Terminator Technology

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Saturday, July 14, 2001

There is a technology available suitably called the Terminator technology, which is designed to genetically switch off a plant's ability to germinate a second time.

A half-century after the Bengal famine [where, during British colonial rule, most of the food grown was exported for trade and for UK, instead of feeding hungry local people], a new and clever system has been put in place which is once again making the theft of the harvest a right and the keeping of harvest a crime. Hidden behind complex free-trade treaties are innovative ways to steal nature's harvest, the harvest of the seed, and the harvest of nutrition.

Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest (South End Press, 2000), p.6

What is the purpose of switching off seed germination?

Many believe it is purely a business idea by forcing farmers to buy a fresh supply of seeds each year -- many of whom are in the developing world and cannot afford to do this.

The traditional practice (tried and tested for thousands of years) of saving seeds for the next harvest comes under threat due to a US patent on this technology to prevent "unauthorized seed-saving" by farmers.

Supporters of the terminator, or suicide, technology believe that the idea of it is for the protection of corporations from unscrupulous farmers. Control of seed germination helps prevent growers from pirating their technology. If crops remain fertile, there is a chance that farmers could use any saved transgenic seed from a previous season. This would result in poorer profits for companies. (See the bottom parts of this article and this article for more.).

This then becomes a battle over a farmer's (traditional) right and a corporation's right.

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Effect on farmers

In India, this is a cause for some concern as scientists fear for the livelihood of 400 million farmers and for food security in the country. Already some poorer Indian farmers have been driven to suicide. It is feared that this type of technology could be used to make the poorer farmers even more dependent.

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Set back for corporations, for now

In a major victory for activists and protestors around the world, Monsanto, a major investor in this technology has decided not to market it. However, it will still look into sterility research, which, as the Guardian newspaper points out, could mean that Monsanto's announcement just a public relations exercise and that they are waiting until the current attention on the negativity surrounding terminator technology has reduced. (Check out the Public Reaction part of this web site for more about the protests all over the world at the rapid, untested introduction of GE Food.)

However, even without such terminator technology, under patent laws in Canada, U.S. and a number of other industrialized nations, it is illegal for farmers to re-use patented seed, or to grow Monsanto's GM seed without signing a licensing agreement. Hence the underlying motives behind terminator technologies have still been achieved while being stacked against the farmer. In a prominent case, a Canadian farmer was found guilty of growing patented seeds, even though he did not know of it. The pollen from the patented canola seeds from a nearby farm had pollinated with his and thus he had to pay Monsanto for licensing and profit from the seeds. As the previous link's title suggests, corporate liability is reduced, while that of the individual farmer is increased.

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Monday, July 20, 1998
  • Last Updated: Saturday, July 14, 2001

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