A Brazilian congressional committee has withdrawn a bill which would have legalized the sale of Terminator seeds. This was in response to a massive grassroots campaign led by over a dozen farmer and civil society groups. The bill would have overturned an 8 year moratorium in Brazil, which is typical of a global moratorium on field testing and commercialization agreed upon at the 2000 conference of the Convention on Biodiversity. The bill looks dead in the congress for the time being, though another version is skulking in the senate.
This was the latest time the Terminator technology has reminded us that although it has not yet been commercialized anywhere, it exists and remains an ongoing threat. Every few years such governments as those of the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, seek to subvert or overturn the moratorium.
Also called the suicide seed, and in the system jargon a “Genetic Use Restriction Technology” (GURT), the Terminator seed is genetically engineered to produce a crop whose own seeds are sterile. This would lessen the need for rigorous and politically damaging patent enforcement against farmers on Monsanto’s part, as saving seed from the GMO would become biologically impossible.
The patents for this technology are jointly owned by the USDA, Monsanto, Syngenta, and other biotech rackets. Thus for this project the US government hasn’t just served as a political waterboy, but is a business partner. (Needless to say all the profits from any commercialization would go to the cartels. The USDA’s “ownership” is a standard part of the propaganda of “public-private partnerships”, much like the IRRI’s patent interest in the Golden Rice scam.)
I mentioned how the hope was that Terminator enforcement would be less politically onerous for Monsanto than suing farmers. But the idea of the Terminator has actually proven to be at least as politically inflammatory as persecuting farmers has been. Even many elites are leery of it. According to some accounts, in the late 90s the Rockefeller Foundation asked Monsanto to back off on it, fearing that it would provoke too much of a popular backlash when GMOs were just getting rolling. The cartel would be better off relying on patent enforcement.
These political fears are the reason why the moratorium was agreed upon by all the CBD’s signatory governments, and only half-hearted attempts have been made to flout the boycott. This abortive attempt in Brazil was the latest.
But why is the Terminator technology so especially offensive and ominous to farmers, citizens, and scientists, such that we the people have put up such a fierce resistance to it and forced this moratorium? There’s two main reasons.
1. On a human level, the Terminator is a vicious assault on the right and duty of farmers to improve and diversify crop varieties and save seeds. This has been part of the farmer’s mission for ten thousand years, just as critical for the future of humanity as growing the food is in the present. Seed and crop diversity is also part of culture.
The very concept of intellectual property in seeds and plants is, in addition to its many rational and moral absurdities, an insult to farmers. For ten thousand years farmers have needed nothing but their practical interest and their sense of professional ethics to engage in breeding and seed saving, and to freely share this heritage as a public commons. That’s ten thousand years of proof that where it comes to plant breeding, cooperation works. The public domain works. Meanwhile the record of a few decades of patents in seeds and plants is clear that this intellectual property regime does nothing but stifle innovation, quash creativity, cramp all farmer freedom, depress yield, and narrow the range of utilized germplasm diversity to a tiny sliver of the vast potential spectrum of agricultural biodiversity. That’s one piece of proof that agricultural corporatism does not work. It’s proof that extending patents to seeds and plants does not work. So in practice the agricultural IP regime is nothing but a monumental creative bottleneck meant to force all action and thought toward the claustrophobic goal of maximizing corporate profit and power and minimizing every other aspect of the human and agricultural experience. This is the political and economic totalitarianism of GMOs.
2. On an agricultural and ecological level, the Terminator is the most extreme manifestation of the general genetic threat of GMOs to crops and the environment. It’s proven that wherever planted in the open air, GMOs will start to contaminate other crops (organic and non-GM conventional), wild ancestors and relatives, and the environment in general. The longer and more widespread the planting, the worse will be the pollution, and the more indelible its likely to become. This is an existential threat to the future of agriculture, because plant breeding and the health of crops and agriculture as a whole depend upon wide biodiversity among cultivated varieties and frequent replenishment of the genetic stock from the well of the crop’s wild progenitors.
