Despite mounting opposition from Southern nations, delegates at the Biodiversity
Convention fail to ban Terminator.
In the face of mounting evidence of its commercialization, the Fifth Conference
of the Parties (COP 5) to the Biodiversity Convention (CBD) failed to
heed the warnings of most of the world's nations to ban the Terminator
technology. "By not responding to the calls made by many of the nations
of the world, a minority of COP delegates from the North ultimately abdicated
their responsibility to international food security and biodiversty,"
said Julie Delahanty of RAFI.
Despite information about new patents and field trials, and the strong
opposition to Terminator and genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs)*
expressed clearly by most of the world's nations, the CBD approved a proposal
coming from its Scientific Advisory Body (called SBSTTA). That proposal
recommends that GURTs not be approved for field-testing or be commercialized
until more scientific data can be gathered on its potential impacts. The
text also states that Parties may choose to establish a complete moratorium
on these technologies at the national level.
"The COP 5 recommendation is significant because it highlight the possible
negative consequences of the technology," noted Silvia Ribeiro of
RAFI. "But from the discussion in Nairobi, it was clear to almost everyone
that the wording should have been stronger."
Southern Governments Call for Stronger Action: During the Working Group
on Agricultural Biodiversity, much of the discussion centered on the issue
of GURTs. A number of countries, including Kenya, the Philippines, India,
Tanzania, and Malawi, as well as a large group of civil society organizations
(CSOs) called for a complete ban on Terminator.
"Terminator technology has no agronomic benefit and it imposes a biological
patent with no expiration date to the crops when it is applied," noted
the statement by CSOs. Further, the group called for a complete ban on
Terminator and a moratorium on GURTs "until in-depth, independent environmental,
socio-economic, and potential military impact assessments have been carried
Joining the countries which had earlier called for a ban on Terminator,
a Declaration by the entire African Group to the 5th Conference of the
Parties to the CBD called upon all Parties, Governments and international
"...immediately ban the Terminator Technology from respective national
territories and thus, from the whole of Africa, as intolerable politically,
economically and ethically and in terms of safety of plant life, and in
the future, be constantly on the look out for unacceptable products of
Many countries, including the African nations, most of the G77 (with the
exception of Argentina), and China also delivered a strong statement outlining
their position on the use of GURTs. In particular, they noted that Africa,
G77, and China rely heavily on agriculture as one of the mainstays of
their livelihood and economy. Therefore, they argued "we feel very
strongly on the GURTs issue, as they may impact negatively on our agricultural
"Southern nations clearly believe they have nothing to gain from Terminator
and GURT technologies. Sadly, COP failed to provide strong international
recognition that Terminator is a direct threat to biodiversity or national
sovereignty over genetic resources," pointed out Julie Delahanty of
"Globally, support is mounting for a total ban on Terminator and the
final text endorses a moratorium on field testing and commercialization
of GURTs," noted Silvia Ribeiro of RAFI. "But the real test will
be at the next SBSTTA meeting where we will again be pressing for this
immoral technology to be banned."
The 'Green Gene' Defense Crops Up in Nairobi: Those who did formally and
informally voice their support for the Terminator technology focused in
particular on its potential benefits for containing biotechnology. Proponents
of this 'green gene' defense claim that engineered seed sterility offers
a built-in safety feature. If GM crops, which also bear the Terminator
gene, escape into the wild, the seed produced from unwanted pollination
will not germinate, proponents argue.
Silvia Ribeiro notes that "while the Terminator gene may curtail some
gene transfer, it will certainly not prevent it. Gene flow is still possible
from Terminator crops because the crops will still produce pollen and
because the Terminator gene might not work every time." In fact, while
there is still no consensus on the point, some authors claim that pollen
is more important in gene flow than is seed dispersal. Most importantly,
as CSOs in Nairobi pointed out: "Beyond being an admission that genetically
engineered crops are not safe, biosafety at the expense of food security
is not an acceptable trade-off."
SBSTTA Out of Step: RAFI clearly demonstrated that the SBSTTA decision
being considered at COP 5 was based on misleading and outdated assumptions
about the technology. For example, the text of the SBSTTA recommendation
on GURTs begins by noting that GURTs are "not likely to be commercialized
in the near future and that at this time no example of the technology
has been released in either research or investigative field trial…
" Both of these assumptions are woefully inaccurate.
In 1999 alone, 7 new Terminator patents were issued to industry and public
sector researchers, and at least one company, AstraZeneca, conducted field
trials on genetic trait control technology (GURTs) in the UK. Beyond these
seven, at least 43 patents have been issued for genetic trait control
technology, and patent owners include virtually all the Gene Giants and
their subsidiaries. (For more detail and a technical description and summary
of each patent, see RAFI web site: http//www.rafi.org, "Terminator on
"The final decision, based on SBSTTA recommendations, calls for further
studies to be made of the Terminator technology, but there is no rationale
for this recommendation since no 'further studies' will make the suicide
seeds less suicidal," noted Silvia Ribeiro of RAFI.
Despite a growing list of national governments that are demanding a ban
on Terminator, COP 5 recommends yet another study on Terminator for the
next Conference of Parties. "The real danger," warns Ribeiro, "is
that Terminator seeds will become a commercial reality before then. Without
government action to ban terminator and strong condemnation from intergovernmental
bodies, the Gene Giants will never abandon the goal of maximizing profits
via genetic seed sterilization," concludes Ribeiro.
The final text on GURTs at the COP 5 recommends:
"...that, in the current absence of reliable data on genetic use restriction
technologies without which there is an inadequate basis on which to assess
their potential risks, and in accordance with the precautionary approach,
products incorporating such technologies should not be approved by Parties
for field testing until appropriate scientific data can justify such testing,
and for commercial use until appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled
scientific assessments with regard to, inter alia, their ecological and
socio-economic impacts and any adverse effects for biological diversity,
food security and human health have been carried out in a transparent
manner and the conditions for their safe and beneficial use validated.
In order to enhance the capacity of all countries to address these issues,
Parties should widely disseminate information on scientific assessments,
including through the clearing-house mechanism, and share their expertise
in this regard."
*GURTs (genetic use restriction technologies) make it possible to "switch"
on or off different traits in a crop with the application of specific
chemicals. Terminator is a specific GURT which renders seeds sterile in
the second generation. RAFI (The Rural Advancement Foundation International)
is an international civil society organization based in Canada.
RAFI is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity,
and to the socially responsible development of technologies useful to
rural societies. RAFI is concerned about the loss of agricultural biodiversity,
and the impact of intellectual property on farmers and food security.
Click here for
Primal Seeds explanation and impacts of Terminator technologies
For more information, contact:
Julie Delahanty, RAFI [email protected]
Silvia Ribeiro, RAFI [email protected]
RAFI International Office,
110 Osborne Street,
R3L 1Y5 Canada
Tel: 204 453-5259 Fax: 204 925-8034
email: [email protected]