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Terminator seeds will not usher in an agricultural judgement day

In the polarised and fractious debate over the use of genetic modification in agriculture, few issues have raised hackles as much as the proposed use of genetic use restriction techniques (GURT), more…

“No” doesn’t really cover the nuances of the GM debate. Darko Vojinovic/AP

In the polarised and fractious debate over the use of genetic modification in agriculture, few issues have raised hackles as much as the proposed use of genetic use restriction techniques (GURT), more commonly known as “terminator technology” or – to its many opponents – “suicide seeds”.

The idea behind GURTs is to produce seed or offspring which are sterile in order to restrict the spread of new genes which have been introduced into the target plant. Campaigners against the technology have long alleged that terminator seeds would enslave farmers by preventing them from saving seed from one season to the next, making them dependent on re-purchasing seeds from big biotech companies. The furore over a decade ago led to a global moratorium on GURT development, agreed under the aegis of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2000.

The popular fear about terminator seeds has since become something of a zombie myth: constantly cited by opponents of GM technology as a reason for their campaigning, despite GURT never actually having come into existence. Lurid claims continue to be circulated, such as the allegation – originally by Indian anti-technology activist Vandana Shiva – that sterility would somehow be inherited and transferred unintentionally to other plants, despite this being biologically, as well as logically, impossible.

Following renewed campaigning by anti-GM groups, a recent article disinterred these zombie myths once again. It suggested that new legislation under consideration in Brazil could lead to “suicide seeds” that might “threaten the livelihoods of millions of small farmers around the world”. But the truth in Brazil is very different to this media sensationalism and renewed activist myth-making.

It is true that Brazil is considering relaxing regulations that prohibit research on GURTs. However, this would be applied to pharmaceuticals, not food crops. It is aimed in particular at allowing scientists to examine whether the technology could have biosafety applications – applications that would safeguard the environment against the unintended release and spread of modified genes. Currently the law prohibits scientists even from conducting research – a ban on knowledge gathering that is senseless and potentially damaging.

Among the pharmaceutical uses where GURT technology might be useful is the development of “bioreactor” plants such as lettuce modified to produce a vaccine to prevent Leishmaniasis, a disease that causes serious deformities or scarring in victims. Around 12m people are believed to be infected, with an estimated 1-2m new cases each year, and a further 350m people, mainly in poor countries, are at risk. Plants are good candidates for the production of the necessary antibodies because, like animals, their cells are eukaryotic and able to reproduce the necessary complex proteins at a large scale.

Another example is genetically-modified lettuce to assist in the diagnosis of Dengue fever, where early detection dramatically increases the chance of survival. In both cases there is currently a shortage of the materials needed both to identify and treat the disease, which can only be produced in extremely secure facilities. If GURT restrictions were loosened, genetically modified plants could potentially produce the needed vaccines and diagnosis tools on a larger scale without fear of the altered genes spreading into the environment.

Many other crops, including tobacco, alfalfa, banana and soybean have been considered for bio-pharming to produce drugs against conditions that range from cancer to HIV/AIDS. Industrial applications have also been proposed, such as genetically modified trees with reduced lignin content which would enable the use of less toxic chemicals for pulp and paper production, as well as to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

In all these cases, sterility could have a biosafety justification, in order to safeguard against unintended gene release. Indeed, last week researchers at the University of Oregon announced the conclusion of successful trials using sterile, genetically modified poplar trees. These grow faster and are more resistant to insects, potentially more productive for biofuels, and are intended to be able to reduce land wastage and the use of pesticides.

It is somewhat ironic that with all their focus on terminator technology, anti-GM activists seem to fail to realise that either sterility or seeds that do not breed true are already widely used in conventional agriculture. Seedless grapes, watermelons and bananas are prized by consumers around the world, and despite their sterility have apparently not yet enslaved the farmers who grow them.

F1 hybrids – the offspring of two different parent varieties of the same crop – also require farmers to buy seeds anew each year, because their second-generation seeds do not breed true. But their use has been increasing for decades because farmers value highly the increased productivity, and therefore profits, that come from the seeds' hybrid vigour. Almost all the world’s commercial corn crop is grown from F1 hybrid seed, for example.

