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USDA approves 'Terminator' technology despite opposition
Our Commodities Bureau in Mumbai

COMMODITY WATCH Saturday, August 11, 2001

http://www.financialexpress.com/fe20010811/commo15.html

It's official now. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that it has concluded negotiations to license the notorious 'Terminator' technology to its seed industry partner, Delta & Pine Land (D&PL). As a result of joint research, the USDA and D&PL are co-owners of three patents on the controversial technology, that genetically modifies plants to produce sterile seeds, preventing farmers from re-using harvested seed. A licensing agreement establishes the terms and conditions under which a party can use a patented technology.

Although many of the gene-giants hold patents on Terminator technology, D&PL is the only company that has publicly declared its intention to commercialise Terminator seeds. "USDA's decision to license Terminator flies in the face of international public opinion and betrays the public trust," said Ms Hope Shand, research-director of an international organisation dedicated to sustainable use of bio-diversity - RAFI. "Terminator technology has been universally condemned by civil society; banned by international agricultural research institutes, censured by United Nation bodies, even shunned by Monsanto, and yet the US Government has officially sanctioned commercialisation of the technology by licensing it to one of the world's largest seed companies," explains Ms Shand. "USDA's role in developing Terminator seeds is a disgraceful example of corporate welfare, involving a technology that is bad for farmers, dangerous for the environment and disastrous for world food security," adds Ms Silvia Ribeiro of RAFI.

Terminator has been universally opposed as an immoral technology because over 1.4 billion people, primarily poor farmers, depend on farm-saved seeds as their primary seed source. Mr Michael Schechtman, executive-secretary to USDA's Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, made the official announcement regarding the licensing of Terminator at the Committee's August 1 meeting. The 38-member Advisory Committee, established during the Clinton administration, was created to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on issues related to growing public controversy over GM technology. Although many members of the Biotech Advisory Committee urged the USDA to abandon its patents and forsake all further research on genetic seed sterilisation, the USDA steadfastly declined. The official statement by USDA states that the Agency "had a legal obligation" to license the technology to D&PL.

In a lackluster attempt to quell its critics, the USDA pledged to negotiate licensing restrictions on how the Terminator technology could be deployed by Delta & Pine Land. "In the end, the restrictions negotiated by USDA are meaningless," concludes Mr Michael Sligh, RAFI-USA's director of 'Sustainable Agriculture', and member of the Biotech Advisory Committee. According to Mr Sligh, "USDA's promotion of Terminator technology puts private profits above public good and the rights of farmers everywhere." Mr Sligh spearheaded efforts amongst Advisory Board members who urged the USDA to abandon Terminator. USDA places the following conditions on D&PL's deployment of Terminator:

1) The licensed Terminator technology will not be used in any heirloom varieties of garden flowers and vegetables and it will not be used in any variety of plant available in the market-place before January 1, 2003.

2) USDA scientists will be involved in safety testing of new varieties incorporating the GM trait for seed sterility, and a full and public process of safety evaluation must be completed prior to regulatory sign-off by USDA.

3) All royalties accruing to USDA from the use of Terminator will be earmarked to technology transfer efforts for USDA's Agricultural Research Service innovations that will be made widely available to the public.

USDA concludes that Terminator "is a valuable technology". Ironically, the agency promotes Terminator as a "green" technology that will prevent gene flow from transgenic plants. "We reject the notion that Terminator is a biosafety bandage for GM crops with leaky genes, but even if it were biosafety, at the expense of food security is unacceptable," concludes RAFI's Ms Silvia Ribeiro.

Last year the FAO's panel of eminent experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture concluded that Terminator seeds are unethical. When heads of state meet at FAO's World Food Summit five years later in Rome, 9-15 November, they will have the opportunity to re-affirm that finding, and recommend that member nations ban the technology. In keeping with its image as a rogue, isolationist state in international treaty negotiations on global warming and biological weapons, the US also appears to stand alone on Terminator.

