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Seeds

Seed Industry

Project: Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Over the span of two decades, Monsanto accumulates approximately 650 plant-related biotech patents, including the patent on the 35S promoter, a genetic mechanism used extensively in the biotech industry. All biotech companies using the promoter must pay Monsanto a technology use fee. By 2004, the company has a 29.82 percent share of all research and development in the biotech industry. [Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 13 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Biotech patents, Monsanto

Monsanto files a patent application in Canada for a technology that makes plants resistant to glyphosate herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup. The patent would apply to the genes and cells containing the DNA that makes the plant glyphosate-resistant; it would not apply to the plant itself. [Canadian Patents Database, 2/23/1993; Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Percy Schmeiser, 3/29/2001, pp. 8 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Biotech patents, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

Upon learning that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided not to require special regulation for genetically engineered foods (see May 26, 1992), FDA scientist Dr. Louis J. Pribyl blasts the decision in a memo to his colleagues. “This is the industry’s pet idea, namely that there are no unintended effects that will raise the FDA’s level of concern,” he writes. “But time and time again, there is no data to back up their contention.” Pribyl, one of 17 government scientists who have been working on a policy for genetically engineered food, knows from his own research and studies that the introduction of new genes into a plant’s cell can produce toxins. [New York Times, 1/25/2001]

Entity Tags: Louis J. Pribyl, Food and Drug Administration

Category Tags: Public-private collaboration, Public Health

Canada grants Monsanto patent no. 1313830 for glyphosate-resistant plant genes and cells. The patent grants the company the exclusive right, privilege, and liberty of making, constructing, using, and selling the invention in Canada until the patent’s expiration on February 23, 2010. [Canadian Patents Database, 2/23/1993; Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Percy Schmeiser, 3/29/2001, pp. 3 pdf file] Though Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act protects the intellectual property rights of seed developers, Monsanto felt a patent would provide more protection since it would deny farmers the right to save and re-use seeds containing the company’s patented genes and cells. [Federal Court of Canada, 6/22/2000, pp. 43 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Biotech patents, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

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: Food Safety

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Food security, Biotech/seed industry, Biodiversity, Farmers' rights, Environment, Biotech patents

Monsanto’s “Technology Use Agreement” requires farmers to pay a $12 ($15 CAD) technology fee for every acre they plant with Monsanto’s patented seed. Farmers pay the fee to the store where they purchase the seed. Under the terms of the agreement, farmers must deliver all of their crop to an elevator or crushing plant—they are prohibited from saving and replanting any harvested seed. They therefore must purchase new seed every year. They are also prohibited from making the seed available to other farmers, a practice known as “brown-bagging.” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999] “Monsanto effectively gains a license to control the seed even after the farmer has bought, planted, and harvested it,” notes a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety. [Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 13 pdf file] For thousands of years farmers have been planting the seeds they collected from the previous year’s harvest. Monsanto’s restrictions therefore cause great concern among organizations that deal with global food security since three-quarters of the world’s food producers are subsistence farmers who plant saved seeds. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] The contract also gives Monsanto the right to come onto a farmer’s land to take plant samples for three years after a farmer has stopped using the company’s seed. Another stipulation in the contract specifies that farmers can only use Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. This clause virtually guarantees Monsanto a dominant share in the non-selective herbicide market for its Roundup herbicide—which has no patent protection in Canada and whose patent in the US expires in 2000. Though many farmers are reportedly happy with the product, few like the provisions in this contract. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999] “This is part of the agricultural revolution, and any revolution is painful. But the technology is good technology,” says Karen Marshall, a Monsanto spokeswoman. The company says the no-replant policy is necessary in order to recoup the millions of dollars it has spent on research and development. The company claims its genetically modified seeds are increasing farmers’ yields and making it possible for them to use more environmentally-friendly pesticides. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999]

Entity Tags: Karen Marshall, Monsanto

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Coercive tactics

Kirk Azevedo lands a job with the Monsanto Company. Young and idealistic, he is later described by author Jeffrey Smith as the “perfect candidate to project the company’s ‘Save the world through genetic engineering’ image.” He is fascinated with the company’s CEO, Robert Shapiro, who talks about genetically modified organisms being used to “reduce the in-process waste from manufacturing, turn our fields into factories and produce anything from lifesaving drugs to insect-resistant plants,” Azevedo later recalls. But three months after taking the job, after a meeting at the company’s headquarters in St. Louis, a vice president tells him, “What [CEO] Robert Shapiro says is one thing. But what we do is something else. We are here to make money. He is the front man who tells a story. We don’t even understand what he is saying.” [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Kirk Azevedo

Category Tags: Perception management, Monsanto

Monsanto spends $8 billion acquiring, or establishing relationships with, several US and foreign seed companies. [Canadian Business, 10/8/1999; Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 9-10 pdf file] The list of companies includes: Calgene, Inc.; Asgrow Agronomics; Asgrow and Stine Seed; Agracetus; Holden’s Foundation Seeds, Inc.; Monsoy (a Brazilian soybean company); Cargill’s international seed divisions (with operations in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central and South America); Plant Breeding International; and DeKalb Genetics (the world’s second largest seed company). Pioneer Hi-Bred is the only major US seed company that Monsanto does not buy out. However, Pioneer has purchased rights from Monsanto to use technology relating to Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn. A 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety will say that one of the factors contributing to Monsanto’s cornering of the GM market (see 1998 and later) is its control of these seed companies. “[T]hese companies (often owned or indirectly controlled by Monsanto) had to agree that 90 percent of the sales of herbicide-tolerant soybeans would contain Monsanto’s patented technology. This requirement was later dropped to 70 percent after Monsanto came under scrutiny from government regulators. Through this sort of ownership and control of seed companies, Monsanto has been able to ensure that competition [will] remain small and that its patented genetically engineered crop varieties [will] be the ones most readily available to the American farmer.” [Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 9-10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Calgene, Inc, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Agracetus, Asgrow and Stine Seed, Asgrow Agronomics, Holden’s Foundation Seeds, Inc, Monsoy, Plant Breeding International, DeKalb Genetics, Cargill

