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Seeds

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

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Revisions to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants strengthen the intellectual property rights of seed developers. The convention was created in 1961 and is one of several international conventions and treaties that operate under the umbrella of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The convention’s governing body is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). The newly revised UPOV agreement extends the term of plant breeders’ intellectual property protections for new varieties from 15 years to 20 years. It also prohibits farmers from saving seeds, though there is an optional clause that allows member countries to exempt farmers from this restriction under certain conditions. For example, the clause says the restrictions can be waived if member countries implement other mechanisms that provide equivalent protections for the “legitimate interests of the breeder.” [International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/19/1991; Dhar, Pandey, and Chaturvedi, 6/23/1995] The revisions will enter into force one month after five states have ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to UPOV ‘91.

Entity Tags: International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants

Category Tags: International agreements, Farmers' rights

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

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

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

According to Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto’s facilitator for genetically modified cotton sales in California and Arizona, he learns from a Monsanto scientist that the company’s GM Roundup Ready cotton not only contains the intended protein produced by the Roundup Ready gene, but also contains additional proteins that are not naturally produced in the plant. These unknown proteins were created during the gene insertion process, the scientist reportedly explained to Azevedo, when the modified genes were inserted into the plant’s DNA using a “gene gun.” Azevedo, who has been studying mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), becomes concerned that these abnormal proteins “might possibly lead to mad cow or some other prion-type diseases.” When he shares this concern with the scientist, he discovers that the scientist has no idea what he is talking about. “He had not even heard of prions. And this was at a time when Europe had a great concern about mad cow disease and it was just before the Nobel prize was won by Stanley Prusiner for his discovery of prion proteins,” Azevedo later recalls. [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006] Azevedo will become even more concerned when he learns that Monsanto scientists are feeding experimental GM cotton plants to cattle (see Summer 1997).

Entity Tags: Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Public Health, Cotton

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 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

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, former independent chairman of the FAO Council and recipient of the World Food Prize, writes in an article published by the Biotechnology and Development Monitor: “In India where there are nearly 100 million operational holdings, denial of plant-back rights or the use of the terminator mechanism will be disastrous from the socio-economic and biodiversity points of view, since over 80 percent of farmers plant their own farm-saved seeds.” [Swaminathan, 1998; ETC Group, 2/19/2002]

Entity Tags: M.S. Swaminathan

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Biodiversity, Farmers' rights

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

Delta & Pine Land, a US seed company, dumps 30,000 sacks of expired chemical-coated cotton seed on a one-hectare area of land in a small rural community in Paraguay. This happens twice—once in November 1998, and then again in January, the following year. The dump site is only about 170 meters from a school in Rincon’I, a small community of around 3,000 people located about 120 kilometers from Asuncion. The seeds have a coating comprised of Orthene (acefate), benlate, lorsban, Metalaxyl, baytan-Thirann, and Kodiac (a genetically modified bacterium). The pesticides alone are estimated to account for 5 tons of the 660-ton pile. Labels on the seed bags reveal the presence of carcinogenic chemicals and warn that they can cause genetic mutations. At least one person dies as a result of exposure to the seeds. Agustin Ruiz Aranda, a 30-year-old father of four, dies on December 28, 1998. His wife is five months pregnant. The cause of death is recorded as “acute intoxication by contamination from toxic agrochemicals.” His symptoms were reportedly identical to those associated with intoxication with acephate and metamidophos. Acephate, one of the chemicals present in the seeds, turns into metamidophos when combined with water. Residents of Rincon’I complain of headaches, nausea, faintness, insomnia, and dizziness. Children suffer appetite loss and get welts on their skin. Physician Pablo Balmaceda sees 74 Rincon’I residents and finds that every one of them has been poisoned with organophosphates. A Brazilian biochemist, Lenini Alves de Carvalho, confirms Balmaceda’s conclusions. Agronomist Sebastian Pinheiro, director of the IUF’s Department of Health and the Environment, tells Inter Press Service, “There are no precedents that can help us predict what could happen. But people who have been contaminated will probably experience a decline in their natural defenses, and show a tendency to develop serious diseases.” A report dated April 21, 1999 by the Paraguayan Department for Environmental Protection will also confirm the presence of toxins, and it will warn that potential long-term risks include “genetic alterations, cancers, and poisoning.” It also finds contamination in the soil and water table and calls for more investigation. The incident is reported widely in Paraguay, but makes no headlines in the US. After a court ruling, the company admits that it dumped the seeds but refuses to acknowledge their toxicity. [Inter Press Service, 6/4/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/22/1999; International Union of Food Workers, 6/25/1999] In mid-1999, Roger Malkin, president of Delta & Pine Land, will say that “investigations by the Paraguayan health and environmental agencies involved have been unable to identify a single case in which the health of people or the environment was affected” by the seed disposal. [Global Pesticide Campaigner, 8/1999] Rather than clean-up the site, the company offers monetary compensation and suggests that seeds could be used as green manure to fertilize the fields. “The tragic irony,” says Miguel Lovera, who works for an Asuncion-based organization, “is that the biotech industry promised to clean up the environment and help feed hungry people. Instead, my country is being used as a dumping ground for high-tech seeds and deadly chemicals that are contaminating rural communities and endangering lives.” Only the Geneva-based International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers offers the community of Rincon’I any help. Even Paraguay’s government resists helping the community. [Inter Press Service, 6/4/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/22/1999; International Union of Food Workers, 6/25/1999]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company

