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Terminator Technology

Terminator Technology is the colloquial name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile. The technology was under development by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Delta and Pine Land company in the 1990s and is not yet commercially available. Because some stakeholders expressed concerns that this technology might lead to dependence for poor smallholder farmers, Monsanto, an agricultural products company and the world's biggest seed supplier, pledged not to commercialize the technology.

The technology was discussed during the 8th Conference of the Parties to the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity in Curitiba, Brazil, March 20-31, 2006.

Terminator Technology is one form of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURT). There are conceptually two types of GURT.

1. V-GURT This type of GURT produces sterile seeds meaning that a farmer that had purchased seeds containing v-GURT technology could not save the seed from this crop for future planting. This would not have an immediate impact on the large number of farmers who use hybrid seeds, as they do not produce their own planting seeds, and instead buy specialized hybrid seeds from seed production companies. The technology is restricted at the plant variety level - hence the term V-GURT. Manufacturers of genetically enhanced crops would use this technology to protect their products from unauthorised use.

2. T-GURT. A second type of GURT modifies a crop in such a way that the genetic enhancement engineered into the crop does not function until the crop plant is treated with a chemical that is sold by the biotechnology company. Farmers can save seeds for use each year. However, they do not get to use the enhanced trait in the crop unless they purchase the activator compound. The technology is restricted at the trait level - hence the term T-GURT.


Possible advantages of GURT technology

An incentive to the development of new plant varieties

Where effective intellectual property protection systems don't exist or are not enforced, GURTs could be an alternative to stimulate plant developing activities by biotech firms.

Improved farm management

Non-viable seeds produced on V-GURT plants will reduce the propagation of volunteer plants. Volunteer plants can become an economic problem for larger-scale mechanized farming systems that incorporate crop rotation.

Improved grain quality

Under warm, wet harvest conditions non V-GURT grain can sprout, which lowers the quality of grain produced. It is speculated[weasel words] that this problem would not occur with the use of V-GURT grain varieties.


Use of V-GURT technology could prevent escape of transgenes into wild relatives and prevent any impact on biodiversity. Crops modified to produce non-food products could be armed with GURT technology to prevent accidental transmission of these traits into crops destined for foods.

Possible disadvantages of GURT technology

Transmission of the "Terminator" trait to wild plants, or cultivated plants whose seeds are saved

There is a concern that V-GURT plants could cross-pollinate with non-genetically modified plants, either in the wild or on the fields of farmers who do not adopt the technology. Though the V-GURT plants are supposed to produce sterile seeds, there is concern that this trait will not be expressed in the first generation of a small percentage of these plants, but be expressed in later generations. This does not seem to be much of a problem in the wild, as a sterile plant would naturally be selected out of a population within one generation of trait expression. This is however a problem in some farming systems, especially for indigenous groups who save seed rather than purchase it from developers. The loss of the ability for such farmers to save seed may lead to decreased agroecological biodiversity on their farms and decreased yields of affected crops.

Safety of food produced from GURT crops

As with all Genetically Modified crops the food safety of GURT technology would need to be assessed when and if a commercial release of a GURT containing crop was proposed.

The inequitable distribution of means; the targeting of vulnerable classes

In addition to potential biological and ecological harms, there is both an economic and normative concern that small farmers, indigenous peoples, and entire rural communities could be made dependent on agro-industry corporations for seed.

A presumption of entitlement

As with many other technologies, there is debate as to the role and responsibility implicit in the normative assumptions involved in producing GURTs. The issue is distinct from the conflict surrounding the production of GM foods generally, in that GURT products are specifically designed to affect future generations and potentially have a distinct impact on human and ecological health and livelihoods. Thus, some believe that in making decisions regarding such products, considerations should extend beyond what is legally permissible.

Possible undermining of food security

“Canada needs to pass this bill into law because genetic seed sterilization is dangerous and blatantly anti-farmer – suicide seeds threaten to intensify corporate control over Canadian agriculture and offers no benefits for farmers,” said Colleen Ross of the National Farmers Union.

Initially developed by the US Department of Agriculture and multinational seed companies, “suicide seeds” have not been commercialized anywhere in the world due to an avalanche of opposition from farmers, indigenous peoples, civil society and some governments. In 2000, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity recommended a de facto moratorium on field-testing and commercial sale of Terminator seeds; the moratorium was re-affirmed in 2006. India and Brazil have already passed national laws to prohibit the technology.

See also


  • Sterile Seeds audio broadcast on Kootenay Co-op Radio's Deconstructing Dinner program
  • International Seed Federation: Position Paper Supporting GURT development
  • Ban Terminator Organization
  • Detailed timeline of history of Terminator Technology
  • UN Convention on Biological Diversity - Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
  • Eco-matters website, providing resources from Progressio, Chair of the UK Working Group on Terminator Technology
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Terminator_Technology". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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