Category Tags: Seed/biotech industry consolidation, Monsanto

To enforce its “Technology Use Agreement” (see 1996), Monsanto sends detectives into farming communities to ensure that all fields planted with its patented seeds have been paid for. Farmers call them the “Monsanto police.” In the US, Monsanto has a contract with Pinkerton Security and Consulting. In Canada, the company uses Robinson Investigation Canada Ltd., which employs a team of former Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Monsanto also encourages farmers to use a toll-free “tip line” to blow the whistle on noncompliant neighbors. According to one farmer, Monsanto promises to reward snitchers with a leather jacket, an allegation that Monsanto denies. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Canadian Business, 10/8/1999] Another tactic employed by the company is to place radio ads broadcasting the names of growers caught illegally planting Monsanto’s seeds. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] Monsanto threatens legal action against any farmer who it believes has violated the agreement. Suing one’s own customers “is a little touchy,” Karen Marshall, a Monsanto spokeswoman, concedes, adding that after spending so much money on research, Monsanto doesn’t want “to give the technology away.” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] Craig Evans, the head of Monsanto’s Canadian biotechnology operation in Winnipeg, says: “At the end of the day if we don’t enforce our patent rights, the potential for new technology to come forward to maintain the competitiveness of the industry could disappear, because if you can’t get the return, then you’re going to take your technology somewhere else. We’re just trying to be fair. All I’m trying to do is fulfill the promise of the growers who said, ‘Monsanto, I’m willing to pay you for your technology as long as everyone’s paying.’” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] Critics say Monsanto’s actions are tearing away at the social fabric that has traditionally held farming communities together. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999; Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), 4/14/2005] “Farmers here are calling it a reign of terror,” according to canola farmer Percy Schmeiser. “Everyone’s looking at each other and asking, ‘Did my neighbor say something?’” [Washington Post, 2/3/1999] “Our rural communities are being turned into corporate police states and farmers are being turned into criminals,” Hope Shand, research director of Rural Advancement Foundation International, explains to the Washington Post in 1999. [Washington Post, 2/3/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Robinson Investigation Canada Ltd, Pinkerton Security and Consulting, Percy Schmeiser, Craig Evans, Karen Marshall, Hope Shand

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Coercive tactics

Between 1997 and 2002, Monsanto makes at least $700,000 in illicit payments to at least 140 current and former Indonesian government officials and their family members in an effort to obtain legislation and ministerial decrees supporting the cultivation of genetically modified crops. The payments are made through Monsanto’s affiliates and representatives who have offices in Jakarta. The largest payment is for $373,990, which is used to design and build a house for a senior Ministry of Agriculture official. Monsanto even purchases the land for the house. “Other examples of improper payments include, among others, payments to a senior official of Budget Allocation at the National Planning and Development Board, totaling $86,690, and payments to other Ministry of Agriculture officials, totaling $8,100,” according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. $29,500 is given to officials at the agriculture ministry in South Sulawesi, where the first shipment of Monsanto cotton is sent in 2001 (see March 15, 2001). [Reuters, 1/7/2001; Jakarta Post, 1/10/2001; US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1/6/2005; BBC, 1/7/2005] The payments are financed in part “through unauthorized, improperly documented and inflated sales of Monsanto’s pesticide products in Indonesia,” Monsanto later admits. [Monsanto, 1/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Indonesia, Coercive tactics

Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto’s facilitator for genetically modified cotton sales in California and Arizona, will later say that around this time he discovered that Monsanto is feeding GM cotton plants from test fields to cattle. “I had great issue with this. I had worked for Abbot Laboratories doing research, doing test plots using Bt sprays from bacteria. We would never take a test plot and put [it] into the food supply, even with somewhat benign chemistries. We would always destroy the test plot material and not let anything into the food supply.” When he explains to the Ph.D. in charge of the test plot that feeding experimental plants containing unknown proteins (see 1996) to cows is a potential health risk to humans, the scientist refuses to end the practice. “Well that’s what we’re doing everywhere else and that’s what we’re doing here,” Azevedo recalls the scientist saying. Azevedo then raises his concerns with other employees in Monsanto. “I approached pretty much everyone on my team in Monsanto” but no one seemed interested, and in fact, people started to ignore him. Next, he contacts California agriculture commissioners whose responsibility it is to ensure that the management and design of test plots do not pose any risks to public health. But, “once again, even at the Ag commissioner level, they were dealing with a new technology that was beyond their comprehension,” Azevedo later explains. “They did not really grasp what untoward effects might be created by the genetic engineering process itself.” He also tries unsuccessfully to speak with people at the University of California. Frustrated with the company and the government’s apparent lack of concern, he quits his job at Monsanto in early January 1998. [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Kirk Azevedo

Category Tags: Public Health, Biotech/seed industry, Public Health, Experimental GM Crops, Biotech/seed industry, Monsanto, Public Health, Cotton

Monsanto’s net sales for the year is $8.6 billion and its share of the genetically modified seed market is 88 percent. Trailing behind Monsanto are Novartis and DuPont. [Canadian Business, 10/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Dupont, Novartis, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Seed/biotech industry consolidation