Category Tags: Environment, Delta & Pine Land

Several weeks after banning terminator seeds in India (see Before October 10, 1998), Shri Sompal, the country’s minister of agriculture summarizes the threat posed by the technology in a public statement: “This is lethal and poses a global threat to farmers, biodiversity, and food and ecological security. The use of this technology would threaten the farmers’ rights to save the seed for their harvest. Because of the lethal nature of the product, the public has been asked to be wary of the introduction of genetically modified foods in many parts wherever this technique is being tried to be introduced.… The farmer will be dependent upon terminator seed and will have to buy the same seed again and again. The company producing the seed can charge any price from the farmers. The farmer will not be in a position to use seeds saved from the previous crops. It will threaten the farmers’ expertise in seed selection and traditional conservation-cum-improved ways of carrying forward the seeds. The technology would have serious implications on the crop biodiversity. It may lead to gradual extinction of traditional varieties. Crop related wild varieties, important for natural evolution for crop species would be affected by cross-contamination. This concern would be of special relevance to India, since the country abounds in land races and wild relatives of crop plants.” [Rediff, 12/1/1998; India, 12/2/1998]

Entity Tags: India

Category Tags: India, Farmers' rights, Biodiversity, Food security, Environment, Terminator seeds

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

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

Monsanto’s 2005 “Technology Use Agreement” (TUA) includes several provisions that were not present in its 1996 agreement (see 1996). The company’s TUAs have been heavily criticized by farmers and groups concerned about food security and farmers’ rights because of its provisions barring farmers from saving and replanting seed. Another part of the contract that has been unpopular among farmers is the requirement that farmers grant Monsanto the right to come onto a farmer’s land to take plant samples any time during the first three years after a farmer has stopped using the company’s seed. Some of the provisions that have been added since 1996 state the following:
bullet All legal disputes (except those involving cotton) must be settled at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri or the Circuit Court of the County of St. Louis.
bullet Farmers must give Monsanto permission to access third-party records of the farmers’ activities, such as those held by USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Center for Food Safety notes: “The breadth of this provision allows the company to obtain documents that are not necessarily directly related to a farmer’s seed or chemical purchase, permitting Monsanto to assess a grower’s financial state.”
bullet Farmers are not required to do anything to prevent contaminating neighbors’ fields with Monsanto’s genes. Recognizing that a “minimal amount of pollen movement (some of which can carry genetically improved traits) between neighboring fields is a well known and normal occurrence in corn seed or grain production,” the agreement suggests that farmers planting the company’s seeds are not under any obligation to prevent the contamination of neighboring non-transgenic crop fields. Conventional farmers “assume the responsibility and receive the benefit for ensuring that their crop meets… specifications for purity,” the agreement asserts.

