miércoles, junio 13, 2007

ETC on Transcontainer

ETC Group
News Release
13 June 2007

Suicide-Seed Sequel: EU's "Transcontainer"
Turns Terminator into Zombie

ETC Group today releases "Terminator: The Sequel," a Communique
reporting on new research related to "suicide seeds" and other
genetically modified (GM) seed technologies that pose unacceptable
threats to farmers, biodiversity and food sovereignty.

Today ETC Group reports on a new crop of genetic engineering
technologies that are being promoted as a biosafety solution to the
unwanted spread of transgenes from GM crops, trees and pharmaceutical-
producing plants. In practice, these technologies, if commercialized,
will allow the multinational seed industry to tighten its grasp on
proprietary seeds and to restrict the rights of farmers.

The 28-page Communique begins with an examination of the European
Union's 'Transcontainer' project, which is developing GM crops and
trees for Europe that could be "biologically contained" through
"reversible transgenic sterility." The three-year project, which is
part of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme, supports the goal of "co-
existence" - the controversial idea that GM crops and non-GM crops
can peacefully co-exist - and it aims to promote public acceptance of
GM crops.

"We've always known that Terminator technology is simply too
lucrative for the seed industry to abandon," says ETC Group's Hope
Shand, "but it's outrageous that the European Union is using public
funds to develop genetic seed sterilization." Shand adds, "The EU-
funded Transcontainer project is especially disturbing in light of
the European Parliament's strong anti-Terminator stance only last
year." The European Parliament passed a resolution in March 2006
urging European delegates meeting at the CBD (United Nations
Convention on Biological Diversity) in Curitiba, Brazil to uphold the
de facto moratorium on Terminator. At the meeting governments
unanimously re-affirmed and strengthened the moratorium, which
recommends against the field-testing or commercialization of seeds
that have been genetically engineered to produce sterile seeds at
harvest. The United Nations uses the term GURTs (genetic use
restriction technology) to refer to Terminator.

Apologists for the Transcontainer project argue that its aim is not
to restrict seed use but to contain transgenes, and that the
technology under development differs from Terminator because the
seeds' sterility will be "reversible," so that seed fertility can be
recovered - most likely through the application of a chemical. Hope
Shand counters, "A scenario in which farmers would have to pay for a
chemical to restore seed viability creates a new perpetual monopoly
for the seed industry. Even if these 'Zombie seeds' are not being
designed with the intent to restrict seed use, the reality is that
farmers will end up having to pay for the privilege of restoring seed
fertility every year. Zombie seeds are no more acceptable than
suicide seeds - there is simply no such thing as a safe and
acceptable form of Terminator," adds Shand.

ETC's report also examines new research on gene excision technologies
(i.e., molecular methods to snip out transgenes at some point in a
plant's life). Dubbed Exorcist by ETC Group, the technology is a
strategy for both biocontainment and for restricting access to
proprietary germplasm. In theory, DNA-excision could be designed to
occur at any stage during the plant's development - before the GM
plant flowers and produces pollen, for example, or before it becomes
food. The excision process can be triggered by an external
environmental or chemical stimulus, or excision can be designed to
occur automatically at a particular stage in the plant's life. ETC's
Kathy Jo Wetter explains, "In its current state, Exorcist is far from
a failsafe biocontainment strategy - it won't work 100% of the time -
but even if Exorcist can't fully contain transgenes, it could still
function as a biological method to enforce patents by restricting
access to proprietary traits."

Finally, ETC Group's Communique examines "extreme" biocontainment
methods - molecular methods involving "conditionally lethal genes"
capable of terminating plants and their transgenic DNA in the event
that other containment strategies fail. The idea is that a "Pull-the-
Plug" plant could be killed by triggering the lethal gene - by the
application of an external chemical, for example - taking the GM
trait down with it. If the lethal gene is not triggered, the plant
lives and can pass on its foreign genes to the next generation.
Ostensibly, these pull-the-plug plants are being developed as a back-
up strategy for last-resort biological containment.

"There's also a more sinister possibility," suggests ETC's Silvia
Ribeiro, "that companies could pull the plug on plants they believe
are being grown without the proper licensing agreements. We've
already seen biotech companies resort to nasty tactics to ferret out
farmers suspected of possible patent infringement. Now companies
could threaten to trigger the lethal gene or they could simply apply
the chemical trigger to get positive or negative confirmation when
they suspect the farmer of patent infringement."

Ribeiro concludes, "Zombie seeds, Exorcist seeds and Pull-the-Plug
plants: these are all defective technologies that won't prevent the
unwanted spread of transgenes from GM crops. But if governments can
be convinced that biological containment of GMOs is possible using
one of these new techniques - or a combination of them - it will open
the floodgates to new markets for biotech plants, particularly GM
crops and trees grown for biofuels. The result will be more heavily
subsidized multinational companies and drastically increased risk of
transgenic contamination."

Governments meeting in Rome at the FAO's Commission on Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture are today considering a "code of
conduct" on biotechnology. "If anyone needs more evidence of the
urgent need for a biotech code of conduct, Zombie seeds and suicide
seeds are it," says Pat Mooney of ETC Group.

Civil society organizations convening in Berlin next week (June
18-21) at the Second European Forum on Sustainable Rural Development
should consider requesting that the European Commission cease funding
for Zombie seed research, particularly because of its dangerous
implications for 1.4 billion people who depend on farm-saved seeds.

ETC Group's report concludes with recommendations related to these
"dual use" GURTs - new genetic modification techniques designed to
contain transgenes and restrict access to proprietary germplasm. The
CBD's scientific advisory body (SBSTTA) meeting in Paris, France, 2 -
6 July 2007 should recommend that governments meeting at the 9th
Conference of the Parties to the CBD (Bonn, Germany, 19-30 May 2008)
strengthen the United Nations' moratorium on Terminator by
recommending a ban on the technology.

For further information:

ETC Group (Carrboro, NC, USA)
Hope Shand
Kathy Jo Wetter
Tel: +1 919 960-5223

ETC Group (Mexico City)
Silvia Ribeiro
Tel: +52 5555 6326 64

ETC Group (Ottawa, Canada)
Pat Mooney
Mobile: +1 613 2610688 - in Europe until June 15

ETC Group (Montreal, Canada)
Jim Thomas
Tel: +1 514 516-5759