15 May 2008
UK and EU criticised for undermining ban on technology that would spell disaster for developing world and agricultural biodiversity
A new Progressio report criticises the UK and EU for not doing enough to prevent the commercialisation of 'Terminator' seeds in the developing world, which would threaten the livelihoods of 1.4 billion people and wreak havoc on agricultural biodiversity.
Biotechnology companies claim that 'Terminator' - which uses genetic engineering to make plants produce sterile seeds - would prevent contamination between GM and non-GM crops. Its detractors dismiss this claim by arguing that Terminator would actually make contamination worse. The highly controversial technology is currently controlled by a temporary UN ban.
If commercialised, Terminator would put an end to the practice of seed-saving, which is essential to 1.4 billion of the world's poorest farmers who save and re-plant seeds from one year to the next to feed their families and earn a living. What makes Terminator different from other genetically modified seeds is the fact that it would:
* Force farmers to buy new seed from large companies that control a global seed market worth US$19.6 billion. * Further jeopardise the food security of the world's poorest communities that are already struggling to cope with rising food prices. * Reduce biodiversity by forcing farmers to abandon local seed varieties in favour of commercial seeds. * Make farmers more vulnerable to climate change by forcing them to use commercial seed rather than locally adapted varieties, which are far more resilient to unpredictable weather patterns.
The new Progressio report 'Against the Grain' reveals that both the UK and EU are weakening the UN agreement not to develop or commercialise the technology. The findings come just days before May's high-level UN summit of signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the body that may now reconsider the ban it established in 2000.
Against the Grain reveals how EU and, by implication, British taxpayers are contributing to the development of Terminator technology through a £3.4 million EU research project called 'Transcontainer'.
The project - which receives more than 75% of its funding from the public pot - is investigating a variety of Terminator seed that can be brought back to life with a chemical. Biotechnology companies claim that these so-called 'Zombie' seeds would be used to produce GM plants and trees which are engineered to stop GM traits spreading to other plants.
But Progressio's report highlights that Terminator technology, in all forms, is far from failsafe. The science currently available "cannot prevent cross-contamination" between Terminator plants and neighbouring non-GM crops, it says.
Instead, Against the Grain warns that by funding the Transcontainer project, the EU is undermining its own commitments not to develop or commercialise Terminator technology. "Zombies could be the Trojan horse through which Terminator is let loose worldwide", the report says. "If this technology were approved in Europe, it would soon be marketed globally - with devastating consequences".
The report also accuses the UK government of turning a "blind eye" to the EU's research and directly undermining the UN ban. The government has said it would treat an application for field-testing of Terminator like any other GM, which means it is failing to recognise that Terminator is different to other GM technologies and ignoring the technology's potentially devastating impact on the developing world. This is equivalent to a "shoulder-shrug", the report says.
The UN ban is now the only major hurdle preventing powerful biotechnology companies from bringing Terminator seeds to market.
Progressio's environmental advocacy coordinator, Sol Oyuela, said: "Terminator is yet another catastrophic nail in the coffin for traditional agricultural practices and biodiversity which are both vital to poverty reduction - it's no coincidence that there is currently a UN ban on its development and commercialisation. If the UK is genuinely committed to improving the lives of the world's poor and helping them cope with the impact of climate change, Terminator technology must remain illegal."
In the run-up to this May's UN summit - where the UN ban could be lifted altogether - Progressio is calling on the UK government to:
* Support the global ban on Terminator technology at the summit and ensure it is upheld * Voice strong opposition to European funding of the Transcontainer project and its research into Zombie seeds
And the EU to:
* Support the global ban on Terminator technology at the summit and ensure it is upheld * Put an immediate stop to its funding of the Transcontainer project
Progressio's Executive Director, Christine Allen, said: "At a time when the world is concerned about global food shortages and rising food costs, it would be madness to lift a ban on a technology that would have such a devastating effect on poor farmers and the developing world. The UK and EU need to stand up for the world's poor and say NO to Terminator and Transcontainer. The moment to act is now."
Progressio has been campaigning against Terminator technology since 2005 and is a founding member of the UK Working Group on Terminator technology and its current Chair. Progressio is also a member of the UK Food Group.
Independent Catholic News (LONDON), 16 May 2008 http://www.indcatholicnews.com/seeds321.html
Three widely respected theologians have condemned Terminator technology which produces genetically engineered plants with sterile seeds as "grossly immoral".
Writing in a new publication, commissioned by Catholic development charity Progressio, Jesuit Priest Roland Lesseps, Father Sean McDonagh and Father Donal Dorr say the controversial GM technology, which is currently restricted by a temporary UN ban, offers "no benefit for farmers and consumers" and would have "long-term consequences for the environment".
Biotechnology companies claim that 'Terminator' seeds would be used to produce GM crops and trees which are engineered to stop GM traits spreading to other plants by inserting a 'suicide' gene. But Father Sean McDonagh, writing in the new publication, says: "There is simply no such thing as a safe and acceptable form of Terminator".
Instead, the theologians warn that the technology could have catastrophic effects on the poorest farmers in the developing world. Presently, 1.4 billion farmers rely on the practice of seed-saving to grow food to feed their families. If Terminator technology is commercialised, farmers' food security would be under threat. "Since poor farmers cannot afford to buy seed every year, they will go hungry", writes Roland Lesseps.
The theological argument against Terminator is equally striking, say the report's authors. "Terminator technology attacks the very principle of life itself", writes Lesseps. "Destroying the life principle in an organism is not a right relationship with creation which should be received as a gift from God to be shared by all."
The new publication, entitled "Unless the grain of wheat shall die", has been produced to coincide with the May 19-30 meeting of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), where the current UN ban on Terminator technology is likely to be discussed. The CBD has the power to lift the ban completely.
Progressio also launches its new report on Terminator technology, Against the Grain, today. The report urges the UK and EU to voice their support for the current UN ban on the technology and ensure it is upheld. The new report is available online at: http://www.progressio.org.uk
Progressio is a UK-based Catholic charity working to tackle poverty and injustice in developing countries. It has been campaigning against Terminator technologies since 2005 and is a founding member of the UK Working Group on Terminator technology and its current Chair. Progressio is also a member of the UK Food Group.