Farmers 'betrayed' over technology

Mar 21 2006
Steve Dube,
Western Mail


THOUSANDS of farmers are expected to demonstrate today against proposals that will open the way for a form of genetic modification that makes it impossible for them to save their own seeds.

A global moratorium on testing and marketing so-called terminator technology, established under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity in 2000, could be overturned this week as 188 governments gather in Curitiba, Brazil, for the eighth conference of the convention.

The UK has joined Australia, Canada and New Zealand in urging the convention to abandon its opposition and fall in line with the United States, where the seeds are currently being tested.

Almost 500 organisations, including farmers groups, international organisations, trade unions, charities and churches have now called for a ban in a growing campaign of opposition.

Terminator technology is controversial because it prevents farmers from saving their own seeds to grow new crops, forcing them to buy new seeds each season.

Opponents say it is easy to understand why a handful of wealthy governments want to join the US in developing terminator seeds.

The major seed companies effectively control a world seed market worth about £14bn a year. If farmers could not save their own seeds, and were forced to buy every time, the value could double.

The UK Government's decision to abandon its opposition was only revealed on the Defra web site on February 21 when the House of Commons was in recess.

It was raised by Opposition MPs on March 8, when Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw insisted that the policy was unchanged, although a moratorium on testing would be wrong.

He said the UK's position was to approach every bid to test or market such seeds on a case-by-case basis, as with all GM seeds.

Former Environment Minister Michael Meacher says UK policy now differs significantly from the one he approved six years ago.

"I could see the need for a global agreement on how to prevent the release of terminator," he said.

"It poses a greater threat than any other type of GM seeds because it would undermine farmers' seed saving, threaten food security and agricultural biodiversity.

"Using this technology would force more farmers to buy new seeds each season from corporations whose control over seeds is already substantial."

Dr Meacher said the Government appeared to back the claim by the big biotech corporations that the terminator would prevent GM genes contaminating neighbouring crops or wild plants.

"This is nonsense because terminator cannot provide 100% sterility, nor prevent normal cross-contamination through pollen drift," he said. "In any case, that is not its purpose; it is to make the seeds agronomically unviable in order to ensure seed sales."

Dr Brian John, of the campaign group GM Free Cymru, questioned where the Welsh Assembly Government stood on the issue.

In an open letter to Wales Environment Minister Carwyn Jones, Dr John said, "This is an appalling policy shift which betrays the interests of farmers.

"There is no new evidence which might underpin a shift in the Defra position.

" The implications for the Third World are truly terrifying."

A Welsh Assembly Government spokeswoman said, "If GM crop varieties containing terminator technology were ever approved for use in the EU, it would be up to individual farmers to decide whether or not to use them."

Tests have benefits, says scientists A NEW discussion document endorses the need to make sure new crops and farming practices are not going to damage biodiversity. But the Government's Advisory Committee on Releases (Acre) into the Environment says the current regulatory system is flawed because it doesn't weigh this damage against potential benefits.

Acre chairman Professor Chris Pollock, the director of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research near Aberystwyth, who chaired the Scientific Steering Committee of the UK Farm Scale Trials on GM crops, believed the trials were a great model for testing environmental impact before new technology is widely introduced.

"But many scientists also feel that by only asking about the dis-benefits of this technology, policy makers cannot make a balanced decision based on a proper risk-benefit analysis."

Informant: Teresa Binstock


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