As these existing examples show, this application of modern technology to agriculture need not be remotely scary, but activists stoke fears in order to secure prohibitions on scientific research which conflicts with their ideological preferences. Opponents of innovation frequently cite the precautionary principle as a reason to stop scientific work, but neglect the flip-side: namely future benefits foregone when technologies are not pursued.

A continued ban on GURT may sound sensible and precautionary, but could harm our potential to develop lifesaving vaccines and environmentally beneficial crops. Scientists should be allowed to conduct research, and society can later decide– through open, inclusive and democratic debate – how or if these technologies are later deployed more widely.

This article is co-authored with Lúcia de Souza, plant biologist and vice president of the Brazilian National Association of Biosafety (Associação Nacional de Biossegurança), ANBio.

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63 Comments sorted by

  1. Will Hunt

    Farmer

    At the Birchip Cropping Group seminar in Victoria, February just gone, of the 300 or so growers present, in a confidential survey, only 3 indicated that they were using GM Roundup Ready canola.
    The common complaint was, it's too expensive to grow, and doesn't perform and very susceptible to blackleg fungus.
    For most Australian cereal farmers, GM is dead in the water.

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    1. Mark Lynas

      Visiting Fellow at Cornell University

      In reply to Will Hunt

      This piece isn't about Roundup Ready anything, so your comment is irrelevant. One of the problems in this debate is people conflating everything 'GM' into one category, whereas as I try to show above, this is a varied technology with an enormous number of potential applications - herbicide tolerance is just one.

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    2. Will Hunt

      Farmer

      In reply to Mark Lynas

      My point was that farmers have tried GM's and found it didn't match the hype.
      So my comment may well be irrelevant but if farmers, having tried a GM and found it crap, won't be in any hurry to go back there.
      I personally don't care one way or the other about gm's. I have a GM cotton singlet next to my skin if that's any indication.
      However, I think Roundup Ready was a monumental blunder. To take our best non selective herbicide and turn it into a selective is an open invitation to herbicide resistance which will be the next big issue in agriculture, surpassing fuel & fertilizer shortages.
      I am not 'conflating everything 'GM' into one category'. I just know how farmers think

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    3. Robert Wager

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Will Hunt

      Will
      I know you believe GE crops are a failure but the history of this technology says something completely different. Each product is suited to a different agronomic problem and each product is very effective at dealing with that specific problem. ~15-20% of the worlds crops by acreage are GE in 17 years. Over half the acres are in the developing world where decisions about what seed to buy/use are all to often life and death decisions, the adoption rate of GE crops is faster in the developing world than the developed world. >15 million farmers in the developing world now grow GE varieties of crops. They have a choice. So either the 17 million farmers in the world are dumb or they know more about farming than you give them credit for.

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    4. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Will Hunt

      The conspiracy theorists seem to think that trenchcoat-wearing Monsanto teams go around in the night putting a gun to the head of farmers and forcing them to use their recombinant glyphosate-resistant variety.

      Of course, as your post points out Will, farmers are completely free to use whatever they want, they will use this new option in the market if they judge it to be beneficial overall to meet their needs, and if they don't they won't use it.

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    5. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Carole Hubbard

      I might leave that one for Mark Lynas to respond to, if he reads the comments.

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    6. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Luke Weston

      Nonsense. The malevolent deeds of Monsanto are not conspiracy theories. The criminality of Monsanto is on the public record. GM proponents and the biotech industry continue to obscure the malfeasance of felons in the GM industry who have seduced governments and academics with pseudoscience just like they did with transboundary, persistent organic pollutants that contaminated the entire planet, including Antarctica where no industry exists.

      The revolving door is well oiled while ethics-free…

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    7. Alan Matthews

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Carole Hubbard

      Carole

      While The International article recognises that the widespread narrative that Bt cotton = farmer suicides in India has been challenged, it gives undue weight to activist commentators to conclude that there must be something in this argument.

