Genetically Manipulated Food News

17 September 98

Table of Contents

BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone) Background
EU Urged To Act On Resistance To Antibiotics
Research: Foreign DNA enters the Body
Chain Tesco Plans to Label GE Food
Schools Ban Mutant Food
From Major Hallett to Biological Warfare on Farmers Terminator Technology
'Terminator Technology' - One Step Too Far?
New Patent Aims To Prevent Farmers From Saving Seed

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Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 17:56:51 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to: Bradford Duplisea - Sierra Club of/du Canada and Lucy Sharratt for the preparation of the document

September 14, 1998

BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone) Background

What is Bovine Growth Hormone ?
History of Monsanto and BGH
Human Health Concerns: What is Insulin-like Growth Factor - 1 (IGF-1) ?
Is Animal Health Being Compromised ?
Is Health Canada Working for Canadians or Multinational Corporations ?
Health Canada Scientists Allege Harassment to Approve Drugs
Who Wants a Ban on BGH ?

What is Bovine Growth Hormone ?

Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), also known as recombinant Bovine Somatotrophin (rBST), is the controversial genetically engineered hormone that is injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. The hormone, made by the genetic engineering and pesticide giant Monsanto, is approved for use in the United States, but not yet in Canada or any countries of the European Union. The genetically engineered hormone is marketed in the United States by Monsanto under the brand-name Posilac.

History of Monsanto and BGH

Monsanto has been the manufacturer of a number of toxic chemicals that have ultimately been banned. Every country in the world is now contaminated with hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), thanks to Monsanto's refusal to be guided by early scientific evidence indicating harm to human health.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved BGH for use in dairy cows in 1993. The approval process was riddled with conflicts of interest, however, as some former Monsanto employees who went to work for the FDA, oversaw the approval process and then went back to work for Monsanto.

Although Monsanto states that BGH is one of the most thoroughly examined drugs in US history, BGH was never tested in the long-term for (chronic) human health effects. It is a generally accepted principle in science that two years of testing is the minimal time for long-term health studies. BGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats. This short-term rat study was submitted to the FDA but was never published. The FDA has refused to allow anyone outside the administration to review the raw data from this study, saying that this would "irreparably harm" Monsanto.[1] Monsanto has continued to refuse to allow open scientific peer review of the 90 day study. This linchpin study of cancer and BGH has never been subjected to scrutiny by the scientific community.

Three British researchers - Erik Millhouse of Sussex University, Ian White of the London School of Hygiene, and Eric Brunner of University College London - were provided with raw data on BGH by Monsanto. The three say that they were blocked by Monsanto for nearly three years from publishing a review of this data. Millhouse, Brunner and White believe that, had their findings been published earlier, they might have influenced the US Food and Drug Administration not to approve the genetically engineered hormone.

Shortly after the approval of BGH, eleven different consumer surveys were carried out in the United States. Consumers stated overwhelmingly that they did not want milk that contains genetically engineered hormones, and that they wanted their milk labeled to allow them to make an informed choice in their grocery store.[2]

In response to consumer concerns, the FDA and Monsanto have spoken with a single voice: the FDA has warned grocery stores not to label milk as “BGH free”[3] and in February, 1994, Monsanto sued two small milk processors that labeled milk as free of the genetically engineered hormone.[4] The FDA official who was responsible for the agency's labeling policy, Michael R. Taylor, was a former partner of King & Spaulding, the Washington, D.C. law firm that has brought the lawsuits on behalf of Monsanto.

Monsanto fears that informed consumers might choose not to buy milk produced by BGH-treated cows. An internal company memo dated Sept. 21, 1993, equates a government labeling requirement with a government "ban" on its product.[5]

Human Health Concerns: What is Insulin-like Growth Factor - 1 (IGF-1) ?

When a cow is injected with BGH, its milk production is stimulated, but not directly. The presence of BGH in the cow's blood stimulates production of another hormone, Insulin-Like Growth Factor - 1, or IGF-1. It is IGF-1 that stimulates milk production. IGF-1 is a naturally occurring hormone-protein in both cows and humans.

Some scientists maintain that the use of BGH increases the levels of IGF-1 in cow's milk. IGF-1 is not destroyed by milk pasteurization. Because IGF-1 is active in humans, causing cells to divide, any increased levels of IGF-1 in milk raises the question: will this result in cell division leading to the growth of cancerous tumors?

Monsanto's position that IGF-1 levels are not elevated contradicts the company’s own studies. In a published letter, the British researcher T. B. Mepham reminded Monsanto that in its 1993 application to the British government for permission to sell BGH, Monsanto itself reported that "the IGF-1 level went up substantially [about five times as much]."[7] The FDA acknowledges that IGF-1 is elevated in milk from BGH-treated cows.[8] Other proponents of BGH acknowledge that it at least doubles the amount of IGF-1 hormone in the milk.[9] The earliest report in this literature found that IGF-1 was elevated in the milk of BGH-treated cows by a factor of 3.6.[10]

More recent studies have demonstrated that IGF-1, in the presence of the milk protein, casein, largely survives digestion in the stomach and passes into the intestine for absorption into the bloodstream.[11] In January, 1998, a Harvard study of 15,000 white men that was published in SCIENCE magazine reported that those with elevated, but still normal, levels of IGF-1 in their blood are 4 times as likely as average men to get prostate cancer.[12] Furthermore, “there are highly suggestive if not persuasive lines of evidence showing that consumption of this milk increases risks of breast and colon cancer,” says Dr. Samuel Epstein, a scientist from the University of Illinois.

Is Animal Health Being Compromised ?

