After more than 2 years of protests by farmers and environmentalists, Monsanto announced last fall that they would not persue commercialization of “terminator” technology, which would prevent harvested seeds from germinating and thus prevent farmers from saving seeds for next year’s planting.
However, biotech companies continue to pursue genetic seed sterilization; over three dozen patents involving seed sterilization are pending in more than 80 nations. Among the businesses seeking patents are Novarits, AstraZeneca, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc and DuPont. These companies are developing “suicide” seeds whose genetic traits can be turned on and off by an external chemical “inducer” mixed with the company’s patented agrochemicals.
Genetic seed sterilization seeds are only the beginning. Monsanto and New Zealand’s Forest Research Agency hope to engineer “terminator” trees, which will secrete toxic chemicals through their leaves to kill caterpillars and other leaf-eating insects. The trees will resist herbicides, allowing ground flora to be eliminated easily, and will be engineered to never flower. Environmental groups believe these trees will usher in a second “silent spring.” The first, Rachel Carson’s, was brought on by DDT.
Companies like Shell and Monsanto say these trees will grow faster, or produce ligin-free timber to reduce the use of chemicals and energy used in paper-making. This will increase the world’s paper yields with no pressure on native forests. A Friends of the Earth spokesperson said, “The idea that intensively-managed plantations take pressure off natural forests is a myth. What is happening is that natural forest is being cleared to make way for intensive plantations. GM trees will accelerate that process.” Len Yull, chairman of the Timber Growers’ Asso. said, “I have yet to see anyone put a convincing case that GM technology would create a sufficiently superior product to achieve a real market advantage, and these things are market and profit driven.”
Monsanto also hopes to expand its monopoly from seed to water in arid countries of the world. Monsanto not only bought seed companies (such as Agracetus, Calagene, Holden, Cargills, Delta & Pine, Unilever, Mahyco, Maharashtra, EID Parry, Rallis) but hopes to use Mahyco to corner the water business. The crisis of pollution and depletion of water resources in countries such as India and Mexico are viewed by Monsanto only as a business opportunity. Monsanto estimates that providing safe water is a several billion dollar market. Instead of public money for a public supply of water, Monsanto wants to establish its monopoly in supplying this vital component of life. Aquaculture is also in Monsanto’s sights. Thes two businesses are aimed at controlling vital resources necessary for survival, converting them into a market and using public finances (i.e., the World Bank) to underwrite the investments. The right to water is the right to life. Turning water into a business like this is a threat to the right to life. Water is a commons and must be managed as a commons.