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Eleven on Biotech Panel Call for USDA to Dump Terminator

(1 September - Cropchoice News) -- Eleven members of the USDA's Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology have sent a scathing letter to the Agriculture Secretary calling on Glickman to pull the plug on government involvement in Terminator technology.

USDA owns Terminator with DeltaPine, the Mississippi-based cotton and soybean seed company. Critics say that Terminator is a financial nightmare for farmers and will cost producers millions. The GMO, which is being tested by DeltaPine, makes it impossible to brown bag seed, since the second generation is programmed not to germinate. DeltaPine calls Terminator "Technology Protection System", or TPS, and says it needs TPS to protect its profits from seed-saving farmers.

According to the committee members, "We are steadfast in our view that USDA’s continued association with the Terminator patent is a fundamental mistake." The 38 member USDA committee, formed by Glickman earlier this year, studied and discussed Terminator at its last meeting in July. Those signing the letter concluded that "Terminator technology has only one primary purpose - to allow private companies to exert greater control over the seed markets and extract more income from farmers forced to buy their products on an annual basis."

The committee members went on to advise Glickman that Terminator was giving the entire field of biotechnology a black eye: "It is hard to think of more effective way to fan the flames of fear that agricultural biotechnology will be misused than to assist a company that currently controls 70% of the cotton seed market to secure an even stronger hold..."

The USDA prepared a background paper for the Committee on Terminator. It's available online here. Additional advice that the committee members gave Glickman includes:

* Terminator should not be licensed to companies which control greater than 40% market share for a food and fiber crop in their national seed market.

* No Terminator in crops that can out cross with wild or cultivated neighbors.

* A review by the USDA and the Justice Department for impacts on monopolies in the ag sector, including farmer's choice in the marketplace.

Finally, the committee members said that Glickman should take another look at how USDA allowed government funding for a technology only designed to squeeze more money out of farmers. The letter says that USDA should ask farmers and other stakeholders to study the role of public agricultural research and re-orient its work based on new priorities instead of those of the big seed and chemical companies.