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Monsanto Buys 'Terminator' Seeds Company

Global Research | August 26, 2006
By F. William Engdahl

"For almost a quarter century, since 1983, the US Government has quietly been working to perfect a genetically engineered technique whereby farmers would be forced to turn to their seed supplier each harvest to get new seeds. The seeds would only produce one harvest. After that the seeds from that harvest would commit 'suicide' and be unusable."

The United States Government has been financing research on a genetic engineering technology which, when commercialized, will give its owners the power to control the food seed of entire nations or regions. The Government has been working quietly on this technology since 1983. Now, the little-known company that has been working in this genetic research with the Government's US Department of Agriculture-- Delta & Pine Land-- is about to become part of the world's largest supplier of patented genetically-modified seeds (GMO), Monsanto Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri.

Relations between Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land and the USDA, on closer scrutiny, show the deep and dark side of the much-heralded genetic revolution in agriculture. It proves deep-held suspicions that the Gene Revolution is not about 'solving the world hunger problem' as its advocates claim. It's about handing over control of the seeds for mankind's basic food supply-rice, corn, soybeans, wheat, even fruit, vegetables and cotton-to privately owned corporations. Once the seeds and their use are patented and controlled by one or several private agribusiness multinationals, it will be they who can decide whether or not a particular customer-let's say for argument, China or Brazil or India or Japan-whether they will or won't get the patented seeds from Monsanto, or from one of its licensee GMO partners like Bayer Crop Sciences, Syngenta or DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

While most of us don't bother to reflect on where the corn in the box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes or the rice in a box of Uncle Ben's Converted Rice come from, when we grab it from the supermarket shelf, they all must originate with seeds. Seeds can either be taken by a farmer from the previous season' seeds, and planted to produce the next harvest. Or, seeds can be bought new each harvest season, from the companies which sell their seeds.

The advent of commercial GMO seeds in the early 1990's allowed companies like Monsanto, DuPont or Dow Chemicals to go from supplying agriculture chemical herbicides like Roundup, to patenting genetically altered seeds for basic farm crops like corn, rice, soybeans or wheat. For almost a quarter century, since 1983, the US Government has quietly been working to perfect a genetically engineered technique whereby farmers would be forced to turn to their seed supplier each harvest to get new seeds. The seeds would only produce one harvest. After that the seeds from that harvest would commit 'suicide' and be unusable.

There has been much hue and cry, correctly so, that this process, patented 'suicide' seeds, officially termed GURTs (Genetic Use Restriction Technologies), is a threat to poor farmers in developing countries like India or Brazil, who traditionally save their own seeds for the next planting. In fact, GURTs, more popularly referred to as Terminator seeds for the brutal manner in which they kill off plant reproduction possibilities, is a threat to the food security as well of North America, Western Europe, Japan and anywhere Monsanto and its elite cartel of GMO agribusiness partners enters a market.

The Curious History of Delta & Pine Land

Delta & Pine Land is a company that, despite the pine in its name, has deep roots. Founded in 1888, it has its headquarters at One Cotton Row in Scott, Mississippi, nestled between Goat Island and Choktaw Bar Island on the Mississippi River, near the Arkansas border. However, the people running things at Delta Pine are anything but your typical Mississippi black-dirt cotton farmers.

In 1983, Delta & Pine Land (D&PL) joined with the US Department of Agriculture in a project to develop Terminator seeds. It was one of the earliest experiments with GMO. It was a long-term project. The US Government has been serious about Terminator beginning more than two decades ago.

In March 1998 the US Patent Office granted Patent No. 5,723,765 to Delta & Pine Land for a patent titled, Control of Plant Gene Expression. The patent is owned jointly, according to Delta & Pine's Security & Exchange Commission 10K filing, 'by D&PL and the United States of America, as represented by the Secretary of Agriculture.'

