February 27, 2006

Campaign urges global ban on sterile seed technology

More than 300 environmental and community organizations worldwide have called for a full global ban on "terminator technology," i.e. plants genetically engineered to produce sterile seeds. Organizers of the "Ban Terminator" campaign maintain that sterile seeds threaten biodiversity and will destroy the livelihoods and cultures of the 1.4 billion people around the world who depend on farm-saved seed. The campaign is also accusing Monsanto, a world leader in seed production and agricultural biotechnology, of reneging on a public promise made in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology.

The call for a ban comes as officials and experts with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are preparing for a high-level meeting in Brazil between March 20 and 31. Opponents of the technology are concerned that at next month's high-level meeting of the CBD, the biotechnology industry will intensify its push to undermine a six-year de facto moratorium on what are known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs). The CBD adopted the moratorium in 2000.

In 1999, Monsanto was in the process of merging with Delta & Pine Land, a company which had been involved in the development and patenting of a sterile seed technology.

In an open letter to the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto's U.S. CEO Robert Shapiro said the company had pledged not to commercialize any of the technologies in a class known as "gene protection systems" until a thorough, independent review of these systems had been completed and a full airing of issues and concerns surrounding the technologies had been carried out.

He also noted that the specific technology that Monsanto would acquire through its merger with Delta & Pine was still in the very early stages of development and at least five years away from possible commercialization.

A report by a UN technical expert group on the impact of GURTs on small farm operations and indigenous and local communities concluded that the potential negative effects far outweighed the positive impacts and recommended continuing application of the precautionary principle. Among other things, the report said GURTs could create negative, irreversible changes in the environment resulting from geneflow or other problems with environmental containment.

The Ban Terminator campaign claims that Monsanto has modified its pledge to suggest that it would use Terminator seeds in non-food crops and does not rule out other uses of Terminator in the future. In response, Tony Combes, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto's U.K. office, stated unequivocally that the company's policy has not changed and that Monsanto stands by its 1999 commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technologies in food crops.

He added that research on this technology remains incomplete, as it was in 1999, and the company will be re-evaluating its stance as the technology develops. This position is not new, as the company stated in its 1999 letter, "We are not currently investing resources to develop these technologies, but we do not rule out their future development and use for gene protection or their possible agronomic benefits."

More information is available on the Monsanto and the Ban Terminator campaign Web sites, www.monsanto.com, www.BanTerminator.org

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