Delta & Pine Land, USA is the world's 9th largest seed corporation, with revenues of $301 million in 2000. The company has joint ventures and/or subsidiaries in North America, Brazil, Argentina, China, Mexico, Paraguay, South Africa, Australia, and China.

Indian labs working on `terminator' gene technology Monday, January 18, 1999
Sharad Mistry http://www.financialexpress.com/fe/daily/19990118/01855425.html

Mumbai: Indian scientists at over ten research institutes, funded by the central government, are working on development of indigenous `terminator' gene technology.

Quite a few private sector companies too are said to be seriously working on their own `terminator' gene technology.

Genetic engineering based research, commonly known as research in `transgenic' gene, is aimed at improving the overall productivity of agro crops. The terminator gene is a logical extension and conclusion of this technology and is therefore, being conducted in majority of agro-based economies.

Interestingly, last week there was a complete turnaround in the whole perception towards the hitherto controversial `terminator' gene technology among Indian speakers at the recently concluded Indian Science Congress at Chennai (January 3-8). Against the earlier mood of opposition from all concerned with agro- and biotech research, the tone among the speakers was one of a welcome. What was despised by majority of the participants was theeffort of multinationals to monopolise the market of transgenic seeds by patenting their research.

One common note that emerged from the seminar was that India needs to continue its transgenic research, but with enforceable biosafety and bio ethic standards. This is because uncontrollable freaks could develop that could damage crops in the adjoining regions not cultivated by `transgenic' seeds.

In India, the transgenic seeds and therefore, even the `terminator' gene research is being conducted under the common umbrella of `hybridoma' technology. Majority of the agriculture research institutes conducting the `terminator' gene research are funded by none other than the Department of Biotechnology (directly under the ministry of science and technology). Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) co-ordinates and sometimes helps DBT to fund these research projects.

The fruits of these research conducted for various crops, when offered, will help Indian farmers grow their own `tailor-made' crops,including those that do not germinate for getting second crop through the seeds of the first one that bear the hitherto controversial gene called `terminator' gene.

According to informed biotech source the list of state-funded research institutes include names like: Indian Agriculture Research Institute, New Delhi; Agriculture University, Hissar (Haryana), Punjab Agriculture University (Ludhiana); Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai; Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore); Sugarcane Breeding Centre (Coimbatore) Indian Research Institute, Pantnagar (Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh); Indian Council and Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad (own funding from international sources); University of Delhi (South Delhi Campus) and National Botanical Research Institute (Lucknow).

The list of private sector companies engaged in the transgeneic research leading to `terminator' gene include: Indo-American Hybrid Seeds (Bangalore); Zandu Pharmaceuticals; Cipla (Bangalore research centre); AVThomas (Bangalore) and above all Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (MAHYCO, wherein US biotech giant Monsanto holds 26 per cent).

Interestingly, because of the negative publicity that the `terminator' gene technology has been receiving since more than past couple of months, scientists at these institutes are hesitant to openly get associated with the controversial name.

Says Dr Sudhir Bhatnekar of Biotech Resource Centre: It's no secret that development of transgenic seeds logically leads to the development of terminator gene. And for India there's no other way but to welcome the emergence of such a research. But it would be better if it develops its own technology for our farmers, for such seeds, with terminator gene inside them, yield good crop and helps improve the economic conditions for the farmers."

Says Dr PS Rao of BARC: Indian scientists do have the expertise to develop their own transgenic technology that would help farmers grow their own `tailor-made crops.

At various research institutes,the `terminator gene' technology is in the incipient stage and at others it could be developed but for various reasons they have not put it into practice".

Dr Rao, a director on Mahyco's board, has authored number of articles, the latest being `Role of Biotechnology in Agriculture'. However, Dr Rao did not want to say whether or not BARC has its own `terminator' gene technology.According to Rao, the `terminator' gene in the USA "is very much a reality and is not at a conceptual stage as is being made out to be. Delta & Pine Land has successfully experimented with the technology and only then was it able to get it patented from the US Patent office.