There is extensive evidence of animal health problems resulting from the use of BGH. Though Monsanto denies the connection as anything but a management problem, the product label itself lists more than 20 serious side-effects associated with its use. The most serious side-effect is an increased risk of mastitis; a painful udder infection. Monsanto’s own data shows a startling 79% increase in mastitis. Farmer’s resort to intensive antibiotic treatments to control these infections. Scientists have raised concerns regarding the probable development of human antibiotic resistance resulting from increased exposure to antibiotics in our food.

Other serious side-effects stated on the BGH label include increased somatic cell counts; increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus; decreases in gestational length and birth weight of calves; increased digestive disorders such as indigestion, bloat and diarrhea; increased numbers of enlarged hocks, lesions and foot disorders; increased periods of ‘off-feed’; injection site reactions and other heath problems. Furthermore, milk from BGH-treated cows is very likely to feature: more pus >from infected cows' udders; an "off " taste and shortened shelf life, because of the pus; higher fat content and lower protein content; and presence of more antibiotics. Some farmers have observed that the use of BGH shortened the life of their cows by an average of two years.

Is Health Canada Working for Canadians or Multinational Corporations ?

Examination of the review process for the safety of BGH reveals the powerful influence of multinational corporations over government departments, particularly Health Canada. In November 1994 the CBC-TV program "The 5th Estate" reported that Monsanto Canada Inc., at a meeting with representatives from Health Canada, offered a bribe of one or two million dollars for the speedy approval of BGH without any further testing. In May 1997, The Globe and Mail reported that Health Canada was a department riddled with managers easily influenced by powerful pharmaceutical corporations.

In 1994 BGH was examined by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in hearings that concluded with recommendations to place a one-year moratorium on the approval of BGH to allow for further study. The Committee agreed that there were too many unknowns to approve the use of BGH in Canada at that time.

In June 1995 Monsanto threatened to pull some of their investments from Canada if the moratorium on BGH was extended. Member of Parliament, Wayne Easter, was quoted in The Globe and Mail as stating, "What they're saying is blackmail and nothing less."

Conflict of interest questions have also been raised in Canada surrounding government employees and Monsanto. The Globe and Mail reported that Dr. Leonard Ritter, while on unpaid leave from the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs, appeared before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food as a representative of the Canadian Animal Health Institute, an industry lobby group of manufacturers and distributors of veterinary medicines. Dr. Ritter stated that he was responsible for the program in which Health Canada had previously reviewed BGH. Ritter was accused in the House of Commons of acting as a lobbyist for BGH manufacturers.

Health Canada Scientists Allege Harassment to Approve Drugs

On September 15-16, 1998, in the CD Howe Building (240 Sparks Street, 7th Floor) at 9:30 am, the Public Service Staff Relations Board will be hearing three grievances filed by six Health Canada scientists. The grievances were filed through their union, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

The scientists, all employees of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs at the Health Protection Branch, state that upper-level management of Health Canada is pressuring them to approve drugs despite unresolved safety questions. The scientists allege persistent harassment by management, including coercion, conspiracy, threats, intimidation and defamation. In 1994, the CBC-TV program "The 5th Estate" reported in an expose on BGH, that the files of one of the scientists had been stolen.

Dr. Michelle Brill-Edwards resigned from Health Canada in 1996 because of her fears that public safety was being subordinated to industry demands. In a recent interview on CTV's Canada AM, Dr. Shiv Chopra, one of the grieving scientists, was asked why he thought that he was under pressure from Health Canada to approve products so quickly; Dr. Chopra replied, "Well, what do you think? Money. For multinational companies that produce those things."

The scientists approached PIPSC after having received no satisfactory response from Health Canada to their complaints. Health Canada downplayed the scientists' concerns, referring to them as matters merely of employee relations. The scientists disagree with this conclusion. They view the issues as critical to their ability to protect public health and safety, and to work free from employer interference. The scientists have requested the Prime Minister call a judicial review of Health Canada.

The public insists that access to information from Health Canada scientists is essential to food safety and to public trust in Health Canada. The public demands that these greater issues be addressed, including public access to information on the safety of products, and the protection of pubic servants through "whistle-blowing" legislation.

The scientists have been ordered by Health Canada not to voice their concerns in public. Several scientists have received severe reprimands by the department for speaking to the public and to the media. The public is being denied access to the scientists who review drugs for safety. Consumers are only being allowed information from official Health Canada spokespeople.

A complete report from Health Canada on the safety of BGH is being withheld from the Senate and from the public. This report, referred to as the "Gaps Analysis" report, is reported to summarize the gaps in Health Canada’s evaluation of the safety of BGH.

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry has begun to look at BGH and this fall will hold further hearings. The National Farmers Union is asking the public to write to Senators and request that the scientists appear as witnesses and that the "Gaps Analysis" report be subject to rigorous evaluation and public scrutiny.

Who Wants a Ban on BGH ?

Numerous farm, environmental and health organizations are opposed to the use of BGH in Canada. They include the National Farmers Union, the Sierra Club of Canada, the Council of Canadians, and public health boards, school boards, and consumer groups across the country.


  1. In his book Milk, The Deadly Poison [ISBN 0-9659196-0-9] (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Argus Press [Tel. (201) 871-5871], 1997), pgs. 67-96, Robert Cohen describes his extensive efforts to obtain a copy of this unpublished study from FDA. Cohen filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the study and was refused; he appealed within FDA and lost. He then filed a lawsuit in federal court and, again, lost. FDA and the courts agree that the public should never learn what happened to those rats fed BGH because it would "irreparably harm" Monsanto. Based on the scant information that has been published about the weight gains of the rats during the 90-day study, Cohen believes that many or perhaps all of the rats got cancer. Weight-gain in the rats is described cryptically in Tables 1 and 2 in Judith C. Juskevich and C. Greg Guyer, "Bovine Growth Hormone: Human Food Safety Evaluation," SCIENCE Vol. 249 (1990), pg. 875-884.

