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Patent on Terminator Potato Exposes Labour Policy

Patent on 'Terminator' Potato Shows Labour Party Policy Lacks Moral Integrity

The moral basis for The Labour Party's backing of "Terminator" technology is called into question by moves by Syngenta to register a patent on "Terminator" potatoes internationally.

New Zealand's Labour-led government is one of a handful of governments to reject a defacto moratorium on Terminator technology supported by the rest of the world.

But the threat to poor farmers in developing countries has been brought into sharp focus by a coalition of indigenous peoples in the Andes who warn that Syngenta's patents are a signal they plan to commercialise ‘Terminator technology’.

The Andes is the centre of diversity for potatoes and there are fears that the move will threaten more than 3,000 local potato varieties that form the basis of livelihoods and culture for millions of poor people in the region.

Syngenta has reportedly been granted Terminator potato patents in Australia and Russia and has also applied for similar patents in Europe, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt and Poland.

The coalition represented by indigenous farmers wants Syngenta to publicly disown the patent, which describes a genetic-modification process that could be used to stop potatoes from sprouting unless a chemical is applied.

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. In 2006, the CBD rejected a proposal - backed by Australia, Canada and New Zealand - to allow field trials of the crops on a
case-by-case basis.

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"The Labour Party has failed to respond to the very real ethical and social issues that Terminator technology raises, and have even denied an informal moratorium exists," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

"Now we have a company patenting an approach akin to "Verminator" technology (nicknamed by the UK media because it used a gene derived from rats), that would require farmers to pay for, and apply a chemical to make the plants grow at all."

One concern for the Peruvian indigenous communities is that the Terminator potatoes will contaminate local varieties and destroy their traditions of storing and exchanging potato tubers for future planting. With "Terminator" seeds are made infertile after the first planting; with "Verminator" the plants won't grow at all unless a chemical is used to activate them.

"The Labour Party must review its policy of supporting Terminator 'case by case' and of ignoring the global defacto moratorium," says Jon Carapiet.

The New Zealand government's failure to join with the rest of the international community in supporting a moratorium, (so that the serious social and ethical issues are considered before commercial development of "Terminator"), is a moral failure largely driven by expectations of profit from life-patents.

The New Zealand government should make clear its desire to keep faith with farmers in the developing world and at home, and get behind the moratorium now.

ENDS

REFERENCES

'Insulted' Andean farmers pick GM potato fight with multinational
Syngenta
AUTHOR: International Institute for Environment and Development and the
Quechua-Ayamara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development
PUBLICATION: Press release
DATE: 12 January 2007
URL: http://www.iied.org and http://www.andes.org.pe

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