Monsanto has become the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds and the second largest seller of all seed types. Only Pioneer Hi-Bred, soon to be purchased by Dupont (see March 14, 1999), sells more seeds than Monsanto. Within the US, Monsanto directly or indirectly controls nearly half the corn germplasm market and most of the soybean market. Its dominant position in the market has been attributed to several factors: its two-year buying spree of other seed companies (see 1996-1998), its control of a large percentage of the biotech industry’s plant patents (see 1980s-2004), and the Technology Use Agreement (see 1996) it forces farmers to sign. According to a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the availability of conventional seeds to farmers worldwide has been dramatically reduced as a result of Monsanto’s control of the market. “For many farmers across the country, it has become difficult if not impossible, to find high quality, conventional varieties of corn, soy, and cotton seed. Making matters worse, the direction of land-grant university research has been shifting away from producing new conventional seed varieties and toward biotech applications,” the report says. Indiana soybean farmer Troy Roush tells the Center, “You can’t even purchase them in this market. They’re not available.” Another farmer interviewed by the organization, a Texan, similarly states, “Just about the only cottonseed you can get these days is [genetically engineered]. Same thing with the corn varieties. There’s not too many seeds available that are not genetically altered in some way.” [Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 9-10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Biotech/seed industry, Monsanto, Farmers' rights, Biodiversity

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta & Pine Land Company jointly obtain US patent 5,723,765 for a technology that would be used to make sterile seeds (see 1994 and after). The seeds, dubbed “terminator” seeds by critics, would grow into plants that would produce seeds that when replanted would literally kill themselves by producing a toxic protein. Delta & Pine Land has exclusive licensing rights, while the USDA would earn about 5 percent of the net sales of any commercial product using the technology. The USDA and Pine Land Co. have also applied for patents in at least 78 other countries. Delta & Pine Land says in its press release that the technology has “the prospect of opening significant worldwide seed markets to the sale of transgenic technology for crops in which seed currently is saved and used in subsequent plantings.” [USPTO Patent Database, 3/3/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998; Ecologist, 9/1998]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company, US Department of Agriculture

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration, Biotech patents

Willard Phelps of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) that the goal of terminator technology is “to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and Third World countries.” Phelps says he wants terminator technology to be “widely licensed and made expeditiously available to many seed companies.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998] The USDA shares a patent for terminator technology with Delta & Pine Land (see March 3, 1998).

Entity Tags: Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, Willard Phelps

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration

Monsanto says it will purchase Delta & Pine Land Company, the company that shares a jointly-held patent on terminator technology with the US Department of Agriculture (see March 3, 1998). [Ecologist, 9/1998] The acquisition will be stalled by US anti-trust agencies, and in December 1999 Monsanto will drop its bid (see December 19, 1999).

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company

Category Tags: Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land, Terminator seeds, Seed/biotech industry consolidation

A group of Monsanto-hired consultants urge some of Africa’s most prominent academics and politicians to sign a public statement titled, “Let the Harvest Begin.” It would be published “in major European newspapers in early June.” The statement argues that biotechnology is the answer to world hunger. “Many of our needs have an ally in biotechnology and the promising advances it offers for our future,” the statement reads. “With these advances, we prosper; without them, we cannot thrive… Slowing its acceptance is a luxury our hungry world cannot afford.” Monsanto’s name appears on the draft declaration in tiny text. According to reporter and columnist George Monbiot, “readers could be forgiven for imagining that the statement is the initiative of the signatories, rather than the company.” [Global Business Access Ltd, n.d.; Guardian, 6/4/1998]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Perception management, Monsanto

During a debate on terminator technology held during the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Harry Collins, Delta and Pine Land’s vice president for technology transfer, distributes a paper in which he claims, “The centuries old practice of farmer-saved seed is really a gross disadvantage to Third World farmers who inadvertently become locked into obsolete varieties because of their taking the ‘easy road’ and not planting newer, more productive varieties.” [Collins, 1998; Ecologist, 9/1998]

Entity Tags: Harry B. Collins

Category Tags: Biotech/seed industry, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds, Delta & Pine Land

Darwin Murrell of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) emails a memo informing the department’s scientists that any research into terminator technology must now be reviewed by senior managers. The USDA jointly holds a patent on the technology with Delta & Pine Land (see March 3, 1998). This is a “sensitive issue,” Murrell says. “Imposing an extra level of review for this research will not create undue delays nor will it restrict the creative talents of our scientists, but it will help them avoid potential political and legal pitfalls.” [New Scientist, 10/10/1998]

Entity Tags: US Department of Agriculture, Clinton administration

Category Tags: Public-private collaboration, Delta & Pine Land, Terminator seeds, Perception management

Just three years after its introduction into the market (see 1996), Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola is being grown by some 20,000 Canadian farmers, representing nearly half of Canada’s canola market. [Canadian Business, 10/8/1999]

Category Tags: Monsanto, Seed/biotech industry consolidation, Canola

A bill that would require registration and state-level regulation for seed cleaners is introduced into the Ohio state legislature. Seed cleaners are businesses that “clean” seeds for farmers by removing the chaff (which includes grit, dirt, cut plant material). The proposal, introduced by Rep. Joe Haines, is being pushed by Monsanto. James E. Betts, a Columbus attorney who represents Monsanto, tells the Columbus Dispatch, “One of the things the state has a legitimate interest in is regulating the marketplace. It’s important that every seed a farmer gets is a pure seed and is, essentially, as advertised. The seed-cleaning business is not licensed or registered. It’s a segment of seed market that has not been identified.” Seed cleaners would be required to keep records on every farmer who has seeds cleaned or conditioned. For example, the cleaner would need to record the following: the accepted name and brand or variety of the seed; any patents or plant variety protection certificates associated with the seed; the farmer’s contact information; and the amount of seed being cleaned or conditioned. Farmers would also have to sign an indemnification statement, which would also be held by the seed cleaner. The seed cleaner would be obligated under law to store these records for five years and make them available upon request to the State’s Director of Agriculture. Roger Peters, an Ohio farmer and seed cleaner, asks, “Why should any farmer be forced to keep records on law-abiding farmers who clean their own seed? And why should public tax dollars be used to protect the patents of private seed companies like Monsanto?” Sean McGovern, executive administrator of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farmers Association, has similar feelings about the bill. “I can’t imagine any use for this bill accept to enforce Monsanto’s patents,” he says. [General Assembly of the State of Ohio, 1/28/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/7/1999; Columbus Dispatch, 4/4/1999] The bill is not passed. [General Assembly of the State of Ohio, 1/28/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Ohio

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Biotech/seed industry, National legislation/policy

DuPont pays $7.7 billion for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., making DuPont the world’s largest seed supplier. [Wall Street Journal, 12/22/1999]

Entity Tags: Dupont, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.