The company may or may not be takenover by Monsanto, but Monsanto does have access to this technology."

The DBT had as early as 1994-95 initiated a research project aimed at `Developing Transgenic Cotton Variety With Induced Resistance to Bollworm'. It had funded as many six research institutes, but they have not been successful in developing thistechnology. Monsanto, after years of research has been successful in developing this technology and got it patented under the name of `BollGard' in countries like the USA, Argentina, Brazil, China and Australia. However, `Bollgard' transgenic seeds helps fight the bollwarm disease in cotton and are totally different `terminator' gene which prevents the germination of seeds for the second crop.

In India, we have our own `terminator' genes for crops like seedless grapes for example. A section of scientists are said to be now working on development of `seedless watermelon' as well. "The whole idea in all this is to let grow only the pulp portion of the seed and not another seed," says Dr Rao. This is nothing but another form of `terminator' gene technology where no seeds are germinated from crop of such seeds.

Little wonder then, that Monsanto (India) newly appointed chief Terry J Bunn had in an interview with The Financial Express had said: India has to decide whether it wants to have its owntechnology on transgenic seeds and wait till it could be put to commercial application, or join the global race by accepting the technology from the developed world."

Lastly, about 45 countries globally have conducted 25,000 field trials on transgenic crops from 1986 to 1997 involving more than 60 crops including corn, tomato, potato, soyabean, cotton , melon, canola, sugar beet and tobacco.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

USDA Says Yes to Terminator News Release - 3 August 2001

It's official. The US Department of Agriculture announced this week that it has concluded negotiations to license the notorious Terminator technology to its seed industry partner, Delta & Pine Land (D&PL). As a result of joint research, the USDA and D&PL are co-owners of three patents on the controversial technology that genetically modifies plants to produce sterile seeds, preventing farmers from re-using harvested seed. A licensing agreement establishes the terms and conditions under which a party can use a patented technology. Although many of the Gene Giants hold patents on Terminator technology, D&PL is the only company that has publicly declared its intention to commercialize Terminator seeds. (for details, see "2001: A Seed Odyssey" RAFI Communique, January/February 2001, www.rafi.org)

"USDA's decision to license Terminator flies in the face of international public opinion and betrays the public trust," said Hope Shand, Research Director of RAFI. "Terminator technology has been universally condemned by civil society; banned by international agricultural research institutes, censured by United Nations bodies, even shunned by Monsanto, and yet the US government has officially sanctioned commercialization of the technology by licensing it to one of the world's largest seed companies," explains Shand.

"USDA's role in developing Terminator seeds is a disgraceful example of corporate welfare involving a technology that is bad for farmers, dangerous for the environment and disastrous for world food security," adds Silvia Ribeiro of RAFI. Terminator has been universally opposed as an immoral technology because over 1.4 billion people, primarily poor farmers, depend on farm-saved seeds as their primary seed source.

Michael Schechtman, Executive Secretary to USDA's Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, made the official announcement regarding the licensing of Terminator at the Committee's August 1 meeting. The 38-member Advisory Committee, established during the Clinton administration, was created to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on issues related to growing public controversy over GM technology. Because of overwhelming public opposition to USDA's involvement with Terminator, the issue became a top priority for the Advisory Committee. USDA officials admitted last year that the Agency had the option of abandoning patents on Terminator, but chose not to do so. Although many members of the Biotech Advisory Committee urged the USDA to abandon its patents and forsake all further research on genetic seed sterilization, the USDA steadfastly declined. The official statement released by USDA this week states that the Agency "had a legal obligation" to license the technology to D&PL.