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Farmers' rights

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

Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, and his assistant, David Quist, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, discover the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in native Mexican maize growing in the remote hills of Oaxaca, Mexico. The contaminant genes contain DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus, which is often used as a promoter to “switch on” insecticidal or herbicidal properties in GM plants. Contamination is also found in samples from a government food store that purchases animal feed from the US. The Oaxaca region is considered to be the birthplace of maize and the world’s center of diversity for corn, “exactly the kind of repository of genetic variation that environmentalists and many scientists had hoped to protect from contamination,” the New York Times reports. Scientists worry that the genes could spread through the region’s corn population reducing its genetic diversity. Critics of genetically modified crops have long argued that the technology cannot be contained. According to Dr. Norman C. Ellstrand, evolutionary biologist at University of California at Riverside, the discovery “shows in today’s modern world how rapidly genetic material can move from one place to another.” The findings are not good news for the biotech industry which is currently lobbying Brazil, the European Union, and Mexico to lift their embargoes on genetically modified crops. [New York Times, 10/2/2001; Manchester Guardian Weekly, 12/12/2001; BBC, 3/13/2002] It is later learned that the contamination resulted from Oaxacan peasants planting kernels they purchased from a local feed store. Though there’s a moratorium on the growing of GM crops, there’s no such ban on animal feed containing GM seed. [Cox News, 10/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Bivings Group, Monsanto, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Biodiversity, Corn, Monsanto v. Schmeiser

The Royal Society of Canada’s biotech experts releases a report concluding that genetically modified (GM) canola plants resistant to different herbicides have crossbred with each other to produce offspring stronger than their parents. The genes of three different types of GM canola have merged into new varieties resistant to many pesticides, the report says. When these plants show up as volunteers in fields planted with another crop, farmers are finding that they need to resort to broad spectrum herbicides like 2,4-D—the very chemicals farmers are trying to use less of—to kill them. [Royal Society of Canada, 1/2001 pdf file; Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), 2/6/2001]

Entity Tags: Royal Society of Canada

Category Tags: Environment, Canola, Studies-government

Monsanto’s Bollgard Bt cotton fares poorly during a one-year trial period in South Sulawesi, a province of Indonesia. During a drought, much of the crop suffers from a population explosion in cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), though the pest has no effect on local varieties. Other pests also attack the crop. As a result, farmers are forced to purchase additional pesticides and use them in larger amounts than is usually necessary. Monsanto had said its Bt cotton would require less pesticide. It also claimed its product would produce yields as high as 3 tons per hectare, and even promised some farmers they would see 4-7 tons per hectare. But the average yield turns out to be only 1.1 ton per hectare with 74 percent of the total area planted actually producing less than one ton per hectare. Approximately 522 hectares experience complete failure. As a result of the poor harvest, 70 percent of the 4,438 farmers participating in the experiment are unable to repay the loans they obtained to buy the seed. They had purchased the cotton seed on credit for Rp 40,000/kg from Branita Sandhini, a Monsanto subsidiary, as part of a package deal that also included pesticide, herbicide (including Roundup), and fertilizer. By comparison, Kanesia, a non-transgenic cotton that is grown by other farmers in the area costs only Rp 5,000/kg. Not only does the farmers’ purchase agreement with Branita Sandhini require that they pay these high prices, it also prohibits them from saving and replanting harvested seed. After harvest, they rely on the same company to purchase their crop. However, before buying the harvest, Branita Sandhini asks the farmers to sign a new contract for the following year. In the new contract, the seed prices are double the previous year’s. Fearing that the company will refuse to buy their harvest if they do not sign, many indebted farmers reluctantly agree to the new terms. Others burn their fields in protest. One woman recalls, “The company didn’t give the farmer any choice, they never intended to improve our well being, they just put us in a debt circle, took away our independence and made us their slave forever. They try to monopolize everything, the seeds, the fertilizer, the marketing channel and even our life.” [Jakarta Post, 6/1/2002; Nation (Jakarta), 9/27/2004; Institute for Science in Society, 12/5/2004; Institute for Science in Society, 1/26/2005]

Entity Tags: PT Branita Sandhini, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Indonesia, Farmers' rights, Cotton, Resistance

Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser tours Africa warning farmers not to grow GM crops and sharing with them his story about being sued by biotech giant Monsanto. According to Schmeiser, representatives of the company follow him to almost every meeting, sometimes several in a single day. At one meeting, a Monsanto representative demands that he be given equal time to speak. But the organizers of the meeting, according to Schmeiser, tell him, “Get lost! If you want to speak to a meeting, call your own.” [Alive, 2/2002; Institute of Science in Society, 9/2002] At one point during his trip, while in South Africa, Schmeiser talks to a group of large landowners. The next day, about 30 of them declare a non-GMO zone and cancel their orders for Monsanto’s GM soya. Schmeiser later recalls, “That got Monsanto against me.” Later, Schmeiser runs into Wally Green of Monsanto in Johannesburg after the two spoke to Parliament. Green was not happy. According to Schmeiser, Green tells him, “Nobody stands up to Monsanto. We are going to get you and destroy you. When you get back to Canada, we’ll get you.” [Institute of Science in Society, 9/2002]

Entity Tags: Wally Green, Percy Schmeiser, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Resistance

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) passes conference resolution 3/2001, approving the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, popularly known as the International Seed Treaty. The vote is almost unanimous with only two countries abstaining: the United States and Japan. [The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 11/3/2001 pdf file; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] The treaty—under negotiation for seven years [Financial Times, 11/6/2001] —requires countries to share the genetic resources of all seed varieties from 35 food crops and 29 forage crops, officially designating them as part of the global commons. The seeds will be deposited in a network of seed banks for use by all member countries, free of charge, for research and experimental plant breeding. The treaty prohibits using the seeds for chemical or pharmaceutical research. Companies using the seed for commercial purposes are required to pay an equitable share of the resulting profits to a trust fund, which will finance efforts to improve the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in developing countries. A multilateral system will be set up to facilitate countries’ access to the 64 selected crops. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Reuters, 11/5/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001; Food and Agriculture Organization, 6/29/2004] The treaty also affirms farmers’ rights “to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material, and to participate in decision-making regarding, and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture… .” [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file] The US refusal to sign the treaty was based on its concern that the treaty does not do enough to respect intellectual property rights. Specifically, the US wanted “WTO rules on intellectual property rights [to] be applied without modification to the new treaty,” according to the Financial Times. It also wanted any references critical of intellectual property scrubbed from the text. But the Chair, Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi of Venezuela, would not permit it. The US, along with countries like Australia, expressed concerns during negotiation that there would be little incentive for biotech companies to invest in crop research if they were required to share their patented GM genes. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] Additionally, the US wanted a provision in the treaty that would have allowed for germplasm embargos against Cuba or other “enemies” of “enduring freedom.” [ETC Group, 11/4/2001] The treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 48th country ratifies it. [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Australia, Japan, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bush administration (43), United States

Timeline Tags: Food Safety

Category Tags: Biodiversity, International agreements, Food security, Farmers' rights

Berkeley grad student David Quist and Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, publish the results of a study (see October 2000) finding that native Mexican maize has been contaminated with genetically modified genes. The study—published by the British journal Nature after an eight-month long peer-review process—presents two arguments. In addition to reporting the discovery that some of Oaxaca’s maize contains transgenic material, the paper says they found transgene fragments scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA. [Quist and Chapela, 11/29/2001 pdf file] The study’s second conclusion causes a controversy because it contradicts the assertions of the biotech industry that genetic engineering is a safe and exact science, and that the technology is capable of controlling precisely where the modified sequences are positioned, how they will be expressed, and whether or not they will be passed on to successive generations. One of the main arguments of the technology’s detractors is that the methods used to insert trangenic genes into an organism’s DNA cannot be done with accuracy and therefore are liable to produce unpredictable and undesirable effects. Following the publication of Quist and Chapela’s article, other Berkeley biologists—who work in a Berkeley University program partially funded by Syngenta, a major biotech firm—criticize the study, leading Quist and Chapela to acknowledge that the analyses of two of the eight gene sequences in their paper were flawed. However they stand by their conclusions that the remaining six sequences contained scattered modified gene sequences. Critics of the article also note that both Quist and Chapela strongly oppose the genetic engineering of crops and participated in an unsuccessful effort to block the Berkeley-Syngenta partnership. The issue soon grows into a very large controversy that some suggest is fueled by the efforts of the biotech industry, and in particular, the Bivings Group, a PR firm on Monsanto’s payroll. Forum postings at AgBioWorld.org are reportedly traced to a Bivings’ employee. It is also noted that another person posting on the forum makes “frequent reference to the Center for Food and Agricultural Research, an entity that appears to exist only online and whose domain is [allegedly] registered to a Bivings employee.” Bivings denies that it is in any way connected to the forum postings. In spite of the controversy surrounding the article’s second finding, the other conclusion, that Mexico’s maize has been contaminated, is largely uncontested, and is buttressed by at least three other studies (see January 2002; February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/4/2002; East Bay Express, 5/29/2002; BBC, 6/2/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Bivings Group, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Studies-academic, Biodiversity, Corn