      For a more thorough review, I would recommend the following link written partly by a colleague of Mark Lynas at Cornell University http://sap.einaudi.cornell.edu/sites/sap.einaudi.cornell.edu/files/Failure%20of%20Bt%20Cotton%20Herring%20Rao.pdf

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    8. Will Hunt

      Farmer

      In reply to Alan Matthews

      When an American or Australian farmer grows cotton there is a protocol you enter into which says that as well as the BT cotton, you must also plant a small area of conventional cotton so that the boll, weevil predators have somewhere to breed up on- something like that- not a cotton grower so I'm not sure of the tecnique. Doesn't matter. The point as I understand it is that Indian farmers haven't been following this protocol and boll weevils are starting to adapt to BT cotton at a fairly alarming rate. And of course they will have to go back to spraying if & when that happens.

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    9. Robert Wager

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Carole Hubbard

      Another of the many myths about GE crops. lets look at Indian Government data on this.

      In 2006 ~13% of suicides were in rural areas, therefore 87% were urban. At this time ~15$% of cotton grown in India was GE. Jump[ ahead five years and rural suicide is down to 10%, over 90% of all cotton grown in India is GE, profits for small scale farmers is up 50% and Indian cotton yield has almost tripled. Indian farmers have overwhelmingly chosen to plant GE cotton

      Seems the myth never dies though the facts are clear it is a myth.

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  2. Margaret Schlegel

    government employee

    Here's the problem with GM anything: unanticipated, unintended consequences. We are already eyeball-deep in a whole bunch of environmental problems from the unanticipated and unintended consequences of other technologies. Is adding another unknown into the mix really the right choice at this stage? I say no, especially since we already have really excellent seeds etc from nature that have sustained us for literally millenia. If it ain't broke...

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    1. Georg Antony

      analyst

      In reply to Margaret Schlegel

      If anything, GM can reduce the unintended consequences compared to some conventional plant-breeding techniques that are, apparently, just fine.

      Take, for example, the practice of triggering mutations via radioactive irradiation, and then selecting from the mutants for desirable attributes. There is no way genetic damage can be restricted to the obvious traits, but nobody is up in arms about this. In contrast, GM changes only targeted segments of DNA.

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    2. Robert Wager

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Margaret Schlegel

      Margret, there is nothing "natural" about agriculture. We have been manipulating the DNA of our food (plants and animals) for 10,000 years. We call it agriculture. only the methods of used to change the DNA have changed.

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    3. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Margaret Schlegel

      I assume that when you say "from nature" you mean artificial selection, hybridisation and mutation breeding for at most a century or so in most cases.

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    4. Margaret Schlegel

      government employee

      In reply to Georg Antony

      Oh sure, GM will result in *different* unintended consequences, but not ZERO unintended consquences. What will those consequences be and how will we respond to them? What happens if our responses are inadequate? Very much an "out of the frying pan and into the fire" situation, IMO.

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    5. Margaret Schlegel

      government employee

      In reply to Robert Wager

      10 000 years is much better track record than GM has. "Only the methods have changed" - but the methods are EVERYTHING.

      Humans have waged war for at least 10 000 years too, and you could say "only the methods have changed" about war as well, but that glosses over some significant differences in outcomes.

      Yes, agriculture is unnatural, so is it really a good idea to make it MORE unnatural?

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  3. Chris Owens

    Professional

    Since when have biotechnology companies been interested in the people least able to pay for these technologies?

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    1. Robert Wager

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Presently 15 + million farmers in the developing world now grow GE crops. Over 70 countries have active R&D programs to develop GE crops for their countries issues. This technology is scale neutral and has been demonstrated to benefit the large and small scale farmer alike.

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    2. Chris Owens

      Professional

      In reply to Robert Wager

      Thanks for your response Robert, but your comment didn't address the question posed.

      Surely these biotech companies have profit as the objective rather than altruism.

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    3. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Ah that is the question that 'they' - neo-liberals - never never respond to. How can we have a decent and fair world when profit is the motive but it is presented as altruism?

