Saturday, 29 June 2013

Terminator Seeds are a Patent, not a Concept

Genetically modified crops were again in discussion in the House of Lords on 26 June 2013.  The question was what the UK government is doing to “reform the regulations regarding the commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops.”  Some of the usual rhetoric was raised such as GMOs being a tool in the box to feed the starving people in the world.
Exactly one year ago on 26 June 2012, GM companies Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF and their industry body, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), joined Science Minister David Willetts and Lord Taylor at a roundtable meeting to discuss the “Growing for Growth” report, including bringing more agricultural GM crops research into the UK and removing regulatory and political barriers.  Additional information is available in my article called GeneWatch UK/GMF press: Monsanto Meets Ministers to Push Return of GM Crops to Britain, or for the basics, see the following links:
I wrote a little history about Monsanto based on a comic I made for entry in a contest at the Positive Visions for Biodiversity Conference (16-19 November 2010) which I attended in Brussels, Belgium.  I didn’t win the contest, but that blog article has proved to be very popular.  In the article, I mention how Monsanto acquired Delta and Pine Land Company that jointly had a patent for the GM “terminator technology” with the US government.  The patent is called Control of plant gene expression, number US 5723765 A.
Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment. We have no plans or research that would violate this commitment in any way.”
They say they have no plans or research to market terminator seeds, but since 2007, they own a patent for this technology.  The fact is that the technology exists and is the property of Monsanto, and if Monsanto can make money from it, they will.  Also, please note that Monsanto’s pledge is specifically for food crops and there are many other types of crops in the agribusiness such as cotton, tobacco, and crops for animal feeds, biofuels, and micro-ingredients.  Here is what Lord de Mauley (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative) said:
“My noble friend raises an issue that is known as “terminator technology”; that is, the concept that seeds may not reproduce. Terminator technology is a concept rather than something that is being applied in practice. There are no GM crops in existence, to my knowledge, that produce sterile seed and no plans to market such crops.”
However, a patent is a lot more than a concept.  Sterile seeds exist in the real world.  They are not an idea in someone’s mind.  I found where this came from though.  It came from Monsanto who say on their website that “this is a group of technologies, all still in the conceptual or developmental stage, that could potentially be used to protect the investment companies make in developing genetically-improved crops, as well as possibly providing other agronomic benefits.”
As far as I know, Lord de Mauley is correct in that the terminator technology is not being marketed, but if anyone thinks that Monsanto will not take advantage of its property to make money, they are naive.  Furthermore, GM hybrid seeds, for example Bt Cotton, lose vigour after one year and this keeps farmers buying new seed stocks each year anyway.  Because of this, we are a short step away from accepting the terminator seeds.  One sales point for sterile seeds is that they will not contaminate the environment and Monsanto is presently selling the concept of putting this technology on the market.
Monsanto explains that the terminator seeds are a type of GURT (Gene Use Restriction Technology).  GURT “includes a range of technologies employed at the genetic level, designed to limit the use or spread of specific genetic material in agriculture.”  Monsanto further explains that “the need for companies to protect and gain a return on their investments in agricultural innovation is real. Without this return, we would no longer be able to continue developing new products growers have said they want.”
I would like to clarify with information from my article about Monsanto where I explained that GURT is basically divided into two types:  V-GURT is where the plant variety produces sterile seeds so that farmers need to purchase seeds for future planting; and T-GURT is a type of restriction at trait level where a crop is modified so that the genetic enhancement engineered into the crop does not function until the crop plant is treated with a chemical that is sold by the biotechnology company. Farmers can save seeds for use each year. However, they do not get to use the enhanced trait in the crop unless they purchase the activator compound.
I previously wrote on this blog about the GM blight resistant potato trials in Norwich and how organic potatoes that are blight resistant are available.  This is an example of how GM is not about being a solution to a problem such as feeding the world.  There’s more to it.  GM is about money and control for the Elite via corporations.  Monsanto says it clearly on their website as I set-out above.
In my article about the GM potato trials, I mentioned Professor Jones who was in charge of the research on potatoes at the John Innes Centre and how he co-founded Mendel Biotechnology in Hayward, California with its most important customer and collaborator for its business being Monsanto.  Professor Jones sits on the Scientific Advisory Board of this corporation which is “dedicated to being a premier biotechnology company serving large agricultural companies with new genetic and chemical solutions and to becoming the leading seed company serving the bioenergy industry” (my emphasis).
Now, I realise that the UK and US governments (and others) are in partnership with Monsanto and the other such corporations in more ways than joint ownership of one patent, but as the UK government still professes to represent me as a citizen living here, I am sending a link to this article to Lord de Mauley with hopes that he and others in the House of Lords may look at some of what I have written and/or links and possibly other information readily available on the Internet and reflect on their involvement in the development of GM crops and food technology in general.  After all, this technology is not in my favour.  In fact, it’s not in anyone’s favour, but especially not those who, like me, buy only organic food and do not take any medication.  I do not believe this technology is the best way forward.
Technology may seem like a great idea, but what about when it doesn’t work?  Modern food is already showing signs of not working when one considers the health statistics.  It’s all fine and dandy that we can sue the GM Company when something goes wrong (see Genetics, Molecular Biology and the Law (2010)), but how will it be fixed?  GMOs are irreversible.  No amount of money can put it back to the way it was before.  We are losing our alternatives.  And no amount of saving seeds in seed banks will be able to reverse the damage that is occurring to the human race because of the technological manipulation of food that is progressing every day at an ever faster rate (as well as the deluge of chemicals spewing out of factories).
Funnily enough, Lord de Mauley discussed the issue of moving forward with GM crops “with Commissioner Borg in order to emphasise the importance of finding a solution that gets the current system working. The commissioner has signalled that he wants to try to resolve the problems at European level and we look forward to further discussions on this issue.”  Pretty soon, Commissioner Borg (or someone like him) will be at a global level and the solutions that stem from this level will be creating big problems indeed, probably including the extinction of the human race.  In this system, freedom is a delusion and human beings need freedom to flourish.
It bears thinking about where we are headed once in awhile.  In other words, where are GM crops leading to?  Are they leading to the marketing of terminator seeds?  What effect is the GM technology having on the environment and human health already?  Where is the research on these questions to guide us?