I mentioned how crop breeding under the corporate regime focuses incestuously upon just a couple of corporate imperatives, and therefore tremendously limits the range of crop biodiversity which is in play at all. But varieties which aren’t planted quickly go extinct, and over the last hundred years tens of thousands of regionally adapted crop varieties, an incalculable wealth of embodied knowledge and resiliency, has been lost to this neglect and deliberate suppression. This is a mass extinction event in itself, and an especially critical part of the general mass extinction which has been ravaging the world. It’s aggravated by the same factors driving other extinction campaigns – poisons, habitat destruction, climate change, industrial pollution.
As if that’s not bad enough, once in the field GMOs spread their pollen, and therefore their genetic pollution, to non-GM crops and wild relatives. This further degrades the already-degraded agricultural genome, and pollutes the wild wellspring upon which agriculture depends for its very future.
That’s the agricultural and ecological totalitarianism of regular GMOs. This, along with their inherent attempt to seek total political and economic control, is the reason why it’s impossible for humanity to co-exist with GMOs. This is why we must totally abolish them as soon as possible.
The Terminator is a radical escalation of both of these malign trends. Instead of relying mostly on the legal fiction of “patents” to enforce its domination, the Terminator would make saving seeds physically impossible.
While this would be no loss where it comes to the GMO itself (although we exhort farmers to reject the legitimacy of Monsanto and the GMO cartel and despise the very concept of IP in seeds and plants, we don’t think the answer is to flout the patent and plant GM seeds without paying the Monsanto tax; this would be better than paying it, but the only real solution is the total abolition of GMOs as such), it becomes an immediate existential threat as soon as the Terminator variety starts contaminating other crops and wild relatives.
Could the Terminator spread its sterilization modification to organic crops, non-GM conventional crops, and wild progenitors of our crops? Could it cause spontaneous mass seed failure throughout agriculture and in the wild? Although the likelihood of this is unknown, the potential is indisputable. It’s guaranteed that the contamination will take place.
That’s even leaving aside whether Monsanto would consciously desire and seek such a goal, thinking that this would be the key to total domination. It has repeatedly declared that this is its goal.
The Terminator is just an extreme example of the malevolence and dangers of GMOs in general. As a genre GMOs are weapons of corporate power, enclosure, control, and domination. As a genre they’re pollutants spreading promiscuously throughout our agriculture and environment.
When we consider the embodied human culture of seeds and crops, the ten thousand years of thought, creativity, and hard work which went into breeding these varieties and developing these diverse agricultural practices, we can see how the seed extinction assault is a kind of sublimated genocide. And when we contemplate how neoliberalism, as a conscious and systematic policy, seeks to render billions of small farmers utterly obsolete, utterly dehumanized, and to drive them into the urban concentration camps called shantytowns, we have to consider how physical the genocide intention will eventually become.
When we consider how critical crop and wild plant biodiversity are to the health of our agriculture and the ecosystems within which it functions and upon which it depends, we see how our very existence depends upon protecting, redeeming, and expanding this biodiversity. We see how here as well our physical extinction is being contemplated implicitly by those who see humanity as nothing but a resource to be mined and exhausted to satisfy their vile gutter greed and powerlust.
Saving seeds, breeding crop varieties, cultivating biodiversity along with food, are among our core human activities. Their practice is part of the human essence. They are therefore human rights, to translate them into the language of modern government. To assault and constrain them is a crime against humanity.
And if we have any right to exist at all, we have the right to the biological integrity of the agriculture and ecosystems which comprise the necessary foundation of that existential right. Here too any assault is a crime.
In both of these ways to actively support GMOs is to commit this crime against humanity.
We must preserve, redeem, and reinvigorate our seed sovereignty, our agriculture, and our Earth. Therefore we must abolish GMOs. The Terminator is, so far, an emblem of evil which is being kept at bay. We must ensure it stays there. But above all we must hold the line everywhere, and then start rolling back the GMO onslaught. It can be done and will be done, as more and more people around the globe join the fight.