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    4. Robert Wager

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Capitalism is what makes the world go round. it is the worse system except for all others .

      Funny how making money is not an issue with companies like Whole Foods which just happens to make ~ the same money as Monsanto. The narrative is completely different for these two companies yet they make the same money.Why is that?

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    5. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Robert Wager

      Do you have anything better than an mindless saying "Capitalism makes the world go round"? Seriously is that the best you got in favour of capitalism?

      And if you don't understand that money without morals is a bad thing, you need to read a bit about how money without morals corrupts people and that old saying the love of money is the root of all evil is more applicable to a company like Monsanto who do not put out a policy that acknowledges that they do harm in their pursuit of profit than it is to a company that does put itself in some sort of social context that aims to benefit all not just the profit takers.

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  4. JoAnna W

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    The successful trials of the sterile poplars you mention was actually at Oregon State University, not the University of Oregon! Good article otherwise.

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  5. Suzy Gneist
    Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

    The fact that you speak of farmers growing F1 hybrid watermelons and corn 'widely' shows that the reasoning includes only commercial farming and excludes most subsistence and traditional farming. Although this may not account for the largest part of the world agricultural economy, it nevertheless affects a lot more families and farm livelihoods across the world, many of which do not use purchased seed and will not benefit from GM seed or F1 hybrids.

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    1. Lucia de Souza

      Scientist

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      In some cases such as corn, hybrids are prefered by farmers in Brazil. Even a considerable number of small farmers choose it because they offer advantages such as more suitable to a certain time for planting (maize is often grown twice per year in Brazil), increased yield and vigor. According to Brazilian seed producers association for the 2013/2014 harvest there are 467 maize cultivars available (this number includes both conventional maize also used in organic agriculture as well as transgenic varieties). But it is in no case compulsory to buy hybrids whether they are conventional or transgenic. Those minority farmers who prefer to save the seeds from a previous harvest to plant on a next season can obviously do it.

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    2. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Lucia de Souza

      Agreed, in specific circumstances and for specific environments and conditions, hybrids can be useful. Possibly so can GMO, if they are proven not to spread into environmens they are not desired in or affect another species undesirably. So far the uncontrolled spread of GMOs into previously organically certified farms and wild environments do not inspire confidence in the care and diligence of the companies that make and distribute these. It is understandable that in light of recent evidence, small producers and subsistence farmers need to insist on stronger controls and evidence as well as better ethics from these companies - they are most at risk of losing out, especially financially, not the big biotech companies.

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    3. Lucia de Souza

      Scientist

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      One of the requirements for environmental/commercial release of GMOs is that it does not spread and cause damage to environment. If released in the environment it must be at least as safe as the conventional variety. If you take for instance soyabeans, these flowers are closed and they self pollinate (as a scientist I’m trained never to say something is a 100% sure, but the chances of pollination to other flowers are really minute). In addition you consider other relevant points, such as the environment…

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    4. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Lucia de Souza

      Maybe Brazil has better safeguards when it comes to protecting traditional or organic seeds or surrounding properties, yet in Australia a farmer whose certified organic farm has been contaminated by GMO grown by his neighbour and who has as a result lost his organic certification is currently going to court to address the damage caused by GMO contamination.

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    5. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      "Maybe Brazil has better safeguards when it comes to protecting traditional or organic seeds or surrounding properties, yet in Australia a farmer whose certified organic farm has been contaminated by GMO grown by his neighbour and who has as a result lost his organic certification is currently going to court to address the damage caused by GMO contamination."

      This entire thing about "GM contamination" and "organic certification" only exists because of the pseudoscience that the GM product is intrinsically…

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    6. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Luke Weston

      Well, excuse me for pointing this out, but what a load of opiniated diatribe!
      Organic produce is a sought after product. To gain legal organic certification is a long process and a substantial investment. GMOs are not considered organic within the strict regulations. For a neighbour or company to carelessly destroy someone's livelihood and income base by contaminating thier organic certification by any means that revoke this legal certification, is a crime. Full stop.
      If a similar incursion happened to your business investment, you too would consider your rights violated. What you think or believe about GMOs or Organic Certification, or even alternative medicine, is completely beside the point and your opinions are certainly not universal facts.