Category Tags: Seed/biotech industry consolidation

Maurice F. Strong, a former secretary general of UNCED, says in a lecture on world hunger, “If the owners of technology, such as big companies, used [biotechnology] to victimize people through methods such as promotion of ‘terminator genes,’ the state should intervene and not leave the task to the market mechanism.” [Hindu, 4/8/1999; ETC Group, 2/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Maurice F. Strong

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Food security, Biotech/seed industry

The Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (SBSTTA) rejects proposals during a meeting in Montreal to recommend a permanent moratorium on genetic use restriction technologies (GURT). GURTs are those which use genetic engineering to restrict the growth of plants in order to protect the intellectual property rights of the seed developer. The most well-known restriction technology is “terminator” technology (see 1994 and after). Another is “traitor” technology, so named because the traits of seeds and plants produced with this technology can be genetically controlled, e.g., a certain proprietary chemical may be required in order for certain genes to be expressed. The proposal to ban GURTs was made after a report by a blue-ribbon scientific panel was presented before the SBSTTA. The report had concluded that restriction technologies are a threat to agricultural biodiversity and national food security. The delegates at the meeting reportedly agreed that the study was broadly based and well done. After listening to the report, the government of Norway proposed that the SBSTTA recommend a moratorium on field trials and commercialization of the technology. India, Portugal, Kenya, Peru, and several other countries backed the proposal. The US opposed it, as did Canada—though only the US delegation attempted to defend the technology. One of the concerns expressed by supporters of the proposal was that terminator technology could be used to strong arm poorer countries into adopting or accepting certain trade policies. Countries like the US, it was suggested, could withhold seed or the chemicals needed to sustain the growth of chemically dependent plants as a sort of ransom. With the US and Canada opposed to Norway’s proposal, an alternative resolution was drafted by Britain (and then amended by Suriname). Though different than Norway’s, Britain’s proposal would have also recommended a ban on commercialization and field trials. But this was not considered agreeable either. Finally, a “contact group” was formed, which went into private discussion. The compromise that resulted from the closed-door meeting looked nothing like either of the original proposals. Under the provisions of the compromise resolution, governments would have the option of imposing a ban on field trials and commercialization. It failed to affirm the conclusions of the Blue Panel report, making no mention of GURT posing a direct threat to biodiversity or national sovereignty over genetic resources. “I don’t know what happened in that room,” Silvia Ribeiro of Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) says, “There were two reasonably strong resolutions when they went in and one very weak proposal when they came out. I think the South has been tricked.” The new proposal was then weakened even further by the efforts of Australia. Even an industry representative took a stab at weakening the proposal. “In the feeding frenzy, a representative from the seed industry became so excited that he took the floor, presumed the prerogative of a government, and proposed additional resolution text to restrict farmers’ rights to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed,” according to RAFI. The following day, during a plenary discussion, RAFI called attention to a little noticed provision that had been slipped into the draft by Australia as an amendment. RAFI noted that it would restrict countries’ rights to impose a moratorium on GURT by linking any moratorium to potential trade sanctions. “Shortly before the debate ended, the US delegation made an ugly and aggressive intervention that put the question to rest: The US bluntly threatened trade sanctions on countries that impose a moratorium and made clear that it was willing to use the WTO to force terminator down the world’s throat,” according to RAFI. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/25/1999; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999, pp. 23-26 pdf file; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/28/1999; Economic Times of India, 7/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Suriname, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, Portugal, United States, United Kingdom, Peru, Kenya, Australia, Canada, Norway, India

Category Tags: Coercive tactics, Biodiversity, Food security, Studies-other, Terminator seeds

The US Department of Agriculture and cotton seed producer Delta & Pine Land jointly acquire a new patent (US Patent No 5,925,808) for genetic seed sterilization, also known as terminator technology. The patent is for innovations related to its original patent for seed sterilization (see March 3, 1998) issued in March 1998. [USPTO Patent Database, 7/20/1999]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company, US Department of Agriculture

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biotech patents, Public-private collaboration

The US Patent office issues its third patent (US Patent No 5,977,441) to the US Department of Agriculture and cotton seed producer Delta & Pine Land for genetic seed sterilization, commonly known as terminator technology. The patent is for innovations related to two earlier patents (see March 3, 1998) issued in March 1998 and July 1999 (see July 20, 1999). [USPTO Patent Database, 11/2/1999]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company, US Department of Agriculture

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biotech patents, Public-private collaboration

The Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) files a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto on behalf of a group of Iowa, Indiana, and French farmers. The suit alleges that Monsanto failed to ensure that its genetically modified seeds were safe for consumers and the environment before it brought them to market. It also claims that the company, which has bought out numerous seed companies in recent years (see 1996-1998), seeks to control world production of agriculture and food through the spread of its patented genes. “Through various anti-competitive practices, it seeks to control world production of agriculture and food, with particular concentration on power over seeds,” says Jeremy Rifkin, the foundation’s president. “What this means is that if the companies get their way, no farmer in the world will ever own a seed again. If that doesn’t hold implications for anti-trust law in the world of agriculture, then I don’t know what does.” [Reuters, 12/15/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Jeremy Rifkin, Foundation on Economic Trends

