|Seeds of doubt on Terminator (8/3/2006)|
1.Seeds of doubt
1.Seeds of doubt
Mayday, Mayday! Calling biodiversity minister Jim Knight! As the political representative for all life, it is up to you to consider the merits of GMO giant Monsanto's "terminator" or "suicide" seeds, which are sterile and cannot be replanted. These could be unleashed around the world if the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) current moratorium is not reinforced at the end of the month at a meeting you will attend in Brazil.
Eco Soundings is worried because although you recently told the UK group on terminator technology that you would "strongly support" the existing decision at the CBD meeting, one week later the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its "position" on the web and called for "assessments" of the technology on a case-by-case basis.
Tell us it was a mistake, Mr Knight, and that nature is safe with you.
2.Britain gives the green light to GM terminator technology
THE government has abandoned its opposition to so-called terminator technology - a form of genetic modification that makes harvested seeds sterile, and has opened the door to testing such products.
Terminator technology was developed by the biotech industry and is highly controversial because it prevents farmers from saving their own seeds to grow new crops, forcing them to buy seed each season.
A global moratorium on the testing and commercialisation of terminator technology was established under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in 2000.
However, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently stated that it will examine applications for terminator trials on a "case by case" basis.
Campaigners have accused ministers of putting the interest of biotech industries ahead of the millions of farmers who depend upon saving seeds.
Terminator technology - also known as genetic use restriction technologies, or Gurts - was developed in the US in the 1990s. In 2000, a global moratorium was established, with an agreement that restrictions should remain until research into the possible socio-economic impact of the technology was carried out.
There have been major fears that it could impoverish small-scale farmers in third world countries who traditionally save their seeds. Seed saving is also practised in countries such as Scotland to preserve seed-line and reduce farm costs.
However, some countries are pushing to be allowed to carry out "case-by-case" assessment. Among the countries known to back such a move are Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Last month the UK signalled that it is also in favour of carrying out trials when Defra posted a revised policy on its website, stating that it would consider applications for terminator field trials.
"Decisions on applications to market genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are made on a case-by-case basis taking full account of a scientific assessment of the particular GMO and the risks associated with its use against the criteria in the EU legislation. An application for a GMO incorporating Gurt would be dealt with in the same way as any other GMO," it says.
The turnaround comes only weeks ahead of a meeting in Brazil of the CBD on March 20-31, to consider a new report on the technology and discuss the current moratorium.
A letter sent from the office of First Minister Jack McConnell to a member of the UK Working Group on Terminator Technology which was passed to the Sunday Herald shows that the Scottish Executive also supports the new policy.
Like the Westminster document, it undermines the moratorium, stating: "Recognising that there are both potential benefits and risks associated with GM crops, all countries should be able to make their own informed choices."
Last night, campaigners reacted with disbelief. Pete Reilly of GM Freeze said: "There is no logic behind the shift. The government doesn't appear to have any new information available to justify it - they are working in the dark."
He added: "Whitehall has clearly decided that the interests of the biotech companies comes ahead of the millions of people who rely on farm-saved seeds for their livelihoods and food supply."
Mark Ruskell MSP, the Green spokesman on biotechnology, also expressed concern at the turnaround. "I'm shocked but not surprised that the Executive is toeing the Westminster line in allowing big biotech firms to potentially develop an obscene level of control on the world's food supply," he said.
"Terminator seeds steal the ability of farmers to support themselves and their communities, it's hard to think of a technology which could so completely undermine the Executive's attempts to help countries like Malawi claw their way out of poverty and hunger."
The National Farmers' Union in Scotland said trials were the only way to ascertain any benefits of GM crops. A spokesman said: "Whether the UK gives the go-ahead must be based on trials."
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