Science in Society Archive

Prof. Joe Cummins
The Independent Science Panel

The Independent Science Panel (ISP) is a panel of scientists from many disciplines, committed to the Promotion of Science for the Public Good. The panel’s home is London UK

Ref: SCBD/STTM/DCO/va/48601 “Advice on the report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies

Hamdallah Zedan
Executive Secretary
Convention on Biological Diversity
United Nations Environment Programme
World Trade Centre
413 Saint-Jacques Street
Suite 800
Montreal, Quebec
Canada H2Y 1N9

“Genetic Use Restriction Technologies Should be  Eliminated and Use of Public Funds to Develop Use Restriction Technologies Should be Prevented”

Dear. Dr. Zedan:

I am providing advice on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies on behalf the Independent Science Panel.  I am appending a copy of my speech “Terminator Corporations' Suicide Seeds” a lecture presented at Sustainable World International Conference, 14-15 July 2005, London. That speech report includes references to numerous articles dealing with genetic use restriction technologies. Genetic Use Restriction Technologies are commonly referred to as “terminators”.

Terminator technologies serve little benefit to anyone other than corporations who profit from the seed use restriction. Corporations such as Monsanto have backed away from the deployment of terminators for the time being while there has been an explosion in the development of  novel use restriction technologies based on startling new discoveries in plant molecular genetics that led to the identification of homeotic genes that govern the pathways leading to cell differentiation. Homeotic genes produce proteins that recognize regulatory genes called MADS-boxes that control genes for formation of reproductive tissue, leaves, branches, etc.  That discovery has led to a flood of inventions that use MADS-box factors to control flowering or gamete production to create terminators in trees and in crops. Such techniques frequently use cell suicide toxins to abort formation of gametes or flowers and those toxins provide tangible hazards to those consuming food or feed. From the plethora of patents and patent applications for terminator technologies  it seems likely that regulatory agencies will soon be swamped with  applications for commercial release of such technologies. Many such technologies may be presented to the public as obfuscations, difficult for the layman or farmer to grasp, they will be, in effect, hidden terminators. It is essential that a clear principle should be established.  That principle is that terminators have no place in human agriculture. Their use should be outlawed.

It is worth pointing out that the fundamental research and development of terminator was done by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a collaboration with Delta and Pineland Corporation. The financial support for the MADS-box family of terminators came from government granting agencies and from the USDA-US forest service. Government research granting agencies and departments fund extensive research on terminator technologies that serve the interests of corporations and not the taxpayers. Government funding of terminator research should be stopped.

Family farmers and the public will both lose from the widespread use of terminator technology. Indigenous farmers will suffer from an inability to tap into crop improvements. In Canada there was a government-funded study promoting the distressing notion that essentially all seeds production be placed in the hands of corporate seed producers. Saving seed, when seeds are not terminated, would be outlawed. Canada may be the first country to impose a draconian system of corporate food production. Unfortunately, Canada may not be the last country to impose the corporate agenda on the public. The World should demand of the United Nations that they at last stand up for the good of the people of the world.

Appended Report

Terminator Corporations' Suicide Seeds

Joe Cummins, Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
Lecture presented at Sustainable World International Conference, 14-15 July 2005, London.

Canada has become the world’s leader in doing the wrong thing in the area of genetically modified (GM) food and feed. For example, Canada is the largest exporter of canola in the World. The Canadian government has promoted distribution and sale of GM canola and has encouraged open field testing of canola modified with pharmaceuticals such as the anticoagulant hirudin. There has been little effort to limit pollution of non-GM canola, and there is clear evidence that the canola of western Canada is extensively polluted with transgenes from GM crops [1]. The Canadian government has, in a sense,  provided a welcome to GM pollution in order to  promote the growth and distribution of GM crops. Nevertheless, corporations and their lackeys in the Canadian bureaucracy crave complete control of the seed and thus food and feed production. The government set up the Seed Sector Review advisory committee, which issued a report calling for changes to legislation to (a) collect royalties on farm-saved seeds, (b) compel farmers to buy officially certified seed, and (c) terminate the right of farmers to sell common seed.

The report was financed by the Agriculture Ministry at a cost of nearly a million dollars to the Canadian taxpayers that essentially rubber-stamped the demands of multinational agricultural corporations [2]. In this way, the onerous licensing requirements of the biotechnology industry are to be extended to all seeds, imposing a form of serfdom on any remaining independent farmers.

The development of “terminator” technology goes hand in hand with the corporate move to control use and production of seeds. Terminator technology is the use of genetic modification to produce seed that produce a crop with seed that is infertile (produces seeds that commit suicide when planted).  In other words, terminator blocks viable seed production, production of pollen or ovule or production of flowers. The corporate gains complete control over production of seeds needed to produce food and feed.