Category Tags: Monsanto, Sample v. Monsanto, Seed/biotech industry consolidation

Biotech giant Monsanto and drug maker Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc. agree to merge. Together the two companies have a combined market value of about $52 billion. [New York Times, 12/20/1999] Shortly after the merger announcement, Monsanto says it has decided to drop its bid (see May 11, 1998) for Delta & Pine Land, the cotton seed company that shares a patent (see March 3, 1998) with the Department of Agriculture for terminator technology. [Reuters, 12/22/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc, Delta & Pine Land Company

Category Tags: Seed/biotech industry consolidation, Monsanto

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

Category Tags: Monsanto, Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Ethics Panel meets in Rome to consider the ethical implications of recent advances in biotechnology. The panel is made up of world-renowned agronomists and ethicists. The focus of their discussion is on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Following the meeting, the panel prepares a report that includes a summary of its views and lists a number of recommendations. The overriding concern of the report, completed some time in 2001, is that there is an inherent conflict between the interests of the corporations developing the technology and the social issues that GMO defenders say the technology will address. The biotech industry’s primary concern is “to maximize profits,” not to address the needs of the world’s rural poor, the report says. The panel notes that the private sector receives more resources than the public sector for GMO research, and that in some cases, public resources are actually being diverted to support private sector priorities. Another problem, according to the panel, is that the adoption of GM crops could undermine farmers’ livelihoods. Noting the power and leverage enjoyed by industry, the panel’s report warns that seed companies “may gain too much control over the rights of local farmers” and create a dependency among the rural poor on imported seeds. This would especially be the case if the biotech industry were to move ahead with genetic use restriction technologies (GURT), more commonly known as terminator technology (see 1994 and after). “The Panel unanimously stated that the ‘terminator seeds’ are generally unethical, as it is deemed unacceptable to market seeds whose offspring a farmer cannot use again because the seeds do not germinate,” the report says. “GURTs are not inherent in genetic engineering. While corporations are entitled to make profits, farmers should not be forced to become dependent on the supplier for new seeds every planting season.” However the panel says it does believe there is potential for the ethical use of GURTs. According to the panel, “Where the concern is with possible outcrossing of crops, for example GMOs that could damage wild plant populations, GURTs might be justified. This may also apply elsewhere: when the primary concern is to prevent reproduction of farmed fish with wild populations, for example, then GURTs could be useful in protecting wild populations.” In conclusion, the panel stresses the need for independent, publicly-funded research on GMOs that is “directed to the needs and benefits of poor farmers, herders, foresters and fishers.” [Food and Agriculture Organization, 2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture

Category Tags: Studies-other, Terminator seeds, Farmers' rights, Biotech/seed industry, Food security, Public-private collaboration

Don Westfall, vice president of biotech consulting company Promar International, tells the Toronto Star, “The hope of the [biotech] industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with GM food products] that there’s nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender.” [Toronto Star, 1/9/2001]

Entity Tags: Don Westfall

Category Tags: Coercive tactics, Biotech/seed industry

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta & Pine Land conclude negotiations on a licensing agreement for genetic seed sterility technology. The technology would be used to make seeds that produce sterile plants as a way for companies to prevent farmers from saving and replanting proprietary seeds. The sterile seeds have been dubbed “terminator” seeds and “suicide” seeds. Defenders of the technology say it can be used to make genetically modified plants “biosafe” since the plants would be unable to spread their genes to other plants. The USDA and Delta & Pine Land jointly hold three patents on this technology, the first being issued in March 1998. The licensing agreement, under negotiation for some time, establishes the terms and conditions under which the company can use the technology. One of the terms of the agreement is that Delta & Pine Land would not be permitted to use the technology in any heirloom varieties of garden flowers and vegetables. Critics say this is hardly a restriction considering that biotechs have never expressed any interest in heirloom plants—rather their interest is in commercial agriculture. The license also prohibits the company from making any terminator seeds available before January 1, 2003. Any seeds using the technology would also have to be tested for safety by the USDA, the agreement says. Also, the agreement requires that the USDA allocate any royalties it receives to the USDA’s technology transfer efforts. [US Department of Agriculture, 8/1/2001; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 8/3/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Agriculture, Delta & Pine Land Company

Category Tags: Delta & Pine Land, Public-private collaboration, Terminator seeds

When Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist who recently discovered the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in Mexican maize (see October 2000), meets with a Mexican agricultural official to discuss the GM contamination, he is warned not to publish his research. Chapela later recalls in an interview with BBC Newsnight, “He [told] me how terrible it was that I was doing the research and how dangerous it would be for me to publish.” When he refuses to back off the issue, the official suggests that Chapela join a research team tasked with proving that the suspected GM genes are actually naturally occuring gene sequences similar to the ones in GM corn. “We were supposed to find this in an elite scientific research team of which I was being invited to be part of and the other people were two people from Monsanto and two people from Dupont supposedly… .” Monsanto denies its scientists were involved in any such study. Chapela also meets with Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, whose officials are concerned about the discovery. They launch their own investigation and also find evidence of contamination (see September 18, 2001). [BBC, 6/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Ignacio Chapela, Mexico, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: Coercive tactics, Mexico, Monsanto