  2. Michael Hansen, "Testimony Before the Joint Meeting of the Food Advisory Committee & the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee on Whether to Label Milk From BGH-Treated Cows by Michael K. Hansen, Ph.D.," May 6, 1993. Available from: Consumer Policy Institute, Consumers Union, 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703-1057. Telephone (914) 378-2000.

  3. Keith Schneider, "F.D.A. Warns the Dairy Industry Not to Label Milk Hormone-Free," NEW YORK TIMES February 8, 1994, pg. A1.

  4. Schneider, note 1 above. In an interview with RHWN March 15, Matt Bennett of King & Spaulding refused to discuss these lawsuits, referring us to Tom McDermott at Monsanto in St. Louis, whom we could not reach before our press deadline.

  5. Virginia V. Weldon, "Coehlo Talking Points for Espy Dinner," a memo on Monsanto company letterhead dated Sept. 21, 1993.

  6. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association. "Biotechnology and the American Agricultural Industry." JAMA [JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION] Vol. 265, No. 11 (March 20, 1991), pg. 1433.

  7. Robert J. Collier and others, "[Untitled Letter to the Editor]," LANCET Vol. 344 (September 17, 1994), pg. 816. Monsanto Senior Vice President Virginia V. Weldon, MD, says, "...the FDA has concluded from detailed studies that IGF-1 is not increased." See Virginia V. Weldon, "Re 'A Needless New Risk of Breast Cancer, Commentary, March 20'," LOS ANGELES TIMES April 4, 1994, pg. 6.

  8. William H. Daughaday and David M. Barbano, "Bovine somatotropin supplementation of dairy cows: is the milk safe?" JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Vol. 264, No. 8 (August 22, 1990), pgs. 1003-1005.

  9. C. G. Prosser and others, "Increased secretion of insulin-like growth factor-1 into milk of cows treated with recombinantly derived bovine growth hormone," JOURNAL OF DAIRY SCIENCE Vol. 56 (1989), pgs. 17-26.

  10. C. G. Prosser and others, "Increased secretion of insulin-like growth factor-1 into milk of cows treated with recombinantly derived bovine growth hormone," JOURNAL OF DAIRY SCIENCE Vol. 56 (1989), pgs. 17-26.

  11. Xian et al, 1995; Kimura et al, 1997

  12. June M. Chan and others, “Plasma Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 [IGF-1] and Prostate Cancer Risk: A Prospective Study,” SCIENCE Vol. 279 (January 23, 1998)


For more information please contact:

Bradford Duplisea Tel: (613) 241-4611
Sierra Club of/du Canada Campaign Director - Pesticides, Toxics, Biotechnology & Aquaculture

For more information on BGH and the FOX lawsuit, you can refer to website:

Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 17:56:56 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

EU Urged To Act On Resistance To Antibiotics

BRUSSELS, Sept 10 (Reuters) - A European Union consultative body called on Thursday for action across the 15-nation bloc to prevent humans and animals becoming resistant to antibiotics.

In a report entitled "Resistance to antibiotics: a public health threat," the Economic and Social Committee (Ecosoc) urged EU governments to curb excessive use of human and animal antibiotics by halting all over-the-counter sales.

The report said the EU needed a centralised system to monitor how antibiotics were used in the bloc's member countries and track indications of resistance to certain products.

The EU, which allows goods and people to cirtes, should also set up a centr alised body for authorising the use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine, it said.

Ecosoc recommended that EU governments issue guidelines on the use of antibiotics and on ways to minimise the spread of resistant bacteria in hospitals.

The committee also called for further research into the reasons for antibiotics losing their effectiveness and how resistant bacteria were transmitted from one species to another.

Public concern over antibiotic resistance has increased recently following a decision by EU governments to authorise a genetically modified strain of maize produced by Swiss drugs company Novartis. The crop carries an antibiotic resistance gene as a marker.

Groups opposed to gene crops have voiced fears that the use of the marker gene will lead to livestock or people who eat the crop becoming resistant to the penicillin class of antibiotics.

Austria and Luxembourg have slapped national ba have been told by the EU's executive Commission that their action breaches EU law.

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 22:58:26 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to Prof. Joe Cummins for forwarding the following scientific abstract.

Research: Foreign DNA enters the Body

Note from Dr. Cummins: The study below shows that food genes not only get into adult tissues but also invade the unborn!
TitleUptake of foreign DNA from the environment: the gastrointestinal tract and the placenta as portals of entry [see comments]
AuthorDoerfler W; Schubbert R
AddressInstitut für Genetik, Universität zu Köln, Federal Republic of Germany.
SourceWien Klin Wochenschr, 110(2):40-4 1998 Jan 30 Abstract

Foreign DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is part of our environment. Considerable amounts of foreign DNA of very different origin are ingested daily with food. In a series of experiments we fed the DNA of bacteriophage M13 as test DNA to mice and showed that fragments of this DNA survive the passage through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in small amounts (1-2%).

Food-ingested M13 DNA reaches peripheral white blood cells, the spleen and liver via the intestinal epithelia and cells in the Peyer's patches of the intestinal wall. There is evidence to assume that food-ingested foreign DNA can become covalently linked to mouse-like DNA.