Jorge Soberon, the executive secretary of Mexico’s biodiversity commission, announces that government scientists have confirmed that genetically modified (GM) corn is growing in Mexico. The finding supports what two US scientists reported several months earlier (see Late November 2001) in a highly controversial paper published in the journal Science. Calling it the “world’s worst case of contamination by GM material,” he says 95 percent of the sites sampled in Oaxaca and Puebla were found to have GM maize. Samples taken from these sites indicated a contamination level as high as 35 percent. [Daily Telegraph, 4/19/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Jorge Soberon, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Category Tags: Mexico, Biodiversity, GM Contamination, Corn, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Studies-government

In Nebraska, USDA inspectors discover that 550,000 bushels of soybeans have been contaminated with a small amount of leaves and stalks from corn plants genetically modified to produce a pig vaccine. [Washington Post, 11/14/2002; Inter Press Service, 6/9/2004] The soybeans were grown in a field that had previously been planted with the experimental pharma corn. The biofirm developing the corn, ProdiGene, neglected to remove volunteer corn plants that had sprouted up alongside the soybeans. [Washington Times, 12/30/2004] These soybeans were then harvested and shipped to a storage facility where they were mixed with 500,000 bushels of soybeans. Upon discovering the contamination, the USDA orders the company to purchase and destroy all the contaminated soybeans. In December, the company will agree to pay a $250,000 fine, plus an estimated $2.8 million to dispose of the soybeans. [Reuters, 12/9/2002] This is the second incident this season involving the contamination of conventional crops with ProdiGene’s GM corn (see September 2002).

Entity Tags: ProdiGene, US Department of Agriculture

Timeline Tags: Food Safety

Category Tags: Soybeans, Public Health, Soybeans, Food security, Public Health, Corn, Soybeans

A study conducted by a coalition of North American civil society organizations finds that cornfields in nine Mexican states—Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz—are contaminated with genetically modified (GM) DNA. A total of 2,000 plants from 138 farming and indigenous communities are tested. Contaminated corn is discovered in 33 of these communities, or 24 percent. Contamination levels vary from 1.5 percent to 33.3 percent. Some plants are found to contain as many as four different types of GM DNA—one herbicide-resistant variety and three Bt varieties, including Starlink, which is banned for human consumption in the US. Several plants in at least one of the contaminated fields are deformed. “We have seen many deformities in corn, but never like this,” Baldemar Mendoza, an indigenous farmer from Oaxaca, says during a news conference. “One deformed plant in Oaxaca that we saved tested positive for three different transgenes. The old people of the communities say they have never seen these kinds of deformities.” [ETC Group, 10/11/2003]

Category Tags: GM Contamination, Mexico, Studies-civil society, Corn, Indigenous peoples

The Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) completes an analysis on the implications of genetic use restriction technology (GURT) for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The paper was requested the previous year by member governments of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In its 6-page memorandum, UPOV says it believes that using GURTs as a means to protect intellectual property would be less advantageous for society than implementing Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation based on UPOV’s 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see December 19, 2002). UPOV notes that unlike GURT, its 1991 convention has provisions that allow farmers to save seeds; set a time-limit (20 years) on a breeder’s exclusive rights; and permit farmers, researchers, and breeders to breed protected seeds when it is done privately, for non-commercial or experimental purposes, and when it is done to breed new varieties. Furthermore, under GURT, there is “no provision for public interest, allowing government access to varieties under particular circumstances,” as there is in the UPOV’s convention. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Studies-other, Farmers' rights, Terminator seeds