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    7. Will Hunt

      Farmer

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      Certainly right Suzy, contaminating fungal spores and pollen can travel for miles. Very hard to prove where they originate of course. That is why organic farmers want buffer zones. I am not 'organic' but I support anyone to supply a specific market and those who want to access it.

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    8. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Luke Weston

      Luke, I don't think you should confuse genuine concerns, nutters with conservatives and precautionary principles with 'pseudo-science'. Emotional and straw-man talk about 'evil chemicals' and 'quartz crystals' is not very helpful. Every new technology needs to be tested on its merits and risks. There are a great many consumers who rightly or wrongly believe that long-term effects and risks of new technology are discounted by profit-making enterprises with shorter term goals. This is the organic market. These enterprises don't help their cause when they bluster against legitimate critics or lack transparency in their testing. We've had several catastrophes in the past when testing or controls have been insufficient. I think that persuasion with evidence is rather more effective than abuse.

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    9. Robert Wager

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      Another myth Suzy. there has never been a case of decertification of any organic farm for adventitious presence of GE seed/pollen. The OSGTA sued Monsanto claiming exactly that and when the 30,000 plaintiffs were asked by the judge for evidence none, not one case was brought forward. They the judge asked for evidence Monsanto had sued farmers for trace amounts of GM showing up in their non-GM fields. Again, not one scrap of evidence was brought forward. the case was thrown out and the judge stated it was a clear attempt to create a controversy where none exists.. Your claim shows how well that myth has been spread by the organic lobby.

      http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/cases/show.php?db=special&id=156

      BTW the appeal was also denied for the same lack of evidence.

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  6. David Roth

    Postgrad History Student

    Have the concerns raised by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in the referenced document about the GURT moratorium been satisfactorily addressed since 2000? Namely, the "the current absence of reliable data on genetic use restriction technologies".

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    1. mem_somerville

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Roth

      So you are saying that you don't understand that the research was prohibited? As you are simultaneously calling for the research to have been done? It sounds absurd, I know--but that's what the anti-GMO folks want all the time. More data, while they block and destroy the research.

      Do you support this case of research to determine if this is reliable?

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    2. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to mem_somerville

      The moratorium statement http://www.banterminator.org/Glossary/Moratorium
      did not actually say that research was prohibited. What it does say is: "products incorporating such (GURT) technologies should not be approved by Parties for field testing until appropriate scientific data can justify such testing, and for commercial use until appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled scientific assessments with regard to, inter alia, their ecological and socio-economic impacts and any adverse effects for biological diversity, food security and human health have been carried out in a transparent manner and the conditions for their safe and beneficial use validated." So my question could be restated as : have these assessments been made?
      "Appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled scientific assessments" still count as research in my view. And yes, I do support this.

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    3. Peter Banks

      retired Civil Engineer

      In reply to David Roth

      By the letter research may not have been banned per se, but what company would sink money into laboratory research to try to prove that field testing is justified, with no guarantee of being able to move on to such testing without first having effectively to overturn an agreed moratorium on such testing.

      The odds, and costs, are too high. Especially with an irrational (sterility can be propagated through offspring) anti-GM lobby baying for no such research to take place.

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    4. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Peter Banks

      The EU was obviously not satisfied in 2000 that field testing carried acceptable risks. And it had reservations about GURT in 2006. The 2000 EU statement clearly implies that it is willing to lift the field testing moratorium if the assessments have been carried out satisfactorily. If the benefits are as great as Mark, yourself and other protagonists claim, why then are the costs of assessments not acceptable? Where is the cost/benefit analysis?
      I find it objectionable to be lumped in with 'irrational anti-GM lobbying' just for asking a reasonable question.