Upset about the Indonesian government’s decree (see January 2003-August 2003) to require an environmental impact assessment prior to the cultivation of Monsanto’s Bollgard Bt cotton in the province of South Sulawesi, Monsanto steps up its lobbying. Representatives of the company reportedly meet with a senior environment ministry official on several occasions. But after it becomes apparent that its lobbying efforts are having little effect, it resorts to bribery. [Jakarta Post, 1/10/2001; US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1/6/2005; US Department of Justice, 1/6/2005] In February 2002, a US-based Monsanto senior manager, instructs the company’s lobbyist, PT Harvest International Indonesia, to “incentivize” the senior environment official who had ordered the environmental impact study. [Jakarta Post, 1/10/2001; US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1/6/2005] Some time later, an employee of the consulting firm visits the senior Indonesian official and hands him an envelope containing $50,000 in $100 bills. The official accepts the money but says he can’t guarantee that he will be able to get the decree repealed. The senior Monsanto manager instructs the consultant to disguise the bribe as “consulting fees” in his invoice to Monsanto. The firm also includes in its invoice the additional income taxes it will owe because of the phony fees, bringing the invoice’s total to $66,000. [US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1/6/2005; Asia Times, 1/20/2005] Harvest’s president-director, Harvey Goldstein, a US citizen, will later deny that his company was involved in any bribery. “Harvest has never been involved in corruption whatsoever,” he will tell reporters. [Jakarta Post, 1/14/2001] The identity of the Monsanto manager is never revealed. According to the US Justice Department, that person oversees certain activities in the Asia-Pacific region. [Associated Press, 1/6/2001] Despite Monsanto’s $50,000 bribe, the senior official never reverses the requirement for the environmental impact assessment. [Jakarta Post, 1/10/2001; BBC, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: PT Harvest International Indonesia, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Indonesia, Coercive tactics

An ad hoc expert panel created by the sixth conference of the Biodiversity Convention convenes in Montreal to consider the impact that genetic use restriction technology (GURT), also known as terminator technology, would have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The expert panel hears from 11 groups including the US, Canada, two individual farmers, an indigenous rights group, four civil society organizations, the International Seed Federation, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The paper presented by UPOV, completed in January (see January 10, 2003), is not well-received by the US or industry representatives. Though the UPOV is generally an ardent supporter of intellectual rights protections, its analysis argues that GURT technology could threaten the interests of small farmers. The paper is so unwelcome, in fact, that the US and the International Seed Federation will succeed in pressuring the UPOV to revise it (see March 13, 2003-April 11, 2003), eliminating all references to GURT from the body of the paper. Prepared by Monsanto’s Roger Krueger and Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the International Seed Federation’s analysis takes the position that GURT technology would be advantageous for small farmers. Their paper argues that GURT would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with more options. “The International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that GURTs have the potential to benefit farmers and others in all size, economic and geographical areas… In reality, the potential effects of the GURTs may be beneficial to small farmers… ,” the paper asserts. “It is the strong belief and position of the ISF that GURTs would potentially provide more choice, to the farmers, rather than less choice.” Kruefer and Collins also say the technology could be used to prevent the contamination of non-transgenic plants with genetically modified genes and thus could be “quite positive for the environment and biodiversity.” [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The expert panel’s final report will list 35 “potential negative impacts” of GURT on small farmers and local communities and only nine “potential positive impacts.” It will recommend, among other things, “that parties and other governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use.” [Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Roger Krueger, Harry B. Collins

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biotech/seed industry, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds, Indigenous peoples, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land

On March 13, Lois Boland, administrator for external affairs at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), sends a letter to UPOV Vice-Secretary General Rolf Jordens asking him to withdraw UPOV’s analysis on genetic use restriction technology (GURT) (see January 10, 2003). The analysis, presented in February to an expert panel convened by the Biodiversity Convention (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003), argued that GURT would not serve the interests of farmers or the public. In her letter, Boland complains that the UPOV Council did not allow the US to see the analysis before it was presented. “Even more troubling,” she adds, “the document submitted to the CBD is not a neutral presentation of facts and prevailing opinions; instead, it represents a one-sided negative view of GURTs.” In light of these concerns, she asks that the memo be discussed at the next scheduled meeting of UPOV’s Administrative and Legal Committee on April 10, 2003. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/13/2003 pdf file] In response, Jordens suggests that the matter be considered by UPOV’s Consultative Committee instead. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 pdf file] Boland replies that that would not be acceptable and insists that it be debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/28/2003 pdf file] Jordens gives in. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 pdf file] On March 31, Secretary-General of the International Seed Federation Bernard Le Buanec also voices concerns about the UPOV analysis, writing in a letter that the federation “is really concerned by the memorandum, as it presents a variety of unbalanced views.” [International Seed Federation, 3/31/2003 pdf file] On April 10, the UPOV memo is debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. Under pressure from the US, the UPOV agrees to say that it is not a “competent body to provide advice to CBD on GURTs.” A new version of the memo is posted on the UPOV’s website the next day with the following explanation: “This document supersedes the memorandum prepared by the Office of the Union on the genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) and sent to the CBD, dated January 10, 2003.” The new version deletes all references to GURT from the body of the document. As such, the new document makes no attempt to respond to the Biodiversity Convention’s original request for analysis of GURT. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Rolf Jördens, Lois Boland, International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Public-private collaboration, Biotech/seed industry, Coercive tactics

Bill Leask, executive director of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, one of four groups that initiated the Seed Sector Review, tells Inter Press Service in an interview, “I don’t think farmers ought to have a legal right to save seeds.” He and others in the seed industry have said they believe seed saving is a “privilege.” [The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 4/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Bill Leask

Category Tags: Biotech/seed industry, Seed Sector Review, Farmers' rights

Canada’s seed industry forms a group to review and recommend changes to the regulatory framework governing Canada’s seed sector. The group is a joint venture of the Canadian Seed Growers Association, the Canadian Seed Trade Association, the Canadian Seed Institute, and the Grain Growers of Canada. It is funded with a $600,000 CAD grant from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Adaptation and Rural Development Fund. [Seed Sector Review, 5/5/2004 pdf file; Seed Sector Review, 5/5/2004 pdf file] The initiative is primarily concerned with improving the profitability of the seed sector and intends to examine ways to strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights through patents, royalties, and other changes that would make it more difficult for farmers to save seed. [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Canadian Seed Growers Association, Canadian Seed Trade Association, Agriculture Canada and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Seed Institute, Grain Growers of Canada, Seed Sector Review