In a lackluster attempt to quell its critics, the USDA pledged to negotiate licensing restrictions on how the Terminator technology could be deployed by Delta & Pine Land. "In the end, the restrictions negotiated by USDA are meaningless," concludes Michael Sligh, RAFI-USA's Director of Sustainable Agriculture, and member of the Biotech Advisory Committee. According to Sligh, "USDA's promotion of Terminator technology puts private profits above public good and the rights of farmers everywhere." Sligh spearheaded efforts amongst Advisory Board members who urged the USDA to abandon Terminator.

USDA places the following conditions on D&PL's deployment of Terminator:

_ The licensed Terminator technology will not be used in any heirloom varieties of garden flowers and vegetables and it will not be used in any variety of plant available in the marketplace before January 1, 2003. (RAFI's comment: In other words, Terminator will not be commercialized, at the earliest, until 2003 - only 17 months from now. To suggest that USDA is protecting heirloom varieties from genetic seed sterilization technology is ludicrous. There's no money to be made on genetic modification of heirloom vegetables and flowers. The seed industry aims to engineer seed sterility in major crop commodities - especially those crops that have not been successfully hybridized on a commercial scale such as soybeans, rice and wheat.)

_ USDA scientists will be involved in safety testing of new varieties incorporating the GM trait for seed sterility, and a full and public process of safety evaluation must be completed prior to regulatory sign-off by USDA.(RAFI's comment: Can USDA play a role in both developing and regulating this technology? Is it a blatant conflict of interest for the agency to conduct a biosafety review of a product in which it holds a financial interest?)

_ All royalties accruing to USDA from the use of Terminator will be earmarked to technology transfer efforts for USDA's Agricultural Research Service innovations that will be made widely available to the public. (RAFI's comment: "Technology transfer" is a very broad concept. Terminator seeds in every foreign aid package? More paper clips for ARS patent lawyers?)

USDA concludes that Terminator "is a valuable technology." Ironically, the agency promotes Terminator as a "green" technology that will prevent gene flow from transgenic plants.

"We reject the notion that Terminator is a biosafety bandage for GM crops with leaky genes, but even if it were, biosafety at the expense of food security is unacceptable," concludes RAFI's Silvia Ribeiro.

Last year the FAO's Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture concluded that Terminator seeds are unethical. When heads of state meet at FAO's World Food Summit Five Years Later in Rome, 9-15 November, they will have the opportunity to re-affirm that finding, and recommend that member nations ban the technology. In keeping with its image as a rogue, isolationist state in international treaty negotiations on global warming and biological weapons, the US also appears to stand alone on Terminator.

********

Delta & Pine Land (Mississippi, USA) is the world's 9th largest seed corporation, with revenues of $301 million in 2000. The company has joint ventures and/or subsidiaries in North America, Brazil, Argentina, China, Mexico, Paraguay, South Africa, Australia, and China.

RAFI is an international civil society organization based in Canada. We are dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and to the socially responsible development of technologies useful to rural societies.

For further information on this news release: Hope Shand, RAFI: [email protected], 919 960-5223 Michael Sligh, RAFI-USA (member of USDA's Ag Biotech Advisory Committee),: [email protected] (919) 542-1396

USDA Refuses to Abandon Terminator Technology Delta & Pine Land Gets One Step Closer to Commercialization

Two days of contentious debate on Terminator has ruptured the US Department of Agriculture 's (USDA) Advisory Board on Agricultural Biotechnology. Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds, has been widely condemned as a dangerous and morally offensive application of agricultural biotechnology, because over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seeds.

USDA ignited the worldwide controversy in March 1998 when it won the first of three patents on genetic seed sterilization, which it holds jointly with Delta & Pine Land - the world 's largest cotton seed company. At its second meeting, July 26-27, the 38-member advisory board learned that the USDA has decided not to unilaterally terminate its contractual agreement with Delta and Pine Land, despite the fact that they have the legal option to do so. Instead, the Board was given the option of exploring restrictions on the exclusive licensing of its Terminator patents to Delta & Pine Land. In the end, however, all licensing restrictions would have to be mutually agreed upon by both the USDA and Delta & Pine Land.

