Terminator: The USDA Grants Delta & Pine Land a License to Kill (Seeds)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has concluded negotiations to license Terminator Technology to its co-patent-holder Delta and Pine Land. This paves the way for the commercialization of the technology any time after Jan. 1, 2003, most probably in 2004 or 2005 given the current state of research and development D&PL, the world’s largest cotton seed company and ninth largest seed company, is the only one that has publicly declared its intention to commercialize Terminator seeds. The USDA and D&PL, as a result of joint research, are co-owners of three Terminator patents.
Ignoring an outcry of public opposition to the technology as well as the recommendations of many members of the Biotech Advisory Committee, the USDA steadfastly refused to abandon its patents or to suspend all further research on genetic seed sterilization, instead concluding that Terminator “is a valuable technology” and even promoting it as a “green” technology that will prevent gene flow from transgenic plants.
Terminator technology, by creating genetically altered varieties that produce sterile seed, would make seed-saving by farmers who use the altered seeds impossible. It will be targeted largely at major crop commodities such as soybeans, rice and wheat that have not been successfully hybridized on a commercial scale. An estimated 1.4 billion people, mostly poor farmers in third world countries, depend primarily on farm-saved seed.
Last year the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Panel on Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture concluded that Terminator seeds are unethical.
All of the major seed industry behemoths, including Monsanto, Novartis, AstraZeneca, DuPont, BASF, and Aventis, have similar patents in the works. The next generation of technologies will create packages which, induced by proprietary chemical activators, can control multiple factors such as acceleration or stunting of plant growth, reproductive viability, and disease or herbicide resistance. The aim of the gene giants is not just to discourage seed saving or replanting but to make farmers totally dependent on the seed company, and ultimately to control the entire food system from seed to table. Terminator is only the most visible and dramatic manifestation of the potential impact of genetic engineering on our lives.