When M13 DNA is fed to pregnant mice the test DNA can be detected in cells in various organs of the fetuses and of newborn animals, but never in all cells of the mouse fetus. It is likely that the M13 DNA is transferred by the transplacental route and not via the germ line.

The consequences of foreign DNA uptake for mutagenesis and oncogenesis have not yet been investigated.

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 22:58:26 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

forwarded by (jim mcnulty)

Chain Tesco Plans to Label GE Food

by Chris Lyddon

LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) via NewsEdge Corporation - Europe's biggest food retailer, Tesco Plc, is planning to label vegetable oil which may originate from genetically modified (GM) soya, even though current tests show no GM material remains in oil.

Tesco will label all own-label prodcuts containing soya oil and soya-derived lecithin, the group said in a statement.

Although British food retailers decided last year to label processed foods which might contain GM crops as "genetically modified," oil has been left out so far on the grounds that it contains no protein, so no GM material is present in the end product.

"However, research suggests that this is an area of customer concern and so Tesco will voluntarily label all products containing soya derivatives as from September 1998," the statement said.

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 22:58:26 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Schools Ban Mutant Food

By Sydney Young, The Mirror, Thu, 17 Sep 1998,

Education chiefs banned genetically modified foods from school dinners yesterday to stop children becoming "human guinea pigs". Parents worried by health risks backed Gloucestershire County Council's decision to become the first county in the UK to reject the foods.

Its education committee has ruled that caterers must now guarantee engineered crops will not be used to supply its 200 schools.

Lib Dem councillor Michael Skinner said: "We do not yet know just how safe these foods are and we do not want our children to be guinea pigs." Genetically modified crops are engineered in laboratories to improve their performance or make them grow better in extreme conditions.

But a National Farmers' Union spokesman dismissed the ban as "pointless" because GM foods, including US maize and tomato products have been imported for years.

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 22:58:26 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

The following article was posted on the genetics network: GE - Ecologist article on Terminator Mime-Version: 1.0

Thanks to the Ecologist for the following article. This month's Ecologist is all about Genetic Engineering. This is just one of the articles from it. So make sure you get hold of a copy!

From Major Hallett to Biological Warfare on Farmers Terminator Technology

by Ricarda A. Steinbrecher and Pat Roy Mooney - Ecologist, August 1998

Hybrid seeds:
How hybrids work:
Terminator Technology :
How the Terminator Technology works:
Terminator meets the "Monster":
Terminating the Terminator:
BOX 1: Terminator gene
BOX 2: Gene silencing
BOX 3: Tetracycline

In 1860, fully five years before Abbé Gregor Mendel published his obscure tome on the genetics of peas, launching so-called "modern" plant breeding, a certain Major Hallett, F.L.S. of Brighton was warning farmers and fellow seedsmen that any abuse of his "pedigree" trademark for cereals would be "severely dealt with". Much to the good Major's chagrin, seeds were not patentable and there was little he could do to keep farmers from buying his wheat varieties, sowing them, selecting the best seed for the next season, and breeding their own varieties uniquely adapted to local soils, slopes, and weather.

It was only in 1908 that George Shull came up with what Major Hallett really wanted - a biological weapon to keep farmers from saving and developing their own seeds. Called "hybridization", a wonderfully euphemistic term that led farmers to think that crossing two distant plant relatives could create a "hybrid vigour" that so improved yield as to make the resulting seed sterility - meaning it could not be replanted - financially worthwhile. Today, almost every ear of corn grown from California to Kazakhstan is a hybrid controlled by any one of a handful of very wealthy seed companies. Exactly ninety years after Shull's revelation, one of the biggest and most powerful of those companies, Monsanto, is fighting for control of the most important seed monopoly technology since the hybrid.

But unlike 1860, this piece of life control can be patented. On March 3rd, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a little-known cotton seed enterprise called Delta and Pine Land Company, acquired U.S. patent 5,723,765 - or the Technology Protection System (TPS). Within days, the rest of the world knew TPS as Terminator Technology. Its declared goal is to promulgate plants that will produce self-terminating off-spring - suicide seeds. Terminator Technology epitomises what genetic engineering of food crops is all about and gives an insight into the driving forces behind the corporate campaign to control and own life.

The Terminator rides to the rescue of long-suffering multinationals who have been unable to hold farmers back from their twelve thousand year tradition of saving and breeding seeds. Farmers buy the seed once and do their own work thereafter. Patents and Pinkerton detectives have been employed to stop farmers from doing so.

The Terminator though provides a built-in biological "patent", enforced by engineered genes. Small farming communities of the Third World especially rely upon their own plant breeding since neither corporate nor public breeders show much interest or aptitude in breeding for their often difficult environments. Old-fashioned hybrids and the Terminator Technology with its terminated seeds force farmers back to the market every season. Terminator also scuttles community conservation of agricultural biodiversity. There's nothing to conserve. It is the "neutron bomb" of agriculture.

Hybrid seeds:

Following the re-discovery of Mendel's Laws in 1900, money-minded plant breeders pursued strategies that would force farmers back to the marketplace every season to spend their hard earned money on seeds. Although the concept of hybrids evolved with George Shull in 1908, the first hybrid maize was not commercialized until 1924 by Henry A. Wallace.

Two years later, Wallace formed Pioneer Hi-Bred the world's largest seed company and still largely controlled by the founding family. Wallace went onto become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and, finally (in 1941), Vice-President of the United States. Wallace's championship of hybrids made it an immutable, if unscientific, Act of Faith to argue that "hybrid vigour" made maize the "bin-busting" bonanza it is today.