Category Tags: Seed Sector Review, Public-private collaboration, Biotech/seed industry

At the ninth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA), held in Montreal, four countries—Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil—convince the body to submit a recommendation to the next meeting of the Biodiversity Convention to forego action on an expert panel report. They argued that the report was flawed because it lacked scientific rigor. The report—commissioned by members of the Biodiversity Convention in late 2002—had identified numerous potential negative impacts that terminator technology could have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). If the member countries of the Biodiversity Convention, scheduled to meet in February 2004, accepts the SBSTTA’s recommendation to forego action, the issue will not be considered again until 2006. “SBSTTA9’s decision is wrong and dangerous,” says Alejandro Argumedo of the Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network. “Giving four governments the right to derail a report on the impact of terminator on indigenous peoples and local communities is like saying that the voices of these communities are not important, and that the social and economic impacts of terminator can be dismissed.” The ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization that opposes terminator technology, suggests that the presence of representatives from biotech firms Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land may have had something to do with the four countries’ objection to the expert panel report. The organization notes that industry representatives from these very same companies had been involved in the expert panel discussion and had submitted a report insisting that GURT technologies would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with “more choice.” Both Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land have patents on GURT technology. [Convention on Biodiversity, 11/14/2003; ETC Group, 11/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Canada, Harry B. Collins, Roger Krueger, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land, Indigenous peoples, Coercive tactics

Paul Bremer, the US administrator for Iraq, issues Order 81 rewriting Iraq’s 1970 patent law. The order extends intellectual property right protections to plants, making it illegal for Iraqi farmers to save, share, or replant seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law. The order was written with the help of Linda Lourie, an attorney-advisor in the US Patent Office’s Office of External Affairs. She was invited to Iraq to help draft laws that would ensure Iraq’s eligibility into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Bremer’s order, however, makes Iraq’s patent law stricter even than the WTO-compliant 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see March 19, 1991), which allows its member-states to exempt farmers from the prohibition against seed saving. Lourie claims these changes were sanctioned by the Iraqi governing council, which she says wants Iraq to have the strongest intellectual property rules in the region in order to attract private investment. [Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, 4/4/2004 pdf file; GRAIN, 10/2004; National Public Radio, 11/24/2004]

Entity Tags: L. Paul Bremer, Linda Lourie

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Iraq, Coercive tactics, Farmers' rights

The Seed Sector Review, an industry-led initiative to restructure Canada’s seed and grain quality assurance systems (see (July 2003)), releases its phase one final report. [Inter Press Service, 10/5/2004; Natural Life, 1/2005] The report, titled Report of the Seed Sector Advisory Committee, includes several recommendations:
bullet The report expresses the view that the farmer’s “privilege” of saving and replanting seeds discourages private sector investment and makes it difficult for companies to “recoup” their investments. The report suggests developing a new system of relations between the farmer and the seed companies that would be more “equitable.” Such a method would “involve examining the balance between farmer’s privilege and breeders’ rights.” One possible solution would be to collect royalties on seed saved by farmers. “Suggestions were made that royalties could be collected through elevators or seed processors or through CWB contract programs,” the report says. [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 33 pdf file]
bullet The report notes that many participants of the Seed Sector Review would prefer that farmers be required to use certified seed. It cites several reasons why this would be desirable, including “improved intellectual property protection (and royalty collection), which would in turn support (fund) more research”; “a healthier seed grower and trade industry”; “more private sector involvement in Western Canada cereal breeding”; “elimination of the controversial brown bag market for sales of common seed”; “improved agricultural practices”; “improved confidence for quality assurance in the value chain”; and “increased profitability for the higher generation seed production and variety developers.” The report suggests several strategies that could be employed to compel farmers to buy certified seeds. Among those listed are “link crop insurance premiums with use of certified seed”; “increase the perceived value of certified seed”; collect royalties; “require specific standards on common seed” that would make it more costly for farmers to sell their own seed; and limit “the number of generations produced from certified seed,” which the reports notes would also result in common seed becoming “too expensive, making certified seed more economical.” [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 42 pdf file]
bullet The report notes that participants in the review would like to see the current wheat quality system, based on kernel visual distinguishability (KVD), replaced with a new system. They complain that KVD is a “stumbling block to innovation.” Several suggestions for an alternative system are made in the report. The report acknowledges that moving to a new system would be costly and suggests that this should be paid in part with public funds. “There should be some level of public investment in its development and implementation to support the competitive position of Canadian exports.” According to Canada’s National Farmers Union (NFU), the alternative systems suggested in the document “would increase farmers’ costs for administration, testing, segregation, identity preservation, dispute settlement, and transport costs.” [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 41 pdf file]
bullet The report considers the advantages that seed producers would have if Canada were to make its Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) Act compliant with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Convention (UPOV) of 1991 (see March 19, 1991). The 1991 UPOV is much more restrictive for farmers than the 1978 UPOV, upon which Canada’s PBR Act is currently based. Adopting the 1991 UPOV for the PBR’s framework would, among other things, lengthen plant breeders’ protection and royalty periods from 15 years to 20 years; take away farmers’ automatic right—protected in UPOV ‘78—to save, re-use, and sell seed (which is referred to as the “Farmers’ Exemption” in the UPOV Convention) [National Farmers Union, 5/13/2004, pp. 3-4 pdf file] ; create “a cascade right to extend PBR to harvested material and end products in crops where breeders did not have the opportunity to exercise his [sic] rights on propagating material” (The seed companies would need this change in order to collect royalties at elevators and seed cleaning facilities); and pave the way for seed companies to patent seed already protected under the Plant Breeders Rights Act. The report notes that participants in the review were highly supportive of the proposal to adopt the 1991 UPOV (see March 19, 1991). “[T]his change should be made as soon as possible.” [Canadian Seed Alliance, 5/5/2004, pp. 32-34 pdf file]
Reaction - The Seed Sector Review is not well received in the farming community. The Sakatoon-based National Farmers Union launches a “seed saver” campaign to rally farmers against the seed industry’s proposed changes. The farmers see the review’s recommendations as an effort to further privatize the commons, and to increase corporate profits at the expense of growers. Most of their fury is focused on changes that would compel farmers to purchase certified seed by making it more difficult to save, trade, and replant their own seeds. “There’s lots of seed trading among farmers here. We rarely buy certified seed for cereals. It’s rarely better seed and just not necessary,” says Paul Beingessner, a third-generation grain and livestock farmer from Saskatchewan. Beingessner calculates that if the recommendations were implemented, the average Canadian farm’s expenses would increase by $1,400 CAD. “It’s a money grab, pure and simple,” Beingessner says. Pat Mooney of the ETC Group, a Canadian civil society organization, says the Seed Sector Review contradicts the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (see November 3, 2001), which came into force in June (see June 29, 2004). That treaty reaffirmed farmers’ rights to save, trade, and replant seed. Canada ratified the treaty on October 6, 2002. [Inter Press Service, 10/5/2004]

