from Common Ground
Common Ground is an independent publication, 100% Canadian owned. It is Western Canada’s biggest and best-loved monthly magazine dedicated to health, wellness, ecology and personal growth.
Fight against terminator seeds not over
Of all the perverse, corporate manipulations of the growing and processing of food, none is more sinister and destructive to the public good than the so-called terminator technology. Terminator seeds are patented, genetically modified seeds, deliberately engineered to become sterile after one harvest; farmers can’t use their seeds to plant the next crop and must purchase new seed every crop year. The technology threatens the livelihood of 1.4 billion people dependent on farmer-saved seeds and the globe’s biodiversity.
As the women of the international farmers’ organization La Via Campesina have said, “Terminator technology is a weapon of mass destruction.” That’s why it’s the focus of a new, social media activist site, RightOnCanada.ca. But more on this below.
In fact, there is a global fight against this technology – currently the subject of a moratorium on its commercialization – involving literally hundreds of farmers’ and peasants’ organizations and others concerned about the future of the planet. The Canadian government is one of the principal targets of the campaign. Canada is one of the “Terminator Trio,” comprised of the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The US also wants the moratorium lifted, but it has not signed the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Many terminator critics accuse Canada of doing the US’s dirty work in the hope of some return favour. Last year, terminator opponents won a significant victory at a meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Curitiba, Brazil. The Brazilian government, chairing the meeting, announced that the 188-member governments of the CBD agreed to reject language that would have undermined the six-year-old moratorium on terminator.
Despite this massive rejection, the Harper government has not changed its position, calling for a “case by case risk assessment” of terminator seeds. The Liberals also opposed a ban when they constituted the government, and despite their newfound commitment to the environment, have not changed their stance. According to Liberals’ agriculture critic Wayne Easter, “…all plants with novel traits must be studied on a case-by-case basis…”
As matters stand now, the two political parties that have a realistic chance of becoming government after the next election are both opposed to an outright ban on terminator technology. That leaves the Greens and the NDP at the national level. Both parties support a ban and last spring the NDP put forward Bill C-448, a private member’s bill known as the Terminator Seeds Ban Act. The bill, introduced by the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko, died on the order paper when Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament.
Part of the problem with a parliamentary system, especially one without proportional representation, is that it produces executive government with few checks and balances of its power. Voters have little influence between elections because they have no effective access to power. That’s something that Kathleen Ruff, former head of the BC Human Rights Commission and of the Court Challenges program (recently killed by the Harper government), wants to change.
Ruff has established the online activist site, RightOnCanada.ca, which is focussed on human rights and intended to replicate the famously successful MoveOn.org in the US. MoveOn has more than three million members and was a major player in the Democratic victory over the Republicans in the last US Congressional election.
MoveOn describes itself as “… a service – a way for busy, but concerned, citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” That pretty much describes RightOnCanada. It took on the terminator technology as its inaugural issue last spring and its email letter-writing campaign saw 13,000 messages sent to the leaders of the federal parties in the Commons. The campaign preceded the NDP’s private members’ bill and helped highlight what is normally a low-key affair. RightOnCanada has since taken on the issue of “deep integration,” the secret plan to divert Canadian water from Canadian rivers to the US and the so-called “harmonization” with the US of standards for pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.
But it expects to revisit the terminator issue. That’s because Monsanto, the corporate poster boy for genetically modified organisms, is now poised to commercialize this technology. In 1999, feeling the enormous pressure of an international campaign, Monsanto pledged not to pursue terminator technology. But on June 1, 2007, Monsanto negotiated a $1.5 billion takeover of the world’s largest cotton seed company, Delta & Pine Land, the US company that developed and patented the world’s first terminator seed technology.
According to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (a partner with RightOnCanada) this can mean only one thing: Monsanto has broken its pledge and is now on track to take this perverse technology into the marketplace. Kathleen Ruff notes that RightOnCanada will be there to fight any such move.
Murray Dobbin is a Vancouver author and journalist whose latest book, Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? published by James Lorimer is in BC bookstores now.
Tell the Canadian government to ban terminator technology
The right to save seeds is a crucial part of the human right to food. This basic right is threatened by terminator technology, which genetically engineers plants to produce sterile seeds after first harvest and, if introduced, would force farmers to purchase seeds every year from transnational seed corporations.
If allowed to proceed, terminator technology would transfer control of the world’s seed supply from the hands of farmers to the monopoly control of large corporations. It would also threaten the biodiversity of agriculture and the health of the planet’s food supply. “Preventing farmers from re-planting saved seed will increase economic injustice all over the world,” says the World Council of Churches, which has called for action to stop terminator technology.
Recognizing its inherent dangers, governments attending meetings of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity created an international moratorium on terminator technology in 2000. The Canadian government, however, with the help of Australia, New Zealand and some major biotechnology companies, tried in February 2005 and again in January 2006 to overthrow the moratorium.
Tell our government to support the ban on terminator technology. Visit http://www.rightoncanada.ca (click on campaigns) to send a letter to agriculture minister Chuck Strahl, Prime Minister Harper, the opposition agriculture critics and your MP.