More recently however, respected scientific and economic critics like Jean-Pierre Berlan of France's INRA and Richard C. Lewontin of Harvard as well as Jack R, Kloppenburg Jr. of the University of Wisconsin have challenged this assumption insisting that conventional maize breeding programmes would always out-perform hybrids given the same research investment. According to these critics, the only advantage to hybrids lies in their profitability for companies.

How hybrids work:

Hybrid seeds are the first generation (F1) progeny of two distinct and distant parental lines of the same species. The seed will incorporate and express the desired genetic traits of each parent for just one generation. Seeds taken >from an F1 hybrid may either be sterile or, more commonly, fail to "breed true", not express the desirable genetic qualities found in F1.

Farmers in industrialized agricultural systems rarely attempt to replant a hybrid because of the exacting requirements of machine harvesting and food processing for crop uniformity. Resource poor farmers in countries such as Brazil, on the other hand, will often take F2 (second generation) hybrid seeds as a source of breeding material to be blended with their traditional varieties. In this way, skilled local breeders, mostly women, be they in Brazil, Burundi, or Bangladesh, isolate useful genetic characteristics and adapt them to their immediate market. The most commonly hybridized crops are maize, cotton, sunflowers, and sorghum.

Until recently, small grain cereals such as rice, wheat, barley, oats, and rye; and leguminous crops such as soybeans have defied such commercial hybridization. Now this is changing. Public breeding initiatives led by governments such as China and institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation and Cornell University have developed commercial rice hybrids. The seed multinationals are hot on their heels. Most recently, giants like Monsanto and Novartis have been waxing poetic over the prospect of F1 hybrid wheat. With more land sown to wheat than any other crop on the planet, a new hybrid monopoly for this crop would be a windfall for seed companies .

Terminator Technology :

The Terminator as Biological Warfare on Farmers and Food Security: The Terminator does more than ensure that farmers can't successfully replant their harvested seed. It is the "platform" upon which companies can load their proprietary genetic traits - patented genes for herbicide-tolerance or insect-resistance - and get the farmers hooked on their seeds and caught in the chemical treadmill. The Terminator attempts to guarantee that even Brazil's innovative farmers will have to buy access to these traits every year. The target market for the Terminator is explicitly the South's farmers. Beginning with company news releases announcing the patent, Delta and Pine has trumpeted that its Technology Protection System will make it economically safe for seed companies to sell their high-tech varieties in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The company has even estimated that 405 million hectares will be sown with Terminator seeds within a few years. This is a land mass almost equal to South Asia. Although Terminator Technology has only been tested in cotton and tobacco, its designers are convinced that it can be applied to any species. Delta and Pine has specifically suggested that rice and wheat farmers in countries like India, China, and Pakistan are a priority market. According to the company, Terminator Technology's value could run as high as $4.00 per hectare for upmarket garden crops. The patent could be worth a billion dollars.

"The centuries old practice of farmer saved seed is really a gross disadvantage to third world farmers who inadvertently become locked into obsolete varieties because of their taking the "easy road" and not planting newer, more productive varieties." Dr. Harry B. Collins, Delta and Pine Land Co, Vice-President for Technology Transfer (June 12, 1998 )

How the Terminator Technology works:

The Terminator Technology is the main application of a broadly framed patent for the ‘control of plant gene expression'. The Terminator is basically a genetically engineered suicide mechanism that can be triggered off by a specific outside stimulus. As a result the seeds of the next generation will self-destruct by self-poisoning. The prefered trigger is the antibiotic tetracycline applied to seeds. The main version of the Terminator consists of a set of three novel genes inserted into one plant [see Box 1]; another version divides two or three genes on to two plants, which are later to be cross-pollinated. The end-result is always a dead seed in the following generation.

Terminator Technology is the Trojan Horse for the spread of genetically-engineered crops in the South. In the absence of "effective" patent regimes, companies can still market their wares and enforce constant returns for their investments. In the absence of adequate biosafety legislation, countries might be persuaded to accept the Terminator on the assumption that the technology is safe and that transgenic traits can not survive to a second generation, even by cross-pollination. This assumption is ill founded. As with all genetic engineering, its direct effect and its side-effects are unpredictable and carry all the risks inherent to this technology.

The gene-cocktail of the Terminator increases the risks that new toxins and allergens will show up in our food and fodder. Most alarming though is the possibility that the Terminator genes themselves could infect the agricultural gene pool of the neighbour's crops and of wild and weedy relatives, placing a time-bomb. Temporary "gene silencing" of the poison gene or failed activation of the Terminator countdown enables such infection [See Box 2 ...].

Between 15% and 20% of the world's food supply is grown by poor farmers who save their seed. These farmers feed at least 1.4 billion people. The Terminator "protects" companies by risking the lives of these people. Since Terminator Technology has absolutely zero agronomic benefit, there is absolutely no reason to jeopardise the food security of the poor by gambling with genetic engineering in the field. Whether the Terminator works immediately or later, in either instance it is biological warfare on farmers and food security.

The Terminator also portends a hidden dark side. As a Trojan Horse for other transgenic traits, the technology might also be used to switch any trait off or on. At least in theory, the technology points to the possibility that crop diseases could be triggered by seed exports that would not have to "kick in" immediately - or not until activated by specific chemicals or conditions. This form of biological warfare on poples food and economies is becoming a hot topic in military and security circles.