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

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

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

Monsanto announces that it is temporarily halting sales of genetically modified soybean seeds because farmers are saving and replanting patented seed, making it difficult for the company to collect royalties. “We are suspending our soybean business… because it’s simply not profitable for us,” says Federico Ovejero, a spokesman for Monsanto Argentina. “We remain committed to releasing our technology in places where we can ensure a fair return on our investment.” Monsanto has been pressuring Argentina to clamp down on what it says is “seed piracy.” [Associated Press, 1/19/2004; Latin America News Digest, 1/20/2004; ETC Group, 2/26/2004] Monsanto estimates that more than half of the seeds planted during the October-November planting season appears to have been pirated. [New York Times, 1/20/2004] One Argentinean seed industry executive warns that Monsanto’s action “is the first warning sign that all new technologies will abandon us if intellectual property rights are not respected.” [Associated Press, 1/19/2004; ETC Group, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Category Tags: Argentina, Monsanto, Soybeans, Farmers' rights

Farming cooperatives in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul agree to pay Monsanto royalties for all genetically modified soybeans they grow in 2004. Exporters and crushers will sign licensing agreements with Monsanto requiring them to collect a $.21 royalty for every 90-kg bag of GM soybeans purchased from farmers. [Latin America News Digest, 1/29/2004; Chemical News & Intelligence, 1/29/2004; Resource News International, 1/30/2004; ETC Group, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Monsanto

Category Tags: Brazil, Soybeans, Monsanto, Farmers' rights

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)

In a split 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada rules that Percy Schmeiser violated Monsanto’s patent when he grew canola in 1998 that contained the company’s patented Roundup Ready gene. [Washington Post, 5/22/2004; Vancouver Sun, 5/22/2004; New York Times, 5/22/2004]
Decision - Schmeiser’s lawyer, Terry Zakreski, argued that the protection of Monsanto’s patented genes and cells necessarily extended to restricting the use of any plants and seeds containing them. Since this in effect means that Monsanto is claiming patentholder’s rights for the whole plant, the court must rule, in light of its 2002 Harvard College v. Canada decision that higher-life forms cannot be patented, that the company’s patent must be invalid. However, the majority rejects Zakreski’s argument and affirms the validity of Monsanto’s patent. The majority says the “Harvard Mouse” case does not support Schmeiser’s argument because, while Harvard had sought to patent an actual mouse, Monsanto’s patent is limited to certain genes and cells. Furthermore, Harvard did acquire patents on certain parts of the mouse, a plasmid and a somatic cell culture, and therefore the “Harvard Mouse” case supports Monsanto case, not Schmeiser’s. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 8] The majority also rejects Schmeiser’s defense that he did not use Monsanto’s patented genes. While sidestepping the issue of whether or not it would be necessary to spray Roundup on the plants in order to exploit Monsanto’s patented genes and cells, the majority says that his 1998 canola crop provided him with “stand-by” utility, which a previous court decision determined constituted “use.” In possessing and growing the crop, the majority argues, Schmeiser had reserved the option to spray it with Roundup, should the need arise, or sell it to make a profit. The majority thus holds that Schmeiser infringed on the patent. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 11-13] It is important to note that the majority says this decision does not concern “the innocent discovery by farmers of ‘blow-by’ patented plants on their land or in their cultivated fields.” The majority makes it clear that they do not accept Schmeiser’s claim that his property was “contaminated” with Monsanto’s genes. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 5] For them it is accepted fact that (1) “tests revealed that 95 to 98 percent of his 1,0[3]0 acres of canola crop [in 1998] was made up of Roundup Ready plants” [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 6] ; (2) “he sprayed Roundup to isolate the Roundup Ready plants he found on his land” [emphasis added]; (3) he “segregated the seeds”; and (4) “he ended up with 1030 acres of Roundup Ready Canola.” All of these statements are made as matters of accepted fact even though they were, in fact, all disputed by Schmeiser (see January 20, 2004). [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 15] The court does however side with Schmeiser on the issue of compensation owed to Monsanto. “[Schmeiser’s and Schmeiser Enterprises’] profits were precisely what they would have been had they planted and harvested ordinary canola. They sold the Roundup Ready Canola they grew in 1998 for feed, and thus obtained no premium for the fact that it was Roundup Ready Canola. Nor did they gain any agricultural advantage from the herbicide resistant nature of the canola, since no finding was made that they sprayed with Roundup herbicide to reduce weeds. The appellants’ profits arose solely from qualities of their crop that cannot be attributed to the invention.” [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 17]
Dissenting Opinion - The minority opinion disagrees that any of Monsanto’s rights as a patentholder extend to plants, seeds, and crops. It accepts that Monsanto’s patent claims for the genes and cells are valid, but says that none of the protections afforded by the patent extend “to the plant itself, a higher life form incapable of patent protection.” According to the minority, “In order to avoid the claim extending to the whole plant, the plant cell claim cannot extend past the point where the genetically modified cell begins to multiply and differentiate into plant tissues, at which point the claim would be for every cell in the plant, i.e., for the plant itself.” Consequently, only the original genes and cells produced by Monsanto in the lab and contained within the original seed are protected by the patent—the resulting plant, its seeds, and the plants that grow from those seeds, are not. “Therefore saving, planting, or selling seed from glyphosate-resistant plants does not constitute an infringing use,” the minority concludes. [Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto Canada Inc., 5/21/2004, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Percy Schmeiser