"Taking this issue to the Advisory Board and calling for public comment on Terminator was a giant charade, and a mockery of the democratic process" concludes Hope Shand, Research Director of RAFI. "Apparently, the USDA had already decided that abandoning the Terminator was not an option."

At the Advisory Board meeting this week, the Agency revealed that an official public comment period on agricultural biotechnology, from March 30-July 21, 2000 yielded 213 comments. Of the comments received, 207 were negative towards biotechnology, and 162 comments called on USDA to ban and abandon its work on Terminator technology. "There is no public support for Terminator, because it's anti-farmer and benefits only the corporate seed industry," concludes Shand.

Despite intense opposition from some members of the Advisory Board, the group discussed one possible caveat to the licensing agreement, though even this condition must first be accepted by the seed enterprise. "Faced with almost total global opposition to Terminator from the United Nations, scores of national governments, scientific institutions, and a commitment by the USDA not to use the technology, the Advisory Board considered a proposal that Delta & Pine Land agree not to apply Terminator to heirloom seeds and existing varieties!" Hope Shand reports. "Delta & Pine Land has no interest in heirloom seeds. By definition, heirloom seeds and existing varieties are not transgenic anyway. Infected with the suicide sequence, any variety becomes "new"! This option is inane and nonsensical."

"USDA obviously favors private gain over the public good and the rights of farmers," said Michael Sligh, a member of the Advisory Board and RAFI-USA's Director of Sustainable Agriculture. "All members of the Advisory Board have 30 days to submit their views in writing, but USDA has already concluded that abandoning the patents and condemning the technology is not an option."

RAFI and its sister organization, RAFI-USA met with Secretary Glickman and/or senior USDA officials several times in the past year. At every meeting, the officials expressed embarrassment about the technology and vowed that the USDA would not support further Terminator research nor permit its use in breeding programs for public release. "We advised them to abandon the patents and to adopt a policy prohibiting public funding of genetic seed sterilization," Michael Sligh recalls, "Their response was always that they wanted to use the deal as 'leverage' on the company to protect the public interest."

"Secretary Glickman needs to tell the world why this deal is being cut," asserts Julie Delahanty of RAFI. "During the UN Biodiversity Convention meetings in Nairobi in May, the delegates agreed to a moratorium on all field testing and commercialization of Terminator and other similar technologies. Many countries requested an outright ban on Terminator, and others expressed the concern that Terminator could be used as a trade weapon to force them to obey US trade and patent laws. Some countries even see Terminator as a form of biological warfare since poor farmers could become dependent on seeds that they are prohibited from saving. To date, nobody in the Administration has offered a convincing excuse for giving the technology the go-ahead," concludes Delahanty.

Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman took the helm of USDA in March, 1995. During his watch USDA 's Agricultural Research Service applied for and received three Terminator patents with Delta & Pine Land. "Terminator is a bitter biotech legacy to leave to the world's farmers," notes Shand, "and that's how Glickman's USDA will be remembered, unless the Agency reforms its pro-Terminator policy."

For Further Information:

Hope Shand, RAFI - 919 960-5223 Julie Delahanty, RAFI - 819 827-9949 Michael Sligh, RAFI-USA - 919 929-7099

RAFI-USA is a private, non-profit organization based in Pittsboro, NC dedicated to community, equity and diversity in agriculture.

RAFI (The Rural Advancement Foundation International) is an international civil society organization based in Canada. RAFI is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and to the socially responsible development of technologies useful to rural societies. RAFI is concerned about the loss of agricultural biodiversity, and the impact of intellectual property on farmers and food security.

RAFI International Office, 110 Osborne Street, Suite 202, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3L 1Y5 Canada Tel: 204 453-5259 Fax: 204 925-8034 email: rafi