Terminator meets the "Monster":

Scarcely two months after USDA and Delta & Pine Land announced the receipt of the Terminator patent, Monsanto bought the company. The announcement of the $1.76 billion purchase came on May 11th even as parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity were meeting in Bratislava. The Terminator had already elbowed its way into conference debates when press stories reached delegations. Overnight the U.S. delegation, who had not uttered a word when even the USDA was under attack for its Terminator involvement, came out fighting for Monsanto. With former Clinton White House staffers on Monsanto's lobby payroll and Mickey Cantor, the U.S. Trade Representative for much of the Uruguay Round, on Monsanto's board, the American government's zeal was less than surprising.

Seed technology has moved a long way since 1860 and the proprietory passions of Major Hallett. Short months before the Major trademarked his pedigreed seed, the keynote speaker to the Wisconsin agricultural fair warned the farmers and scientists to beware of new technologies that distance farmers from their crops. Although his immediate concern was the steam engine's use in agriculture - he wasn't against it, just worried about whose interests it was serving - the speaker opined that the task of agricultural technology is to provide a decent living for farmers and to feed people. Clinton's administration might do well to heed Abraham Lincoln's advice before allowing the Terminator to enslave the world's farmers today .

Terminating the Terminator:

Peoples' Organizations and governments can halt the Terminator. Legal means are available through International Law and existing intergovernmental convention to outlaw the technology. Here are a few possibilities...

  1. The USDA/Delta patent is pending around the world. The patent can and should be rejected on the grounds that it is contrary to ordre publique - in conflict with public morality. The Terminator is a threat to food security and destructive of agricultural biodiversity.

    On these grounds, governments are fully entitled under the terms of even the quarrelsome TRIPS chapter of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreement to refuse the patent. In doing so, governments are also (according to the WTO) agreeing not to allow the technology to be exploited by others within their territory.

  2. Pressure (within and without the United States) should be put on the USDA to refuse to surrender the patent to the company. In fact, the USDA (which surprised itself with the March 3rd patent announcement) should also petition the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revisit the claims and determine whether it is contrary to ordre publique.

  3. The 100+ member states to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxic Weapons, and on Their Destruction (1972) should call for the abolition of Terminator Technology as a form of economic biological warfare that not only makes war on farming communities but could be manipulated to threaten national food security and destroy the national agricultural economy.

  4. At its October, 1998 meeting the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world's largest international public plant breeding network) should announce its opposition to the Terminator and its refusal to use it itself.

  5. At its May, 1999 meeting, the Convention on Biological Diversity's Subsidiary Body on Science and Technology should pass a resolution declaring the Terminator a threat to agricultural biodiversity and calling for its removal. Such an initiative would strengthen national efforts to ban the patent and the technology under the terms of the World Trade Agreement.

BOX 1: Terminator gene

In a Terminator plant, three genes are inserted, each with an associated regulatory switch, called a 'promoter'. One of these genes, when switched on, produces a protein called Recombinase, which acts like molecular scissors [Fig.1b]. The Recombinase removes a 'spacer' between the toxin producing gene [Fig.1a] and its promoter. While it is there, the spacer acts as a safety catch to prevent the Toxin gene from being activated.

A third gene is engineered to produce a Repressor [Fig.1c], which keeps the Recombinase gene turned off until the plant with the Terminator Technology is exposed to a specific outside stimulus, such as a particular chemical, temperature shock, or osmotic shock. When the chosen stimulus is applied to the seed before sale, the functioning of the Repressor gets interrupted. And as it is no longer repressed, the recombinase gene is switched on. The Recombinase that is now produced, removes the spacer 'safety catch'. Because the promoter in front of the toxin gene is chosen to only become active in the late stages of seed maturation, only then will it initiate the production of the poison that kills the seed.

The preferred genes used in the Terminator Technology are: For Toxin gene R.I.P. gene (ribosomal inhibitor protein) promoter LEA promoter (late embryonic abundance) spacer a stretch of DNA framed with specific recognition sites (LOX) For Recombinase gene CRE/LOX system from bacteriophage (viruses that attack bacteria) promoter A promoter that can be repressed For Repressor gene Tetracycline repressor system (Tn10 tet)

BOX 2: Gene silencing

"Gene silencing" was discovered in the early nineties when in a field of 10,000 petunias genetically-engineered to carry a uniform red gene many of the plants were found blooming white and pink (EDITOR, please place as footnote: "see Steinbrecher, R.A., 1996. From Green to Geen Revolution. The Ecologist 26(6): 273-281). Plants are capable of inactivating genes and their promoters if recognised as intruders or as duplicates of their own DNA (EDITOR: please place as footnote: Kumpatla, S.P. et al. 1998. Genome intruder scanning and modulation systems and transgene silencing. Trends in Plant Science. 3(3):97-104).

Furthermore, genes that have been inactivated can become active again generations later. The LEA promoter, which is used to regulate Terminator's toxin gene, is very common among plants and shows significant similarities across many species; once added, the plant might choose to switch it off. If this were to happen whilst plants were being multiplied for the commercial market, no one could tell. Seeds of such plants will eventually be treated with tetracycline; the blocking sequence (Fig.1a) will be cut out but no toxin is produced at the end of the life cycle. The pollen carrying the silent but functional toxin gene could spread into neighbouring crop fields and forests.

Another likely scenario is that some plants will not react to the tetracycline treatment. Consider the vast quantities of antibiotics necessary to soak millions of seeds. Who is going to check that all seeds have taken up the chemical, with a generation having to pass before results can be seen? Again pollen will spread - with all its novel genes. If down the line the Repressor passes onto one plant, but the Toxin and the Recombinase passes to another, all the seeds produced by the second plant would commit suicide. Even if all three genes stay together, there might be a future chemical input that acts like tetracycline

BOX 3: Tetracycline

is a broad spectrum antibiotic. It is used in medicine to kill bacteria, but it can also affect humans if wrongly used. The soil is full of vital micro-organism, including bacteria, on which the health of plants depend. Whilst plants will normally grow up in close partnership with soil-organisms, the tetracycline soaked seeds could create a death zone around them, destroying the fragile balance of the microbial soil web. As a consequence farmers would have to resort to chemicals to protect their crop from disease and apply fertilizers to make them grow. The Terminator would not only deplete diversity, but also destroy soil.

