Ethiopia: Terminator Technology / A seed of sterile thought (13/7/2006)

1.Ethiopia: Terminator Technology And Reasons to Go Organic
2.A Seed of Sterile Thought

Two contrasting perspectives on Terminator. From the rich world - item 2 - it looks just fine and dandy.

1.Ethiopia: Terminator Technology And Reasons to Go Organic
Melaku Demissie The Reporter, July 8 2006

Last week we tried to show how Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are becoming a global debate. Many scientists and environmental groups claim the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms will have severe ecological and health consequences, while advocates of the technology claim with equal vigor that GMOs will feed the world and improve human health and well being.

The International Seed Federation says terminator technology is not yesterday's news. It is a serious and immediate threat to crop diversity and food sovereignty worldwide. Governments are drafting proposals to permit the field-testing and commercialization of terminator seeds. The Federation now openly endorses terminator technology and is working hand-in-hand with industry-friendly governments to dismantle the United Nation's de facto moratorium. An all-out ban is the only defense against terminator, or suicide seeds.

What is terminator technology? Terminator technology refers to plants that have been genetically modified to produce sterile seeds. Scientists say that terminator technology was initially developed by the multi-national seed/agrochemical industry and the US government to prevent farmers from re-planting harvested seed and to maximize seed industry profits. Terminator technology has not yet been commercialized or field-tested, although trials are currently being conducted in greenhouses in the US.

Why are terminators a problem? According to campaigners against terminators and scientists in the field, over 1.4 billion people, primarily small-scale farming families in the developing world, depend on farm- saved seed as their primary seed source. Terminator seeds will force dependence on external seed sources and disrupt local and indigenous peoples' seed exchange practices, as well as the age-old practice of farmer selection and breeding, the foundation of local seed security.

Scientists agree that if terminators are commercialized, seed sterility will likely be incorporated in all genetically modified plants. That is because seed sterility secures a much stronger monopoly than patents; unlike patents, there is no expiration date and no need for lawyers.

The multi-national seed industry is waging a public relations campaign to promote terminator technology as a mechanism for containing unwanted gene flow from genetically modified plants. This industry argues that engineered sterility offers a built-in safely feature for GMO because if genes from terminator crops cross-pollinate with plants nearby, the seed produced from unwanted pollination will be sterile - it will not germinate.

Scientists fear that escaped genes from GMOs are causing genetic contamination and pose threats to agricultural biodiversity and the livelihoods of farmers, especially in the centers of crop genetic diversity. For example, studies confirm that DNA from GM maize has contaminated traditional maize grown by indigenous farmers in Mexico. But terminator technology is complex and is unlikely to ever be 100 percent effective or reliable. Many biological events could sabotage terminator and result in some fertile seeds.

The very companies whose GM seeds are causing unwanted contamination are now suggesting that society accept a new and unreliable technology to contain genetic pollution. If GM seeds are unsafe they should not be used. Most importantly, food security for small-scale farmers must not be sacrificed to solve the industry's genetic pollution problem.

The leaders of the new campaign to ban terminators say that genetically modified terminator seeds are not relevant to the needs of small- scale farmers, but that does not mean farmers will not find terminator genes and seeds in their fields if they are commercialized. If imported grain contains terminator genes and farmers unknowingly plant these seeds, they would not germinate. Similarly, farmers who depend on humanitarian food aid risk devastating crop loss if they unknowingly use food aid grain containing terminator genes as seed. Through pollen movement, terminator genes can also contaminate other plants nearby in the first generations.

Advocates of organic agriculture this time around insist that organic agriculture is a holistic production management system, which enhances agro-ecosystem health, utilizing both traditional and scientific knowledge. Organic agricultural systems rely on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs.

According to pro-organic agriculture movements, organic produce does not contain poisonous chemical residues. Most of the synthetic chemicals used in the farms find their way into rivers, streams and underground water where the majority of Ethiopia's population get their water.

Fresh organic produce contains on average 50 percent more vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other micro-nutrients than intensively-farmed produce. Several studies have shown increased fertility for animals and people who eat organic produce.

2.A Seed of Sterile Thought
by Paul Jacob
The Free Liberal, July 10, 2006

Sometimes it's the people with the best intentions who spread the wildest rumors. There's a movement gaining strength around the world, especially in Europe and Africa, to ban forever genetically engineered foods. For at least five years I've been reading and hearing complaints about something called "terminator seeds," and much of what I've read is ludicrous.

In most modern farms, farmers buy seeds every year. In earlier times, and more primitive places, farmers harvest seeds from their fruits and vegetables, to plant next season. Now, some genetically modified foods are also being engineered to produce sterile seeds in the produce. So farmers using those seeds could not harvest the seeds as a recycling effort.

Now, the reason most farmers in the first world don't do harvest seeds any more is that the better hybrids decay over time, thus the seeds they'd harvest wouldn't produce as well as newly produced and bought seeds. Besides, it's something of a hassle to do that extra work. For many farmers, cultivating strains and seeds is "somebody else's job." And with this division of labor comes efficiencies.

But the terminator seeds that some major companies want to sell have caused quite an uproar. You hear about poor, illiterate farmers not being able to handle the alleged "pressure" to buy the new seeds.

I don't know about you, but I raise my eyebrow when people assume that farmers are stupid.

But food purist activists are another matter! In nearly every discussion of terminator seeds I've come across recently, there's this section devoted to the spectre of terminator seeds spreading throughout the farm stock, making other strains sterile. Listen: sterile seeds can't spread their sterility.

Talk about a sterile argument!

Common Sense is published by Americans for Limited Government. Their website can be visited at www.limitedgov.org

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