant species through cross-pollination:
> when farmers plant the Terminator seeds, the
> seeds already will have been treated with
> tetracycline, and thus the recombinase will
> have acted, and the toxin coding sequence will
> be next to the seed-specific promoter, and
> will be ready to act when the end of seed
> development comes around. The seeds will grow
> into plants, and make pollen. Every pollen
> grain will carry a ready-to-act toxin gene. If
> the Terminator crop is next to a field planted
> in a normal variety, and pollen is taken by
> insects or the wind to that field, any
> eggs fertilized by the Terminator pollen will
> now have one toxin gene. It will be activated
> late in that seed's development, and the seed
> will die. However, it is unlikely that the
> person growing the normal variety will be able
> to tell, because the seed will probably look
> normal. Only when that seed is planted, and
> doesn't germinate, will the change become
> apparent.

> In most cases, the toxin gene will not be
> passed on any further, because dead plants
> don't reproduce. However, under certain
> conditions I will discuss later, it is
> possible for the toxin gene to be inherited.

Yet this "product" has been virtually assured of being passed as
safe, in the USDA's own words: "These approvals are expected
because there appear to be no crop or food safety risks to the
new technology. There also appear to be no environmental risks."

Now why would the USDA come to this conclusion on a technology
that has only been tested by those having a vested interest in
its commercial success?

Could it be because it's worth an estimated 1.5 billion dollars
a year in licensing fees alone, and the USDA is LICENSING the
technology to Monsanto?

Awesome economics on a global scale. Patent has been applied for
in 87 countries.

Please, please, go to the following web page, and read the data...
both sides of the story. There are many more potential problems
with this technology than I have outlined here. Follow the links.
Assure yourself that you are, indeed, awake, for you may be
tempted to think this is merely a bad dream -- or a science-fiction

If you are as affected by the nature of this venture as I was, at
the very least, please use the RAFI site to model a letter of
protest that will be sent simultaneously to the Secretary of the
US Department of Agriculture, the Administrator of the USDA
Agricultural Research Service, the Chair of the US House of
Representatives Agriculture Committee, and the Chair of the US
Senate Agriculture Committee.

This technology has NOT yet been commercialized. We are, in
fact, in the uncommon position of being able to say no before it
becomes widespread -- pun intended.

I hope I have convinced you to examine this issue.

As a concerned individual, I thank you for your time.

Bob Mueller 10/18/98

And now, for what's beyond terminator seeds

Sent: Friday, January 29, 1999 10:39 AM
Subject: Fwd: RAFI News: More Seed Sterilization

After you read this, send these people your comments: (Dan Glickman, Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture), (Dr. Floyd P. Horn , Administrator, USDA Agricultural
Research Service), (Rep. Charlie Stenholm , Minority Leader, US House of
Representatives Agriculture Committee), (Sen. Richard G. Lugar , Chair, US Senate
Agriculture Committee)

Rural Advancement Foundation International - RAFI
Press Release - 27 January 1999

Genetic Seed Sterilization is "Holy Grail"
for Ag Biotechnology Firms
New Patents for "Suicide Seeds" Threaten
Farmers and Food Security Warns RAFI

The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a Canadian-based
rural advocacy organization, announced today that it has uncovered over
three dozen new patents describing a wide range of techniques that can be
used for the genetic sterilization of plants and seeds. "The patents reveal
that engineered seed sterility is not an isolated research agenda - it's
the Holy Grail of the ag biotech industry," says Pat Mooney of RAFI. The
disclosure follows on the heels of a controversial patent unveiled last
year, christened the "Terminator" by RAFI, that continues to generate
worldwide protest and debate because it renders farm-saved seed sterile -
forcing farmers to return to the commercial seed market every year. The
Terminator patent is jointly owned by the US Department of Agriculture and
a Monsanto subsidiary, Delta & Pine Land Co.

"The notorious Terminator patent is just the tip of the iceberg," explains
RAFI's Mooney, "Every major seed and agrochemical enterprise is developing
its own version of suicide seeds," he adds.

"We've uncovered dozens of patents that disclose new and more insidious
techniques for genetic sterilization of plants and seeds - and even
animals," says Edward Hammond of RAFI. "Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Monsanto
are among the Gene Giants who have sterile seeds in the pipeline, while
others like Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc, and DuPont have technologies
that could easily be turned into Terminators." The primary goal of several
of the the newly patented techniques is to sterilize seed so that farmers
cannot save and re-plant seed.

