Terminator Technology

Author and Page information

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

There is a technology available suitably called the Terminator1 technology, which is designed to genetically switch off2 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

On this page:

  1. What is the purpose of switching off seed germination?
  2. Effect on farmers
  3. Set back for corporations, for now

What is the purpose of switching off seed germination?

Many believe it is purely a business idea3 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 threat4 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 article5 and this article6 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 concern7 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 suicide8. It is feared that this type of technology could be used to make the poorer farmers even more dependent9.

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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 market10 it. However, it will still look into sterility research, which, as the Guardian newspaper points out11, 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 Reaction12 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 it13. 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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Where next?

Related articles

  1. Is GE Food Safe?
  2. "GE Technologies will solve world hunger"
  3. Food Patents—Stealing Indigenous Knowledge?
  4. GE Food Media Coverage
  5. Functional Foods—the next wave of GE foods
  6. Terminator Technology
  7. Monsanto—a major player in GE Technology
  8. Public Concerns and Protests on GE Food
  9. Genetically Engineered Food Links for more Information
  10. World hunger related links for more information

Online Sources:

(Note that listed here are only those hyperlinks to other articles from other web sites or elsewhere on this web site. Other sources such as journal, books and magazines, are mentioned above in the original text. Please also note that links to external sites are beyond my control. They might become unavailable temporarily or permanently since you read this, depending on the policies of those sites, which I cannot unfortunately do anything about.)

  1. http://www.panos.org.uk/news/2jun98.htm
  2. http://www.rafi.org/search.asp?theme=7
  3. Jean-Pierre Berlan and Richard C. Lewontin, 'Cashing in on Life: Operation Terminator', Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1998, http://mondediplo.com/1998/12/02gen
  4. Hope Shand and Pat Mooney, ''Terminator Seeds' Threaten an End to Farming', Earth Island Journal, Fall 1998, http://www.earthisland.org/eijournal/fall98/fe_fall98terminator.html
  5. Rob Edwards, 'End of the germ line', New Scientist, 28 March 1998, http://www.newscientist.com/hottopics/gm/gm.jsp?id=21274200
  6. Debbie Mack, 'Food for all', New Scientist, 31 October 1998, http://www.newscientist.com/hottopics/gm/gm.jsp?id=21585300
  7. Dev Raj, 'Biotech Firms Sow Seeds of Discord', Inter Press Service, July 15, 1998, http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/jul98/07_41_005.html
  8. 'Selling suicide - farming, false promises and genetic engineering in developing countries', Christian Aid, May 1999, http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/indepth/9905suic/suicide1.htm
  9. 'Greed or Need? Genetically modified crops', Panos Media Briefing No 30A (re-issue), February 1999, http://www.panos.org.uk/global/reportdownload.asp?type=report&id=1000&reportid=1036
  10. Danielle Knight, 'Cheers for Monsanto's Reversal on 'Terminator'', Inter Press Service, October 5, 1999, http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/oct99/18_45_081.html
  11. John Vidal, 'World braced for terminator 2', Guardian, October 6, 1999, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,260202,00.html
  12. PublicReaction.asp
  13. 'No Corporate Liability for Seed Contamination', Corpwatch, April 5, 2001, http://www.corpwatch.org/bulletins/PBD.jsp?articleid=458

Author and Page Information

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

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