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  7. Robert Wager

    logged in via Twitter

    The use of GURT's is going to be a reality in the future. There are some very good applications for this technology. v-GURT and t-GURT's are different animals and should likely be discussed separately. Having siad that even the GE- skeptical EU has an active GURT research program, google "transcontainer" and see for yourself.

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Robert Wager

      I can only repeat my question about the EU concerns in the 2000 moratorium report. Have they been addressed?
      In respect of transcontainer research, the Commission said in 2006 that "The Commission supports in particular that appropriate scientific data on the environmental and socioeconomic impacts is needed before a GURT could be approved for release into the environment." http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getAllAnswers.do?reference=E-2006-2406&language=PT

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    2. Lucia de Souza

      Scientist

      In reply to David Roth

      In order to gather reliable and appropriate scientific data before commercial release, research in Brazil using GURTs is important. Just like it is currently done in the EU and other countries.

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  8. mem_somerville

    logged in via Twitter

    Thanks for taking on this zombie, Mark and Lúcia. I was shocked*--shocked I say--to find that the hair-flambé article in the Guardian didn't ask a single scientist for context or comment.

    I was even more shocked* when they didn't print my comment noting the same thing.

    *Ok, perhaps not.

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  9. Suzy Gneist
    Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

    I believe the underlying issue is one of trust. Do we trust the corporations who commercialise GMO technology to have the people's best interest at heart?
    Many will not, considering that corporations have a legal requirement to place profits above all else, there is a lack of confidence that they will be open about problem issues, they will rigorously test their products and withdraw them if necessary, they will compensate for damages caused to others or the environment, they will follow ethical and environmentally sustainable guidelines voluntarily.
    Experience says we cannot trust them fully, so the issue of GMOs is not a solely scientific or technological one and no amount of reassurance in the safety of the technology will combat this lack of trust.

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    1. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      It isn't only experience that tells us we cannot trust anyone who subscribes to the idea that making a profit at the expense of all other human activities and achievements, is not going to produce a society in which all of us have the opportunity to prosper.

      And this 'belief' - article of faith for neo-liberals - hasn't ever produced an economy that works for all of us.

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    2. Will Hunt

      Farmer

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      Julie, my experience tells me not to trust anyone who can't see the simple self evident fact that unless I make enough profit to buy fuel, fertilizer, seed and replace a bit of kit, there won't be a bloody crop next year. Sheeeeeesh.

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    3. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Will Hunt

      Not that easy Will. There is profit that a man or woman makes to provide a decent living. Then there is profit that corporations make. Do you see any difference?

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    4. Will Hunt

      Farmer

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      Yes I certainly do Julie, and I wasted the first 20 years of my career obsessing about changing a row of figures on the bottom line, and I have come to realize that profit should be a means to an end, and not an end in itself. However, the sad fact remains that if you want to do much of anything that is fun and interesting, its a big help to have a few bob. And the only way I know how to do that is to generate a cash surplus. Profit is not a dirty word.
      Getting back on the topic however, I would take a lot of persuading to get on board the GM wagon. My observations of that is that there is rather more in them for Monsanto and their ilk than farmers,

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    5. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Will Hunt

      Thanks Will you are right "the sad fact remains that if you want to do much of anything that is fun and interesting, its a big help to have a few bob."

      But I do think that we have been 'fooled' about how much stuff we do need to have a good life and that we would be happier and healthier if rich corporations did not use so much expertise persuading us that we do need so much of their stuff to find life interesting.

      Monsanto - the word and what I associate with 'terminator seeds', does raise…

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    6. Will Hunt

      Farmer

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      Good points Julie, esp. that of 'dairy farmers, many of whom have been 'forced' to work for Woolies to make ends meet, apparently because they were not sufficiently 'efficient'', is interesting. One of the reasons they have to work at Woolies is that Woolies are selling milk for under $1 litre which is less than the cost of production. This should enhance the quality of life of Woolies customers and ostensibly demonstrates their interest in them. However, Woolies also sell bottled water for more than milk, which demonstrates to me that Woolies are rather more interested in their shareholders quality of life than their suppliers.
      If nothing else, this does support the importance of a reasonable level of profit to Ma & Pa farmers

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    7. Will Hunt

      Farmer

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      Thanks for that Julie, good link. Thankfully, our sort of farming is non perishable bulk/containerable commodities like wheat, barley, beans and wool, which get shipped out of the country and someone else handles them. Anybody who has set up a business in Australia to process domestically (fruit, dairy, etc) for the home market is fair game for the duopoly and they just get screwed. There is no thanks for anyone who wants to invest in Australia and supply jobs and opportunities for local people. You are just fair game for being a mug.

