[Press release received from RAFI - Rural Advancement Foundation International
News Release - 4 October 1999
With biotech's Silver Bullet firmly imbedded in its own foot, Monsanto is
dropping its guns, abandoning the Terminator, and telling farmers that it
wants to play nice. Not so fast, hombre!
Following 18 months of controversy and intense popular opposition around
the world, Monsanto CEO Robert B. Shapiro has advised Gordon Conway,
President of the Rockefeller Foundation that Monsanto has decided to
abandon plans to commercialize Terminator Technology (causing crop seed to
become sterile at
harvest time). Monsanto's open letter to Rockefeller is available on the
company's web site at: http:/www.monsanto.com/monsanto/gurt/default.htm
However, the company says it will continue to pursue closely-related
that could allow Monsanto to switch on - or off - other genetic traits
vital to a crop's productivity.
RAFI calls it "Traitor" technology.
"Congratulations should go to the civil society organizations,
farmers, scientists and governments all over the world
who have waged highly effective anti-Terminator campaigns during the
past 18 months," said Pat Mooney, Executive
Director of RAFI, in reaction to Monsanto's announcement. "The public
rejected Terminator because its bad for farmers, food security and the
environment," explained Mooney.
"Monsanto would never have abandoned the profit-generating
potential of sterile seeds just because it was an immoral technology,"
said RAFI's Research Director, Hope Shand. "The company
finally realized that Terminator will never win public acceptance.
Terminator has became synonymous with corporate greed, and it was
met with intense opposition all over the world," adds Shand.
Limping from a Silver Bullet:
Monsanto is the second major "Gene Giant" to
back away from Terminator Technology. In June of this year, the UN
Convention on Biological Diversity received a letter from UK-based
AstraZeneca announcing that it would not commercialize seed sterility
technologies. "In all, more than a dozen companies and public institutes
have at least 31 patents that include claims involving seed sterilization,"
Pat Mooney says. Monsanto was the big gun,
however, and Terminator became a public relations disaster for the company
when it made a bid to acquire Delta & Pine Land Seed Company in May, 1998.
Delta & Pine Land co-owns the "prototype" Terminator patent with the U.S.
of Agriculture (USDA) -- US patent number 5,723,765. In addition, Monsanto
holds a second patent, WO 9744465, published 27 November 1997.
Even though RAFI does not question Monsanto's public commitment
to abandon Terminator, it notes that market and technical realities may
force a different outcome. In a letter dated 24 February 1999 AstraZeneca
categorically stated that it abandoned the development of its
Terminator-type technology for the purpose of seed sterilization in 1992.
RAFI discovered that ExSeed, an AstraZeneca joint venture with Iowa State
University, won a new seed sterilization patent on 11 August 1997, based on
a claim made in 1995 - three years after AstraZeneca's research was to have
"We can't trust where the technology and companies may be taking us," said
RAFI's Pat Mooney.
"The technology for seed sterilization and trait control are on the same
trajectory. At some
point, either through a corporate take-over or a change in management,
trait control could easily be
transformed back into genetic seed sterilization," cautions Mooney.
Transnational Trait Control = Bioserfdom
All the Gene Giants are pursing R&D on Terminator and Traitor technology,
warns RAFI. Companies, including Monsanto, are working to control important
genetic traits of plants with external chemical catalysts. Once perfected,
a seed's genetic trait(s) could be turned on or off with the application of a
proprietary chemical, such as an herbicide or fertilizer, for example.
"The companies tell us that trait control will mean more
options for farmers, but chemically-dependent seeds will more likely lead
warns Hope Shand, RAFI's Research Director. RAFI's in-depth report on
and a list of private and public sector institutions who hold
Terminator-type patents, is
available at: http://www.rafi.org
USDA Stands Alone:
When will USDA follow suit? USDA is now in the shameful position
of supporting and defending a genetic technology that the world's 2nd
corporation has clearly rejected due to public opposition. At a meeting
with civil society organizations in June, Under-Secretary of Agriculture
Richard Rominger told RAFI that USDA refuses to abandon the patent it
co-owns with Delta & Pine Land (a Mississippi-based seed company in the
process of being acquired by Monsanto) because it wants to see the
technology widely licensed.
Robert Shapiro's letter says that Monsanto made the decision to reject
Terminator, in part,
because it was responding to the views of its "very important grower
"Why is USDA ignoring its farm constituency? Why does USDA insist on
defending a technology that
is bad for farmers, food security, and the environment?," asks RAFI's Hope
"USDA is increasingly marginalized in its support of Terminator, it should
cease negotiations with Delta & Pine Land, abandon the patent, and develop
a strict policy
prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for the development of genetic seed
sterilization," said Hope Shand.
Governments Need to Pull the Plug on Terminator:
"Monsanto has taken a positive step,
but let's not forget that farmers can never depend on the charity and good
the Gene Giants to reject immoral technologies," concludes
RAFI's Moooney. "Without government action to firmly reject Terminator
and Traitor technology, these technologies will be commercialized
within a few years with potentially disastrous consequences," cautions
RAFI urges national governments to take action at WTO and
elsewhere to reject Terminator and Traitor technology on the basis
of public morality. Next month, Ministers of Agriculture will gather for a
at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. "It's the
opportunity for Ministers to affirm Monsanto and AstraZeneca's conclusion that
Terminator technology is not safe for farmers or food security," concludes
[ * * * * *
RAFI is a non-profit international civil society organization headquartered
in Winnipeg, Canada. For more than twenty years, RAFI has worked on the
social and economic impact of new technologies as they impact rural
For further information:
Pat Roy Mooney
110 Osborne St., Suite 202
WINNIPEG MB R3L 1Y5 CANADA
Tel: (204) 453-5259
Fax: (204) 925-8034
118 E. Main Street, Room 211
Carrboro, NC 27510-2300
Ph. (919) 960-5223
Fax: (919) 960-5224
* * * * *
[Transcibed from Biotech_activists listserve]
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