Entity Tags: Seed Sector Review

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, Biotech/seed industry, Seed Sector Review

(Show related quotes)

The Canadian government instructs its negotiators at the Bangkok meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity’s Scientific Body to push for changes to a 2004 UN report (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003) that is critical of terminator technology. The report concluded that terminator seeds could result in a number of negative consequences for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and small communities. It recommended that the Convention prohibit field testing and commercialization of terminator seeds. Canada tells its negotiators to propose that the Scientific Body recommend the opposite—that countries be permitted to field test and commercialize the seeds. If these proposals are not accepted, Canada says its representatives should “block consensus on the issue.” The instructions will be leaked to attendees on the first day of the conference. [ETC Group, 2/26/2004; Guardian, 2/9/2005; Ottawa Citizen, 3/5/2006]

Entity Tags: Canada

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Coercive tactics

At a UN meeting in Granada, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s “Working Group on Article 8(j)” meets ahead of the Convention’s eighth biennial meeting to discuss implementation of Article 8(j) and related provisions of the Convention, as requested by the seventh conference of the Convention that took place in 2004 in Kuala Lumpur. [Convention on Biodiversity, 2/20/2004] Article 8(j) of the convention calls on member countries to protect the traditional knowledge, innovation, and practices of indigenous peoples and peasant farmers. One of the group’s tasks is to “consider the potential socio-economic impacts of genetic use restriction technologies on indigenous and local communities” and make a recommendation based on three previous UN reports (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003; February 7, 2005; September 26, 2000-September 28, 2000) and official submissions from indigenous peoples and farmers’ organizations (see September 26, 2005-September 27, 2005). In every one of these reports, terminator technology was considered a threat to the poor. In spite of this, the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian governments, guided by a US representative (the US has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity) and industry lobbyists, push to make the Working Group’s recommendations supportive of terminator technology. Lobbyists for the seed companies include Harry Collins, vice president of Delta & Pine Land, and Roger Krueger of Monsanto. Delta & Pine Land jointly holds three patents on terminator technology with the US Department of Agriculture. According to the ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization opposed to terminator seeds whose representatives are present at this meeting, “With a US government official consulting at her side, the Australian negotiator insisted on deleting reference to the ‘precautionary approach’ and used this as a bargaining chip to win controversial wording for a ‘case-by-case risk assessment’ of terminator.” However, the efforts of these countries to draft a recommendation that would weaken the moratorium on terminator seeds are opposed by the majority of other parties, including Spain, the African Group, Egypt, the Philippines, Norway, Pakistan, Kenya, India, and Brazil. [ETC Group, 1/27/2006; National Farmers Union, 1/27/2006; Canadian Press, 1/30/2006] Australia refuses to budge and it is finally agreed to revise the recommendation to say that further research on terminator technology should include “a case-by-case risk assessment basis with respect to different categories of GURTs technology subject to the precautionary approach.” [Convention on Biodiversity, 1/27/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Brazil, Working Group on Article 8(j), Australia, Canada, Harry B. Collins, New Zealand, Spain, Philippines, India, Kenya, Norway, Pakistan, Roger Krueger, Egypt

Category Tags: Coercive tactics, Terminator seeds, Indigenous peoples, Terminator seeds, Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land

Monsanto announces that it will purchase Delta & Pine Land Company, the world’s largest cotton seed company, and the first company to obtain a patent on terminator technology (see March 3, 1998). Monsanto has had its sights on Delta & Pine Land for years. A previous plan to buy the company—announced in 1998 (see May 11, 1998)—fell through in December 1999 (see December 19, 1999). The acquisition means that Monsanto will control over 57 percent of the US cotton seed market. It will also deepen Monsanto’s reach into the developing world, where Delta & Pine Land has subsidiaries in 13 countries—including India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, and Pakistan. According to the ETC Group, an outspoken critic of terminator technology, “the takeover means that Monsanto will command a dominant position in one of the world’s most important agricultural trade commodities and that millions of cotton farmers will be under increased pressure to accept genetically modified (GM) cottonseed.” [Monsanto, 8/15/2006; ETC Group, 8/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land Company

Category Tags: Seed/biotech industry consolidation, Delta & Pine Land, Monsanto, Cotton

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