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  10. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    The article illustrates the corporate ‘bundling’ of the major GMO corporations. Biotech/GM seed/pesticide giants, Dupont, Bayer, Dow and BASF are also pharmaceutical corporations and in collaboration with Monsanto, Syngenta et al they enter into agreements to share patented, genetically engineered seed traits with each other.

    If the “bioreactor” plants become a reality, one can rest assured that the subsidiaries of the biotech/pesticide giants will be providing the vaccines. The corporations…

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  11. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    I believe Robert Wager’s information is flawed since there are 300,000 individuals involved in the Monsanto lawsuit, not 30,000. In addition his information is obsolete since OSGATA filed a brief with the Supreme Court on 19 December for the case against Monsanto to be reinstated. https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.fooddemocracynow.org/images/13-303_Organic_Seed_v_Monsanto_-_PETITIONERS_REPLY_BRIEF.pdf

    Further, farmers in Idaho have also filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for disruption…

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    1. Richard Kuper

      Writer and researcher

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Can I add to this. Robert Wager wrote: " there has never been a case of decertification of any organic farm for adventitious presence of GE seed/pollen". That seems unlikely. If the organic rules specify no GM in the product and GM is found, how can there not be decertification.

      And that GM is found, frequently, is made clear in the submission to the Supreme Court that Shirley Birney provides.It states almsot at the outset: "Instead, the court of appeals acknowledged the district court's finding…

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  12. margaret beresford

    retired

    This is not a question looking for an answer anymore---despite the Science that has long been in---the sole fact that a multinational can dictate to governments and deal with the public as though their very existence is no more important than the farmers they manipulate makes this discussion irrelevant and that is truly an understatement. Yes?---why else or more importantly in what reality is it normal or legal to use secrecy through manipulation of governments they pay even less tax to, defies any response except ---why are we paying for banks and corporations that clearly abandoned humanity a long time ago.

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  13. Jack Heinemann

    Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

    Thanks Mark and Lucia for raising the issue of GURTs. It should be a topic of open and frank discussion.
    I think you over-simplify the issues, however. First, GURTs are not just to 'produce seed or offspring which are sterile in order to restrict the spread of new genes which have been introduced into the target plant'. There are two kinds of GURTs. vGURTs are the kind you define. tGURTs control the expression of an engineered trait. Both have separate environmental risk pathways to consider. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10880.html

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    1. Lucia de Souza

      Scientist

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Dear Jack,
      While research on GURTs continues in countries other than Brazil as you mentioned (parties or non-parties of the Convention of Biological Diversity). We are talking about the current Brazilian Regulatory Framework. Under the Brazilian regulatory framework you’ll see, for instance, LAW Nº 11.105 - Article 6 – paragraph VII:
      “It is forbidden to: use, sell, register, file for patent and licensing of limited use genetic technologies. Sole paragraph. Under terms of this Law, it is understood…

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  14. Peter Dawson

    Gap Decade

    The leader of the free world, doing one of the things it does best - looking out for the hard working people who own the corporations who want to monopolise seed production:

    "The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador is using the pending approval of a $277 million compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to seek outrageous economic concessions from the Salvadoran government. The U.S. is demanding that El Salvador repeal the law that enables the government to purchase seeds from small farmers and cooperatives for its highly-successful Family Agriculture Plan. If this law is repealed, only corporations (including Monsanto!) would be able to bid on the seed contracts."

    http://www.cispes.org/topcontent/action-alert-tell-rep-defend-el-salvadors-family-farmers/

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