The first terminators were developed by the United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA) and corporate interests, and that technology was patented jointly by the corporation and USDA. As in Canada, the regulator of GM crops also acts as an advocate and commercial developer of such crops (a clear conflict of interest). The first terminator patent was granted to USDA and The Delta and Pineland Corporation (later joined to Monsanto Corporation) in 1999. That patent provoked a flurry of opposition both on the basis of the fundamental right of farmers to save seed, and on the scientific ground that the genetic changes might harm those consuming the crops. In response to those concerns, Monsanto Corporation backed off from immediate production of terminator seeds. But in spite of that action a great deal of government sponsored research In US has focused on development of terminator technology to provide financial benefits for corporations. The government research granting agencies have been lavishly providing taxpayer funds to prestigious universities to develop new and more effective means of producing terminator crops that primarily benefit corporations and reduce independent farmers to serfdom.

Beginning in 1999, The Institute of Science in Society in London, England has distributed a number of reports by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and myself. In those reports we described the genetic technology of the original and later biotechnology inventions [3-7]. The basic design of the constructions has been to prevent reproductive tissue from developing in a way that allows the seed-producer to maintain fertile lines in order to produce commercial seeds that fails to produce pollen, or produce seeds that will not germinate. The genes used to produce such lines usually involve aborting reproductive cells with cell-suicide genes producing toxins such as barnase,  a ribonuclease that digests cellular RNA, diptheria toxin or excess phytohormone production in the reproductive tissue. In some cases, anti-sense genes have been used to block reproductive cells from maturing. Anti-sense genes are complementary copies of the RNA gene messages governing reproductive cell maturation forming double stranded RNA that is recognized as an invading virus by the plant cell and destroyed.

During the 1990s, a startling new discovery in plant molecular genetics led to the identification of homeotic genes that govern the pathways leading to cell differentiation. The homeotic genes produce proteins that  recognize short stretches of DNA called MADS-boxes, regions controlling transcription of the genes involved in formation of reproductive tissue, leaves, roots branches, etc. that govern plant development [9]. That discovery has led to a flood  of inventions employing the MADS-boxes transcription factors to control flowering and gamete production  as terminators in trees and in crops. Steven Strauss of the US Forest Service in Oregon has been field-testing poplar trees modified with cell suicide genes to eliminate flowering and plans to extend that system to shade trees. Finish researchers at Sopanen University are developing sterile silver birch [10].  Along with the cell suicide toxins and their impact on animal life, the sterile trees must be propagated asexually and  thus lack genetic diversity rendering them sensitive to attack by emerging pathogens and without a reservoir of diversity to mitigate the attack of  the novel pathogen. A flood of patent applications has begun to appear for control of flowering or sexual development in both evergreen trees and crop plants [11].

I have described an armamentarium of evolving ways to produce terminator trees and crops. The current array of genetic tools has been added to a large array of genetic tools for sterilizing or castrating crops and trees to protect corporate control and profits.  When the first proposals to develop terminator plants were put forward, response from independent farmers and the public was strong and vocal. There was a resounding negative response. For the time being corporations publicly moved back from the project. But behind the scenes academic, corporate and government laboratories connived to produce terminators with new and more potent capability. It seems clear that copious government funding is being squandered to promote the interests of rich corporations against the expressed will of the majority of people. The manner in which academe willingly and unquestioningly promotes research which acts against the rights of individual farmers should be brought to the attention of the public. The people must find  a way to insure that that their governments act in their interests, not the interests of corporations. As we proposed four years ago Terminators must be terminated!

Article first published 15/09/05


  1. Cummins J. Transgenic contamination of seed certified seed stock Science in Society 2003, 19, 48.
  2. Agriculture andAgri-Food Canada The report of the seed sector advisory committee 2004
  3. Ho MW and Cummins J. Chronicle of an Ecological Disaster Foretold . ISIS Report, 20 February 2003 ; also Science in Society 2003, Spring, 18 , 26-27.
  4. Ho MW. Terminator technologies in new guises. ISIS News 3 , December 1999, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print), ISSN: 1474-1814 (online)
  5. Cummins J. Terminator gene product alert. ISIS News 6 , September 2000, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print), ISSN: 1474-1814 (online)
  6.  Ho MW, Cummins J and Bartlett J. Killing fields near you. Terminator crops at large. ISIS News 7/8 , February 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print), ISSN: 1474-1814 (online)
  7. Ho MW and Cummins J. Terminator patents decoded. ISIS News 11/12 , October 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print), ISSN: 1474-1814 (online)
  8. Cummins J and Ho MW. New terminator crops coming Science in Society 2003, 19, 48.
  9. Cummins J. View from MADS house. Science in Society 2005, 26, 22.
  10. Cummins J and Ho MW. Terminator Trees Science in Society 2005, 26, 16-18.
  11. Cummins J. Lurking terminators 2005 in preparation

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