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Will Brazil's Vote on 'Terminator Seeds' Be a Christmas Gift to Monsanto?

Brazil vote next week could unravel global ban on seeds opponents say would 'be a disaster' for small farmers, the environment

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

They'll be back.

'Terminator' seeds, banned across the globe following massive protests in India, Latin America and south-east Asia in the 1990s, may be sprouting up in fields soon following the likely passage of a bill in the Brazilian legislature this month that could unravel a global moratorium on the technology, The Guardian reports.Protesters hold anti-gmo signs outside of the European Union headquarters in Brussels, November 24, 2008 (Reuters)

The seeds in question are genetically engineered to prevent offspring, which means crops can only yield a single harvest before dying off—leaving farmers dependent on seed companies for future crops, rather than the age-old method of saving seeds and replanting.

If the bill passes, then "While most of Brazil is celebrating a Christmas birth, the seed multinationals will be celebrating the death of the 10,000-year right of farmers to save seeds,” Maria José Guazzelli of Centro Ecológico stated.

Food justice advocates and small farmers argue this places too much control over crop production in biotech companies' hands, and environmental groups have continuously warned that the seeds threaten biodiversity around the globe.

As The Guardian reports:

The technology was developed by the US Department of Agriculture and the world's largest seed and agrochemical firms. Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont together control more than 60% of the global commercial seed market and 76% of the agrochemical market. All are believed to hold patents on the technology, but none are thought to have developed the seeds for commercial use.

The development of the terminator seeds in the 1990s sparked protests by small farmers and civil society groups, and in 2000 the UN Convention on Biological Diversity recommended a global moratorium on the seeds.

"The country’s Judicial Commission is set to approve suicide seeds as a Christmas gift to Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta." - ETC

However, Brazil, which had signed the moratorium, could undo the whole agreement with the proposed bill.

"Brazil is the frontline. If the agro-industry breaks the moratorium here, they'll break it everywhere," Guazzelli told The Guardian.

A coalition of food justice and environmental groups have organized an online petition against the bill that would overturn the ban on the seeds, which they presented to Brazilian lawmakers this week. The petition has gathered over 36,000 signatures.

"If this bill goes through, it would be a disaster. Farmers would no longer be able to produce their own seeds. That's the ultimate aim of the agro-industry," said Guazzelli.

"If the bill is passed, [we expect] the Brazilian government to take a series of steps that will orchestrate the collapse of the 193-country consensus moratorium when the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meets for its biennial conference in Korea in October 2014," said Pat Mooney, executive director of international technology watchdog ETC Group.

As ETC Group reports, following continued public backlash against the bill, Brazil’s Judiciary Commission in the legislature agreed to take the Pro-Terminator Bill off the agenda this week, but it could pop up again as soon as next week before the lawmakers adjourn for Christmas.

"After promising on World Food Day (October 16) to block legislation that would legalize the planting of Terminator seeds in Brazil," ETC Group said in a statement, "the country’s Judicial Commission is set to approve suicide seeds as a Christmas gift to Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta."

While the chair of the Judiciary Commission has vowed to block the controversial bill, a majority of Commission members are in favor and could, "regardless of a formal agenda, call for a vote at any meeting," the group warns.

“There is no reason to trust this process or reduce our pressure,” said Guazzelli, “although the government and commission have been taken aback by our opposition, they could pass the bill at almost any moment. If the vote doesn’t come before Friday, December 20, we will have a breathing space until February but anything could happen next week and everything could happen in February.”

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