Thursday, February 17, 2005

Not Suicide Bombers, Suicide Seeds

Suicide Seeds are not Suicide Bombers but something just as frightening.

For thousands of years, farmers have gathered up seeds from one year's crop to be planted for next year's crop. It is part of the eternal rhythm of agriculture, reflected in stories about Isis and Osiris, the birth agonies of Dionysus, and other mythologies. Every fall, one part of the harvest is stored away, the seed corn for next year. When farmers eat or lose the seed corn that is the end of farming for them. Forever. The farm dies off. It is a true tragedy.

Now, Companies producing Agricultural Products and government busybodies from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (among others) have decided to interfere with this cycle, to prevent this year's extra harvest from being used to plant next year's crop.
Terminator technology was first developed by the US government and the seed industry to prevent farmers from re-planting saved seed and is considered the most controversial and immoral agricultural application of genetic engineering so far. When first made public in 1998, "suicide seeds" triggered an avalanche of public opposition, forcing Monsanto to abandon the technology and prompting the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to impose a de facto moratorium on its further development.
WHY WRITE ABOUT IT NOW?

There are numerous articles all over the Internet about Canada trying to force Terminator seeds through a UN scientific committee. It does not seem in Canada's interest. There are plenty of farmers on the broad plains of Canada's heartland, and forcing them to buy all their seeds from huge agribusiness (instead of using their own seeds) doesn't look smart. Inquisitive me had to look into it.

Next I found the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The CBD forms an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) when it wants to look at an issue. Well, the AHTEG looking into Terminator Technology, which they call Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs), basically came back and said, "No Sir, I don't like it."

The AHTEG report finishes with this recommendation: "In view of the current lack of data, recommends that Parties and other Governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use." Canada, Australia, and New Zealand believe that there is no consensus on this recommendation (merely an overwhelming majority) and they are working to scuttle it. Seems they think that Suicide Seeds could help them protect an artificial good such as biodiversity, while threatening a natural good such as a currently stable ecosystem.

Isn't that what always happens when people get their panties all in a wad about some new abstract understanding of the way the world works? All of a sudden they want to throw everything we already have into the crapper so they can replace it with some sanitized, sterile solution that worked in a lab somewhere.

From the Highlights of the Feb 8th UN Biodiversity Meeting
Genetic use restriction technologies: Supporting the report of the AHTEG on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs) (UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/10/15), BANGLADESH proposed that it be considered by COP-8. PERU requested including all the AHTEG’s recommendations in the report. CANADA, AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND said the report should not be presented as a consensus document, noting that it was prepared by the AHTEG’s Co-Chairs only, without subsequent review by its members. Many delegates supported referring the report to the Article 8(j) Working Group, and conducting further research. AUSTRIA and the EC called for a SBSTTA recommendation restating COP decision V/5 (Agricultural Biodiversity). The NETHERLANDS stressed that GURTs’ impacts had yet to be confirmed and, with CANADA, recommended strict risk assessments, on a case-by-case basis. Aknowledging the need for risk assessments, an INDUSTRY representative said GURTs should not be treated differently from other biotechnologies. The ETC GROUP called for specific recommendations to protect the livelihoods of local and indigenous peoples and ensure their food security. The CBDC called for recognizing farmers’ rights to seeds and for a ban on GURTs. ...

Discussions on genetic use restriction technologies appeared as a battlefield, with an expected polarization of views. Proposals to refer the issue to the Working Group on Article 8(j) left some delegates wondering if the long-lasting odyssey of the report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group, from one CBD body to the other, would ever come to an end. Noting similar suggestions for referral during discussions on targets, one delegate thought this was but a confirmation of an emerging trend in the SBSTTA to shy away from delicate politically-charged issues.
Let's take just a minute and lay out the PROS and CONS for Terminator Seeds. I have tried to be pretty accurate, because I think conclusions that don't weigh all the evidence are worthless. If you care to suggest more PRO or CON bullets then please add your comments below.

PRO CON At the meeting, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Netherlands tried to work out ways for Terminator Seed testing to be allowed under the agreement.

The Canadian Government, working with the UN, are attempting to open channels for the scientific study of Terminator Seeds, presumably including planting them in a field somewhere. As if Canadian agriculture doesn't have enough to worry about with Mad Cow Disease in their herds.

So, not a suicide bomber. Suicide corn instead. Vast fields of it. In the wide open spaces of Canada's heartland. Waiting for the right mutation.
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