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 22:58:26 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

'Terminator Technology' - One Step Too Far?

By Senthil Ratnasabapathy

BRATISLAVA (PANOS) - If multinational agri-business companies have been testing the patience of developing countries with their indiscriminate patenting plans, they may have gone a little too far by coming up with the so-called 'Terminator Technology.'

This new technology is designed to genetically switch off a plant's ability to germinate a second time - forcing farmers to buy a fresh supply of seeds every year. It was forcefully condemned by many delegates from developing countries at a recent meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Bratislava.

Developed jointly by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta & Pine Land, the world's largest cottonseed company, it has been patented in the US and is awaiting patents-approval in 78 other countries - from Armenia to Brazil and Uganda.

"The need was there to come up with a system that allowed you to self-police your technology, other than by trying to put up laws and legal barriers to farmers saving seeds" says Melvin Oliver, a USDA scientist.

But developing countries fear that if the applications for patents are successful, other multinationals will also begin developing similar technologies.

"It's terribly dangerous," said Hope Shand, research director of the Canadian non governmental organisation, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). "Half the world's farmers are poor. They provide food for more than one billion people but they can't afford to buy seeds every growing season. Seed collection is vital for them."

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), up to 1.4 billion farmers in the South depend heavily on farm-saved seed and seeds exchanged with farm neighbours. Additionally, most North American wheat farmers rely on farm-saved seeds and return to the commercial market once every four or five years, says RAFI.

Terminator Technology is just one - but probably the starkest - example of an increasing trend toward the commercialisation and individualisation of what used to be collective property. Many farmers groups from developing countries say this move to put a monetary value on life through patents, intellectual property rights and plant breeder rights violates the principle which communities have used to survive and conserve diversity for centuries.

Many Northern groups agree. Communities' rights to their local biodiversity are being "undermined by industry's hunger to exploit and deplete biodiversity and claim exclusive ownership over life forms," say the London-based NGOs Gaia Foundation and Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN).

The CBD, a legally-binding document, was created in 1993 in order to stop the destruction of biological diversity and secure its conservation and sustainable use. At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, over 150 countries signed up to the convention, which also aims to promote the "fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources."

But less than a year after the Convention came into force, the World Trade Organisation was established with a totally different agenda. Its role was to run a global trading system, "much of which is founded on the private monopoly rights of transnational corporations over biodiversity," Gaia and GRAIN in a report.

In January 1995, the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement - or TRIPS - came into force. This agreement excludes plants and animals from being patented, but not plant varieties. "Because of this provision, biodiversity falls firmly under the legal regime of TRIPS," say GRAIN and Gaia.

Developing countries worry that agreements such as TRIPS will further facilitate the patenting of modified plants which have been taken from their country of origin - a process dubbed 'biopiracy.' A growing number of campaigners from both developed and developing countries say this is nothing short of theft. An Ethiopian delegate, Tewolde, told the CBD meeting that multinationals modified plants, patented them and then sold them back to the countries the plants originated >from - mainly developing countries.

Exploiting loopholes in international rules governing property rights, companies and researchers have claimed patent rights for a number of plant varieties which they have modified little, if at all.

For example, research by RAFI and the Australian-based Heritage Seed Curators Association (HSCA) shows that Australian institutions have taken part in dubious plant patent claims, including claims on grass varieties from Kenya, Tanzania, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Venezuela.

In each case, the NGOs say, there was no evidence that any plant breeding had occurred. And there are examples that the so-called breeders grabbed plants from a farmer's field, made for the airport, selected the best seeds, and applied for a patent.

A second form of biopiracy - equally worrying - is the use of seeds lying in a network of 16 seed and gene banks worldwide.

The 600,000 seeds currently lying in these gene banks are held 'in trust', through FAO on behalf of the international community. The trust agreement does not allow the seeds to be patented by third parties, but in some cases this agreement has been violated.

The absence of laws clarifying who should own and benefit from these banks is a crucial issue for developing countries.

Last year it was revealed that Australian government agencies had tried to patent two kinds of chickpeas, originating in India and Iran. This was despite an agreement not to do so, signed with the Indian institute that had collected the seeds. The Australian agencies had not done any breeding and, after much pressure, the patent claims were dropped.

RAFI and HSCA have found that similar agreements have been violated in at least 118 seed varieties originating in more than 30 countries.

Developing countries and NGOs propose a two-tiered approach to stop biopiracy.

Countries should catalogue the biodiversity existing within their borders and create a legal framework to protect it. This legislation should stipulate that permission must be given by the national government and/or local community before any genetic resource is taken out.

NGOs also say that contradictions between the CBD and TRIPS needs to be sorted out. The Convention defines natural resources as being the property of countries whereas TRIPS emphasises individual rights.

But any move to resolve this contradiction and allow the CBD to take precedence over TRIPS is set to invite opposition from the West - the European Union, for example, claimed in Bratislava that there is no contradiction between the two treaties.

"It is clear to governments that if they (developing countries) lose this (the battle between CBD and TRIPS), they do not have a chance of survival," says Vandana Shiva of India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, an NGO based in India.

