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Terminator Seeds Suffer Defeat at Global Biodiversity Conference
Published on Saturday, March 25, 2006 by Inter Press Service
Terminator Seeds Suffer Defeat at Global Biodiversity Conference
by Mario Osava
 

CURITIBA, Brazil - Small farmers and activists celebrated a triumph against Terminator seeds in Brazil Friday, but said they would not let down their guard, and would continue to fight the seeds.


The United States won the award for "most despicable" act of biopiracy, for imposing plant intellectual property laws on occupied, war-torn Iraq in June 2004, making it illegal for Iraqi farmers to re-use seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law.

The working group in charge of addressing the issue at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8) maintained the moratorium on field trials of Terminator technology, which produces seeds whose sterile offspring cannot reproduce.

The decision is still pending a vote in next Friday's plenary session in the Mar. 20-31 conference taking place in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. But that will merely be a formality.

Only Australia, Canada and New Zealand tried to leave a door open, pushing for "case-by-case" evaluation of permits for field testing, which critics say would weaken the moratorium put in place in 2000 on Terminators, or GURTS (Genetic Use Restriction Technologies).

For the stance they took in this case, and with regard to transgenic crops in general, Australia, Canada and New Zealand were granted the "evil axis" award by an informal coalition of civil society groups that annually hands out the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy.

The coalition awarded 10 "prizes" to "biopirates" as well as 10 "cog awards for resisting biopiracy". (Cogs were ships designed to repel attacks by pirates).

The United States won the award for "most despicable" act of biopiracy, for imposing plant intellectual property laws on occupied, war-torn Iraq in June 2004, making it illegal for Iraqi farmers to re-use seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law.

Swiss biotech giant Syngenta was voted the worst threat to food sovereignty, for its patent on the Terminator potato.

The global small farmer movement Vía Campesina has held near daily demonstrations since COP8 began on Monday, to demand a ban on Terminator seeds.

On Friday, it announced that it would continue holding protests in Curitiba to call for a total worldwide ban on Terminator technology.

Other activists also said they would keep up their guard, even while they celebrated the victory. "There are governments and companies that will keep trying to produce ‘suicide seeds'," said Maria Rita Reis, with the Brazilian NGO Terra de Direitos.

GURTS, as Terminator technologies are referred to in the Convention on Biological Diversity, produce "suicide seeds" or "homicide seeds" stressed Hope Shand, research director for the ECT Group (Action Group on Erosion, Concentration and Technology), a Canada-based organisation that works to defend cultural and ecological diversity and human rights.

The commercialisation of Terminator seeds, which would make it impossible for farmers to save seeds from their harvests, would provoke enormous losses for farmers, forcing them off the land and exacerbating hunger and poverty, she maintained.

According to ECT Group estimates, soybean production in Argentina would be hit by an additional 276 million dollars in annual costs, while the cost of wheat production in Pakistan would be 191 million dollars higher.

Numerous activists emphasised that potential contamination and sterilisation of other species would have catastrophic results. There is no need for "field testing" to establish that this technology poses a threat to all life on earth, just as there is no need for field testing on the effects of torture, one activist commented.

The protests voiced by small farmers and environmentalists have fallen on more than fertile ground. Restrictions on Terminator seeds have enjoyed majority support from the outset of COP8. In the European Parliament, this position earned 419 votes in favour and a mere 15 against.

Within the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) there is a consensus on maintaining the moratorium on field trials and commercial releases of Terminator seeds and rejecting the proposal for a "case by case" assessment, Alicia Torres, director of Uruguay's National Environment Office and head of her country's delegation to COP8, told IPS.

In the meantime, Syngenta is currently facing troubles in Brazil that go beyond acts of protest.

In addition to the occupation of its test field since Mar. 14 by close to 1,000 rural activists from Brazilian groups associated with the Via Campesina network - like the Movement of Landless Rural Workers û the transnational corporation has just been hit with a fine of one million reals (470,000 dollars) from Brazil's environmental authority.

The sanction stems from the fact that Syngenta's transgenic soybean test crops in Santa Teresa, in the southern state of Paraná, violate national laws because they are located too close to Iguaçú National Park, a nature preserve.

Syngenta and Monsanto have both been consistently targeted by protesters at the parallel meetings to COP8 and by the Global Civil Society Forum, a gathering of social movements and non-governmental organisations held in tents outside the Expo Trade Centre, the venue of the official conference.

Copyright © 2006 IPS - Inter Press Service

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