A number of the patents use benign-sounding technical terms such as
"controlled gene expression" linked to "inducible promoters" to describe
their sterilization techniques. Other patents describe "killer genes" that
destroy pollen, or "GRIM proteins" that do the same to invertebrates or
even mammalian cells. A patent owned by Astra/Zeneca candidly admits that
their sterilization processes "are not desirable per se."

Sterile Seeds: Why Worry? "These technologies are extremely dangerous,"
explains RAFI's Mooney, "because over 1.4 billion farmers - primarily poor
farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America - depend on farm-saved seed as
their primary seed source. If they can't save seed, they can't continue to
adapt crops to their unique farming environments, and that spells disaster
for global food security."

"Genetic seed sterility is not about improving the productivity or quality
of crops, it's a quest to increase seed industry profits," adds Mooney,
"First and foremost, these technologies are intended to force farmers to
buy seed every season and to take still more crop production control away
from farmers."

A Platform for Inducing Chemical Sales: The new generation of patents goes
beyond the genetic neutering of crops. The patents reveal that companies
are developing suicide seeds whose genetic traits can be turned on and off
by an external chemical "inducer" -- mixed with the company's patented
agrochemicals. In the not-so-distant future, we may see farmers planting
seeds that will develop into productive (but sterile) crops only if sprayed
with a carefully prescribed regimen that includes the company's proprietary
pesticide, fertilizer or herbicide. The latest version of Monsanto's
suicide seeds won't even germinate unless exposed to a special chemical,
while AstraZeneca's technologies outline how to engineer crops to become
stunted or otherwise impaired if not regularly exposed to the company's
chemicals. RAFI calls it "Traitor Technology."

Sound far-fetched? Not according to Novartis (a Swiss life industry
giant), whose patent (US 5,789,214) describes a process for chemically
regulating a number of developmental processes in plants -- such as
germination, sprouting, flowering, fruit ripening, etc. The patent
specifically mentions that the chemical regulator can be applied to plants
in combination with a fertilizer or herbicide. "If the companies can
genetically program suicide seeds to perform only with the application of
proprietary pesticide or fertilizer, it means they will increase sales of
their patented agrochemicals and other proprietary inputs," explains Edward
Hammond of RAFI. "Chemically-dependent suicide seeds are a dazzling
technological achievement and a brilliant marketing strategy, but it's grim
news for farmers and the environment," concludes Hammond.

>From Biosafety to BioSerfdom: "We'll be hearing plenty of industry
arguments in favor of engineered seed sterility and Traitor Technologies,
but the ultimate goal," says Pat Mooney of RAFI, "is not breeding benefits
or biosafety, but bioserfdom."

"If Traitor technologies are developed for commercial sale," predicts
RAFI's Mooney, "farmers will be forced to surrender control of their seed
supply and the Gene Giants will ultimately dictate what the farmer grows,
how to grow it, and where to sell it. Seed sterility is not about insuring
quality or productivity, it's a power grab pure and simple," concludes

"The seed and agrochemical industry will argue that engineered seed
sterility is highly beneficial to the environment because it will eliminate
the problem of horizontal gene transfer - it will prevent cross-pollination
and thus the escape of engineered genes from transgenic plants to nearby
weeds or wild relatives," explains Hope Shand of RAFI. There is concern
that transgenic plants could pass genes on to wild plant relatives - thus
creating "superweeds" that could wreak havoc on the environment. Suicide
seeds could put to rest the specter of genetic pollution, and it
conveniently offers a "green" rationale for acceptance of genetic seed
sterility. The industry will also argue that suicide seeds prevent
pre-harvest crops from sprouting prematurely, and that it will decrease the
cost of producing hybrid seeds. Finally, industry will argue that they
can't continue to develop new, more productive varieties for agriculture
unless they get a fair return on their investment.

No matter what rationale is used by the Gene Giants to engineer social
acceptance of seed sterility, the technology is unacceptable to growing
numbers of civil society organizations around the world who are calling for
Terminator Technologies to be banned by governments. According to RAFI, the
easiest way to ban Terminator is for national patent offices to reject
Traitor claims on the legal grounds of ordre public (against public

The specter of genetic seed sterilization is so serious that Terminator
technologies will be debated at several United Nations bodies, including UN
Food and Agriculture Organization in April, the Convention on Biological
Diversity in May, the UN Commission on Science, Technology, and Development
in May.

A RAFI report to be released later this week, "Traitor Technology" provides
an in-depth analysis of the seed sterility patents. For this study and a
detailed chart of patent claims, visit RAFI's homepage at:



Pat Mooney, Executive Director
Tel: +1 204-453-5259

Edward Hammond, Program Officer
Tel: +1 206-323-7378

Hope Shand, Research Director
Tel: +1 717-337-6482