As Klaus Topfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, warns:" Competition over dwindling biological resources threatens to become a major source of national and international strife in the decades ahead."

/PANOS 30 May 1998 1,135 words

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 22:58:26 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

New Patent Aims To Prevent Farmers From Saving Seed

by Chakravarthi Raghavan, the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

In March, an American cotton seed company and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they had obtained a patent on a technique that genetically disables a seed's capacity to germinate when planted again. Dubbed by one critic as 'Terminator Technology', the technique - if it works as advertised - has profound implications for agriculture, particularly in the Third World. News of the granting of the patent has kicked up a storm.

BY year 2000, after a 12,000-year history of farming, farmers may no longer be able to save seed or breed improved varieties.

According to the Canada-based international NGO, RAFI, the problem is not the Millennium Bug but the 'Millennium Seed'.

On 3 March, an American cotton seed company and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced they had received a patent on a technique that genetically disables a seed's capacity to germinate when planted again.

US Patent No. 5,723,765, granted to Delta & Pine Land Co., doesn't just cover the firm's cotton and soybean seed business but, potentially, all cultivated crops.

Under a research agreement with the USDA, the company has the exclusive right to license the new technology to others.

While only cotton and tobacco seeds have been shown to respond to the new technique, the company plans to have what Research Director Hope Shand of RAFI has dubbed, 'Terminator Technology' ready for a much wider range of crops shortly after year 2000.

According to USDA spokesman Willard Phelps, the primary targets for the Terminator are 'Second and Third World' markets. Priority crops include rice, wheat, sorghum and soybeans. These are crops largely ignored by agribusiness breeders because they aren't readily hybridised - a tried-and-true biological means of forcing farmers back into the seed market every year.

By and large, profit-hungry seed companies have shunned these crops because the returns don't match those for hybrid crops like maize and many vegetables. With the patent announcement, the world's two most critical food crops - rice and wheat, staple foods for three-quarters of the world's poor - potentially enter the realm of private monopoly. The patent has taken plant breeders by storm. The technique - if it works as advertised - has profound implications for agriculture.

But the news has also created division. Some of those contacted by RAFI see benefits from the new technology. One crop economist put it this way: 'For the first time, private companies will be encouraged to invest in the world's most vital food crops. We can look forward to a new flow of investment into crops whose yields have stagnated or even declined in the Nineties. Now such poor people's crops as rice and wheat will get the research support they so desperately need.'

The patent's defenders acknowledge that the Terminator Technology will mean a hefty hike in seed costs as farmers who now only buy seed when they change varieties are forced to make annual purchases. But they defend hiking seed prices by saying farmers will only opt for the 'sterile' seeds if they offer a big advantage. Otherwise, farmers will keep with the current publicly bred varieties.

RAFI's Hope Shand disagrees. 'Don't forget, the Terminator was developed by the public sector (USDA) together with the private sector. There will be enormous pressure on public breeders to adopt the technique in order to feed cash-starved government and university research department with corporate dollars.'

Edward Hammond of RAFI concurs, 'Biotech companies that are already patenting specific crop genes and traits will probably insist that other breeders licensing their germplasm use the Terminator to protect their monopoly.... It won't take long before farmers run out of choices. Either they pay for the Millennium Seed or they replant older varieties from abandoned breeding programmes.'

The 'greed gene'

'This is a patent that really turns on the greed gene,' says Camila Montecinos of the Chilean-based Centre for Education and Technology. 'It's too profitable for companies to ignore. We will see pressure on national regulatory systems to marginalise saved-seed varieties and clear the way for the Terminator. One point four billion farm families are at risk.'

Aside from skyrocketing seed costs, Neth Daqo of the Philippines-based civil society organisation SEARICE sees a threat to the environment and to long-term food security.

'We work with farmers who may buy a commercial variety but its breeder wouldn't recognise it five years later. Women select the best seeds every year and - over a time - the rice melds itself to the farm's own ecosystem. Women also cross the commercial variety with other rice strains to breed their own locally adapted seeds.

'The Terminator could put an end to all this and increase crop uniformity and vulnerability. It poses a threat to the culture of seed sharing and exchange that is led primarily by women farmers.'

'Ultimately, the Terminator technology will severely limit farmer options,' says Neth Daqo of SEARICE. 'Will we be left with rice varieties that taste like sawdust and which pests and diseases love to devour?'

Camila Montecinos of Chile-based CET is calling for a global boycott of the Terminator Technology. 'Governments should make use of the technology illegal,' she insists. 'This is an immoral technique that robs farming communities of their age-old right to save seed and their role as plant breeders. It should be banned.'

To this, corporate breeders argue that the new technology simply does for hard-to-hybridise crops what the hybrid technique did for maize. Hybrid seed is either sterile or fails to reproduce the same quality characteristics in the next generation. Thus, most maize farmers buy seed every year.

'Poor farmers can't afford hybrids either,' Montecinos points out, 'but there's a key difference. The theory behind hybridisation is that it allows breeders to make crosses that couldn't be made otherwise and that are supposed to give the plant higher yields and vigour. The results are often disappointing but that's the rationale.

'In the case of Terminator Technology, there's absolutely no agronomic benefit for farmers. The sole purpose is to facilitate monopoly control and the sole beneficiary is agribusiness.'

RAFI will be working with its partners around the world to encourage a global ban on the use of Terminator Technology. 'By the time it's ready for market shortly after the year 2000, we hope that the Millennium Seed will succumb to the Millennium Bug,' concludes RAFI's Shand.(Third World Resurgence No. 92, April 1998)


Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign, for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596 email:

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