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Seeds

Public-private sector collaboration

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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