Category Tags: Monsanto v. Schmeiser, Court decisions, Farmers' rights

(Show related quotes)

Speaking at the tenth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA), held in Bangkok, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser criticizes his government’s backing (see February 7, 2005) of terminator technology. “The Canadian government has acted shamefully. It is supporting a dangerous, anti-farmer technology that aims to eliminate the rights of farmers to save and re-use harvested seed,” he says. “Instead of representing the good will of the Canadian people or attending to the best interests of the Biodiversity Treaty, the Canadian government is fronting for the multinational gene giants who stand to win enormous profits from the release of terminator seeds around the world.” [ETC Group, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Percy Schmeiser, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Farmers' rights

About 70 indigenous leaders representing 26 Andean and Amazon communities meet in the Peruvian mountain village of Choquecancha for two days to draft a report on the potential impacts terminator seeds would have on their communities if the international moratorium on the technology were to be lifted. The report will be submitted to a UN working group which has been tasked with examining “the potential socio-economic impacts of genetic use restriction technologies on indigenous and local communities.” The UN working group will submit recommendations to the next conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity which will decide whether or not to continue its de facto ban on terminator seeds. The meeting of indigenous leaders is held under the auspices of the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES) and the International Institute for Environment and Development. The indigenous leaders say in their report that they are concerned that pollen from terminator seeds could transfer sterility to and effectively kill off other crops and plant life. Another worry is that use of the technology would increase their dependence on the seed industry, a conclusion that was also reached by the UN Agriculture and Food Organization’s Ethics Panel in 2000 (see September 26, 2000-September 28, 2000). The group says the expansion of monocultural farming and the use of terminator technology could put the region’s 3,000 varieties of potato at risk. The indigenous leaders say they are especially concerned about a patent that has been obtained by Syngenta on technology that would be used to produce sterile potato seeds. Syngenta’s seeds would only grow if treated with chemicals. “Terminator seeds do not have life,” says Felipe Gonzalez of the indigenous Pinchimoro community. “Like a plague they will come infecting our crops and carrying sickness. We want to continue using our own seeds and our own customs of seed conservation and sharing.” [Development, 9/27/2005 pdf file; Inter Press Service, 10/11/2005; International Institute for Environment and Development, 10/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Aymara, Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development, Quechua, International Institute for Environment and Development

Category Tags: Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds, Indigenous peoples, Biodiversity, Syngenta

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace announces that it is joining the Council of Canadians in a campaign against the patenting of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Roger Dubois, the organization’s president, says one of the reasons the group opposes seed patenting is because it undermines food security and the rights of farmers, especially in the Third World. “Food security for the world’s hungry requires decentralizing control, yet biopatenting centralizes control,” says Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais. The group says that many farmers have stopped using traditional seeds as a result of government programs providing free patented seeds or advertisements promising higher yields. Once hooked, the farmers are prohibited from seed saving, a practice that is thousands of years old, unless they agree to a contract and pay a special fee. Moreover, they are required to use expensive pesticides and fertilizers. Their adoption of GM crops results in the contamination of non-GM plants, thus leading to the loss of traditional seed varieties. The organization is also opposed to the development of genetically modified seeds because it threatens biodiversity and is known to cause adverse environmental consequences. It notes that GM plants that produce their own pesticides harm beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies and that herbicide resistant varieties of plants can pass their traits to their wild cousins, thus creating “superweeds.” [Canadian Press, 10/3/2002; Canada NewsWire, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Council of Canadians, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace

Timeline Tags: Food Safety

Category Tags: Resistance, Farmers' rights, Food security, Biodiversity, Environment

Between January and August 2006, an estimated 1,920 Bt cotton farmers in Vidarbha, Maharashtra (India) commit suicide because of rising debts. And between June and August, the suicide rate reaches one suicide every eight hours. The higher cultivation costs associated with genetically modified Bt cotton (see, e.g., 2005 ) has made it more difficult for farmers to pay back their loans. Roughly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers in the Maharashtra province are currently in default. More than 50 percent of the farmers who commit suicide are between the ages of 20 and 45. [DNA India, 8/26/2006] The epidemic of farmer suicides began in 1994 when India liberalized its economy and devalued the rupee. [DNA India, 8/26/2006]

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, India, Farmers' rights, Cotton, India

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

In the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, India, more than 70 Indian shepherds report that 25 percent of their herds died within 5-7 days of continuous grazing on the leaves and pods of harvested Bt cotton plants. The shepherds noticed that the sheep became dull or depressed two to three days after grazing on the plants. They developed “reddish and erosive” lesions in the mouth, became bloated, had episodes of blackish diarrhea, and sometimes had red-colored urine. Post-mordem examinations of the animals revealed the presence of black patches in the small intestines, enlarged bile ducts, discolored livers, and the accumulation of pericardial fluid. Investigators suspect that the deaths were likely due to the Bt toxin in the leaves and pods of the Bt cotton plants. [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Anthra, 4/2006; NDTV (New Delhi), 6/1/2006] Researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and the group Anthra later submit a report on the sheep deaths to India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, but the government agency dismisses the reports as “exaggerated.” [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Anthra, 7/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, Anthra

Category Tags: Public Health, India, Public Health, Cotton, India

More than 40 indigenous leaders from the potato producing regions of Peru meet in Cusco to sign a letter calling on Syngenta to discard its patent (US Patent 6,700,039) on a technology that would be used to develop potato seeds that would be sterile unless treated with chemicals. Andean and Aymara farmers fear that such seeds would destroy their centuries-old tradition of saving and sharing seeds, and with it their cultural and social way of life. They also say the technology could result in the disappearance of several of the 3,000 different varieties of potatoes that are grown in the region. [Indigenous Coalition Against Biopiracy in the Andes, n.d. pdf file; International Institute for Environment and Development, 3/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Aymara, Syngenta, Quechua

Category Tags: Indigenous peoples, Syngenta, Terminator seeds, Potatoes

In Curitiba, Brazil, thousands of peasant farmers, including those from Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, demonstrate outside the Convention on Biological Diversity’s eighth conference to demand that the convention’s members uphold a de facto ban on terminator technology. Additionally, women of the international Via Campesina movement of peasant farmers stage a silent protest inside the meeting. The organization represents about 80 million farmers from some 56 countries. [ETC Group, 3/31/2006; Inter Press Service, 3/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Via Campesina, Movimento Sem Terra

Category Tags: Resistance, Terminator seeds, Terminator seeds

Federal Judge J. Michael Seabright rules that the US Department of Agriculture violated both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed the cultivation of drug-producing GM crops in Hawaii. The court says the USDA acted in “utter disregard” of the two laws because it failed even to conduct preliminary investigations before granting approval for the growing of these crops. The Hawaii islands are home to 329 endangered and threatened species. Seabright’s ruling is the first court decision regarding plants that have been genetically modified to produce pharmaceutical drugs or industrial compounds. The case primarily concerned four permits that had been issued to Monsanto, ProdiGene, Garst Seed Company, and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center allowing them to grow drug-producing corn and sugarcane at various locations in Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and Maui between 2001 and 2003. The plaintiffs in the case—Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network North America, and KAHEA (the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance)—also challenged the USDA’s practice of refusing to disclose the locations where experimental chemical-producing GM plants are being grown and what substances those plants are being developed to produce. [Center for Food Safety, et al. v. Mike Johanns, et al., 8/10/2006 pdf file; Center for Food Safety, 8/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, US Department of Agriculture, Monsanto, Pesticide Action Network North America, J. Michael Seabright, ProdiGene, Garst Seed Company

Category Tags: Experimental GM Crops, Court decisions, Environment

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