8 April 2002

GM activists call for ban to protect poor farmers

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Environmentalists will press delegates at an international conference on biodiversity this
week to ban a controversial form of genetic modification that deliberately sterilises crop

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, held in The Hague, will be told that
so-called "terminator genes" are immoral because they prevent the world's poorest farmers from saving some of their harvest for planting the following year. Seed companies say introducing terminator genes into some GM crops will ensure the seed does not spread in the wild, but it would also offer them obvious commercial benefits because farmers would have to buy fresh seed each year.

Hope Shand, research director of the Canadian environmental group ETC, said the conference could put pressure on national governments to ban the sale of seed containing terminator genes or to outlaw field trials. "In our mind this is the single most important action that they can take to protect poor farmers," she said. "We think that terminator technology is an immoral application of genetic engineering. This is a biological means of preventing poor farmers from saving their crop seed from a harvest, solely for the benefit of increasing a company's profits."

Some GM companies, such as Monsanto, have said they will not introduce terminator genes into a crop if it would have an adverse effect on poor farmers, but Ms Shand said a universal ban was the only way of making sure it never happened. Only one country, India, has banned the technology.