Greenpeace challenges NZ Government's take on Terminator policy
Auckland 23 March 2006 -- Greenpeace today questioned the Government's take on what its policy on Terminator technology actually means.
The sterile seed technology is the central point in discussions at an international meeting in Brazil today, and New Zealand, with Canada and Australia, is again under the international spotlight for supporting an anti-environmental position.
"The Government has gotten half way on its position by recognising the dangers this technology poses to 1.4 billion of the world's poorest people who depend on saved seed for survival. But it doesn't understand the dangers inherent in opening up the present de-facto moratorium (1) to a "case by case" basis," said Cindy Baxter, Greenpeace New Zealand's Campaign Manager.
She said the Government was totally confusing scientific arguments with what was essentially a social and development issue. Such a position goes against New Zealand's goals of poverty elimination and sustainable development.
"Field trials will not determine the acceptability of this sterile seed technology. If it works 100% then it will be a threat to the 1.4 billion people around the world who rely on saved seed for next year's crop. If it doesn't work and it's not 100% sterile, then it's a contamination threat which, once released into the environment, cannot be stopped."
Possums? Scientific nonsense
Greenpeace said that the Environment Minister David Benson-Pope had used an unfortunate example to illustrate his [incorrect] point that the technology in question could be used in the future – for example to eradicate possums.
"This statement illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding of basic scientific principles. This is a technology developed for crops, not animals. This ridiculous statement has had scientists in Brazil, New Zealand - and beyond - howling with laughter," said Baxter.
"Moreover, the prospect of New Zealand tampering with marsupial genes would send the Australian Government into a frenzy of biosecurity regulation against New Zealand."
"Possums might be a pest in New Zealand, but to our closest neighbours they are a protected species," concluded Baxter.
Industry the problem
The final argument against New Zealand's position is that the multinational agricultural industry cannot be trusted – and New Zealand should already be aware of this.
Without a global regime, this industry is likely to target countries with weak legislation to set up Terminator crop trials – or do it illegally. Two recent examples:
• Seed companies already have a record of deliberately contaminating crops and working outside government regulations. Only this week, biotech multinational Syngenta was fined around $700,000 by the Brazilian Government for conducting illegal field trials of GE soy in a buffer zone around the Iguacu Falls World Heritage Site in Brazil. The field trials were discovered by Greenpeace and reported to the Brazilian Government.
• Already, such technologies are ready to apply the "case by case" basis that NZ is talking about. Peruvian farmers are very concerned about Syngenta's patent (US Patent 6,700,039) because it describes a GURTS technology that could be used to prevent the sprouting of potatoes, unless they are treated with chemicals supplied by the patent owner. Local farmers would be prevented from saving and reusing terminator type seeds and storage organs such as potato tubers, thus increasing corporate control over the global food system. Indigenous people fear that it would destroy the sharing of seeds, a centuries-old tradition, and with it their cultural and social way of life. Potatoes originate in Peru.
(1) In 2000 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recommended that governments not field-test or commercialise genetic seed sterilisation technologies – thus creating a de-facto international moratorium.