The patent has global coverage. To quote further from the official D&PL SEC filing, 'The patent broadly covers all species of plant and seed, both transgenic (GMO-ed) and conventional, for a system designed to allow control of progeny seed viability without harming the crop'(sic).

Then, in a manner reminiscent of Big Brother in George Orwell's novel, 1984, D&PL claims, 'One application of the technology could be to control unauthorized planting of seed of proprietary varieties.by making such a practice non-economic since non-authorized saved seed will not germinate, and, therefore, would be useless for planting.' D&PL calls the thousand-year-old tradition of farmer-saved seed by the pejorative term, 'brown bagging' as though it is something dirty and corrupt.

Translated into lay language, D&PL officially declares the purpose of its Patent No. 5,723,765, Control of Plant Gene Expression, is to prevent farmers who once get trapped into buying transgenic or GMO seeds from a company such as Monsanto or Syngenta, from 'brown bagging' or being able to break free of control of their future crops by Monsanto and friends. As D&PL puts it, their patent gives them 'the prospect of opening significant worldwide seed markets to the sale of transgenic technology in varietal crops in which crop seed currently is saved and used in subsequent seasons as planting seed.'

Instead, the farmer or the country whose farmers depend on Monsanto patented GMO seeds must pay a license fee to Monsanto each year to get new seeds. 'No tickee, no laundy,' as the old Brooklyn poet would say.

Terminator is the answer to the agribusiness dream of controlling world food production. No longer would they need to hire expensive detectives to spy on whether farmers were re-using Monsanto or other GMO patented seed. Terminator corn or soybeans or cotton seeds could be genetically modified to 'commit suicide' after one harvest season. That would automatically prevent farmers from saving and re-using the seed for the next harvest. The technology would be a means of enforcing Monsanto or other GMO patent rights, and forcing payment of farmer use fees not only in developing economies, where patent rights were, understandably, little respected, but also in industrial OECD countries.

With Terminator patent rights, once a country such as Argentina or Brazil or Iraq or the USA or Canada opened its doors to the spread of GMO patented seeds among its farmers, their food security would be potentially hostage to a private multinational company, a company which, for whatever reasons, especially given its intimate ties to the US Government, might decide to use 'food as a weapon' to compel a US-friendly policy from that country or group of countries.

Sound far-fetched? Go back to what then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger did in countries like Allende's Chile to force a regime change to a 'US-friendly' Pinochet dictatorship by withholding USAID and private food exports to Chile. Kissinger dubbed it 'food as a weapon.' Terminator is merely the logical next step in food weapon technology.

The role of the US Government in backing and financing Delta & Pine Land's decades of Terminator research is even more revealing. As Kissinger said back in the 1970's, 'Control the oil and you can control entire Continents. Control food and you control people.'

In a June 1998 interview, USDA spokesman, Willard Phelps, defined the US Government policy on Terminator seeds. He explained that USDA wanted the technology to be 'widely licensed and made expeditiously available to many seed companies.' He meant agribusiness GMO giants like Monsanto, DuPont or Dow. The USDA was open about their reasons: They wanted to get Terminator seeds into the developing world where the Rockefeller Foundation had made eventual proliferation of genetically engineered crops the heart of its GMO strategy from the beginnings of its rice genome project in 1984.

USDA's Phelps stated that the US Government's goal in fostering the widest possible development of Terminator technology was 'to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and Third World countries.'

Under WTO rules on free trade in agriculture, countries are forbidden to impose their own national health restrictions on GMO imports if it is deemed to be an 'unfair trade barrier.' It begins to become clear why it was the US Government and US agribusiness which during the late 1980's pushed at the GATT Uruguay Round for creation of a World Trade Organization, with its supranational arbitrary powers over world agriculture trade. It all fits into a neat picture of patented seeds, forced on reluctant WTO member nations, under threat of WTO sanctions, and now of Terminator or suicide seeds.

A closer look at who runs and owns Delta & Pine Land is instructive.

 

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