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Context of 'June 24, 1999: Rockefeller Foundation President Tells Monsanto to End its Research into Terminator Technology'

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December 1, 1971: Liddy Joins CREEP

G. Gordon LiddyG. Gordon Liddy [Source: ViewImages.com]G. Gordon Liddy, a lawyer with the White House, leaves his position to join the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Committee to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

A number of agricultural biotech firms secure patents on genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). GURT, more commonly known as “terminator” technology, involves genetically engineering seeds to grow into sterile plants. The motivation behind this technology is to provide a means for seed companies to protect their intellectual property rights. By making their seeds genetically sterile, seed companies can prevent farmers from saving and replanting proprietary seeds, thus forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every year. Critics say that biotech companies intend to use the technology to force their seeds on Third World farmers, most of whom engage in subsistence-level farming and plant only common seed. The seed industry sees these farmers as a huge untapped market. Seed savers number an estimated 1.4 billion farmers worldwide—100 million in Latin America, 300 million in Africa, and 1 billion in Asia—and are responsible for growing between 15 and 20 percent of the world’s food supply. [USPTO Patent Database, 3/3/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998; Ecologist, 9/1998] In addition to GURT, companies are seeking to develop a similar technology, called T-GURT or genetic trait control. This technology would make plant growth or the expression of certain genes contingent on whether or not the seed or plant is exposed to certain chemicals. For example, AstraZeneca is developing a technology to produce crops that would fail to grow properly if they are not regularly exposed to the company’s chemicals. The Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) suggests that T-GURT could serve as a platform upon which certain proprietary traits could be placed. In order to turn positive traits (e.g., herbicide-resistance) on, or negative traits (e.g., sterility) off, the farmer would need to either apply proprietary chemicals to the crops as they grow or pay to have the seeds soaked in a catalyst solution prior to planting. Critics note that this technology, like terminator technology, would require that farmers pay every year to have functioning seeds. Farmers would, in effect, be leasing the seed. Companies developing GURT and T-GURT seeds include Novartis, AstraZeneca, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc, and DuPont. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999]
Critics Say: -
bullet Terminator seeds would either turn poor farmers into “bioserfs,” by requiring them to pay for their seed every year, or drive these farmers out of farming all together. Proponents counter that farmers would not be forced to buy the seed. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet If biotech seed companies were to penetrate the markets of non-industrialized countries, their seeds would replace thousands of locally grown and adapted varieties resulting in a significant loss of the world’s agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet The use of terminator technology would allow the seed industry to expand into new sectors of the seed market, like those for self-pollinating crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, oats and sorghum, according to the Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). “Historically there has been little commercial interest in non-hybridized seeds such as wheat and rice because there was no way for seed companies to control reproduction. With the patent announcement, the world’s two most critical food crops—rice and wheat—staple crops for three-quarters of the world’s poor, potentially enter the realm of private monopoly.” The organization notes that according to FAO, wheat, the world’s most widely cultivated crop, was grown on 219 million hectares in 1995. Rice, which was cultivated on 149 million hectares that year, produced the most crop by weight at 542 million tons. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Critics warn that terminator technology would threaten the farmers’ expertise in seed selection and traditional plant breeding. [India, 12/2/1998]
bullet Some scientists have warned that introducing terminator genes into the germplasm could result in the development of a virus that could disable all non-terminator seeds. “This is perfectly possible,” according to Dr. Owain Williams, of the Gaia Foundation. “Already bacteria have been developed for fixing nitrogen into corn roots, so why not a killer bacteria?” [Independent, 3/22/1998]
bullet Terminator technology is also likened to piracy. Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, write: “Patenting genes the same way you patent software robs Third World farmers. While they and their ancestors developed almost all important food crops, transnational corporations can now blithely patent those crops and make mega profits without in any way compensating traditional farm communities for the original research. Genetic resources taken freely from southern countries will be returned to them later as pricey patented commodities. ‘Terminator’ technology is a way of locking this ‘bio-piracy’ into the very genes themselves.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/1/1999]
Proponents Say: -
bullet Supporters of the technology say that farmers will not be required to buy the seed and therefore will not purchase it unless they perceive some benefit from using it. Critics say that this scenario is not realistic. In a market dominated by an ever diminishing number of seed companies, selection will be limited. RAFI notes: “Current trends in seed industry consolidation, coupled with rapid declines in public sector breeding, mean that farmers are increasingly vulnerable and have far fewer options in the marketplace.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Some proponents argue that terminator seeds would be no different than F1 hybrids, which produce lower quality seeds than their parents. [London Times, 11/4/1998]
bullet Advocates say that terminator technology will allow the industry to safely release genetically modified plants into the environment, without the risk of contaminating related crops or wild plants. [New Scientist, 2/26/2005] Critics say that alleged benefit is outweighed by the danger terminator seeds pose to food safety, farmers’ rights, and agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]

Timeline Tags: Seeds, Food Safety

Dr. Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, says in a speech before Monsanto’s board of directors: “The agricultural seed industry must disavow use of the terminator technology to produce seed sterility… The possible consequences, if farmers who are unaware of the characteristics of terminator seed purchase it and attempt to reuse it, are certainly negative and may outweigh any social benefits of protecting innovation.” [Conway, 1/24/1999]

Entity Tags: Gordon Conway

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Monsanto CEO Robert B. Shapiro says in an open letter to Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, that Monsanto is “making a public commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technologies, such as the one dubbed ‘terminator.’” Conway had asked the company’s board of directors to “disavow use of the terminator technology” (see June 24, 1999). Shapiro says the company still intends to research other technologies that would help the company protect its intellectual property rights Such technologies would include ways to switch certain genetic traits vital to a crop’s productivity on or off. Critics have called this technology “traitor” and say that, like terminator seeds, this technology would also threaten biodiversity, food security, and the 12,000 year old practice of seed saving. [Shapiro, 10/4/1999; BBC, 10/5/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Robert B. Shapiro, Gordon Conway

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Shortly after Monsanto announced (see October 4, 1999) that it would not commercialize sterile seed technologies, the Department of Agriculture’s Richard Parry tells the Wall Street Journal, “I think Monsanto needs to carefully reconsider its position.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/22/1999]

Entity Tags: Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Monsanto

Timeline Tags: Seeds

William Cowan.William Cowan. [Source: The Intelligence Summit]Fourteen Marines die in Iraq. Hours after their deaths, William Cowan, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) who has grown increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call the Pentagon’s “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, telephones the Pentagon to advise officials that his upcoming comments on Fox “may not all be friendly.” He is then given a private briefing, quickly arranged by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s senior aides. But Cowan then tells Fox host Bill O’Reilly that it has been “a bad week” in Iraq, that many military officials he has talked to were “expressing a lot of dismay and disappointment at the way things are going,” and the US is “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq. The repercussions are almost immediate. According to Cowan, he is “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” Cowan later recalls: “Suddenly, boom, I never got another telephone call, I never got another e-mail from them.… I was just booted off the group. I was fired.” Cowan will say that he and other analysts were given special access only “as long as they thought I was serving their purposes.… I drink nobody’s Kool-Aid.” The next day, the other analysts take part in a conference call with General James Conway, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he urges them not to let the Marines’ deaths erode support for the war. Conway is blunt, saying directly that the US citizenry is the main target of Pentagon propaganda. “The strategic target remains our population,” he tells them. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.” An analyst chimes in, “General, I just made that point on the air.” Conway says, “Let’s work it together, guys.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008; Washington Post, 4/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Joint Chiefs of Staff, William Cowan, James Conway, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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