One of the ways that companies that create genetically modified seeds protect their intellectual property is with terminator seeds, ensuring that farmers cannot save seeds from past harvests and need to buy new seeds every year. Because of this practice, terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods and make farmers reliant on the biotechnology companies producing the seeds.
What Is a Terminator Seed?
A terminator seed, also called a suicide seed, is a seed that is genetically modified so that any crops grown from it do not produce fertile seeds. Because the crops produce sterile seeds, farmers need to buy a new batch of seeds every year rather than using the traditional farming method of saving, reusing and sharing seeds.
Some biotechnology firms use seeds that require the farmers to use a special compound to activate the seed so that farmers that are using genetically modified seeds become dependent on the biotechnology firm if they want to plant the seeds from their crops.
Any technology that the biotechnology firms use to prevent the farmer from saving, sharing or reusing seeds and control the reuse of seeds threatens both biodiversity and sustainable farming methods in developing countries.
How Do Terminator Seeds Work?
Terminator seeds contain a repressor gene that kills the embryo in any seed that a genetically modified plant protected by terminator technology produces. Even though the seeds produced by the plants look normal, they are not viable and cannot be used to plant more crops, which forces the farmer to buy new seeds from the biotechnology firm selling the genetically modified plant.
Since saving and cross-breeding seeds is an integral part of traditional African practices, farmers in African countries are much less likely to use terminator seeds than farmers in other third world countries. In Africa, farmers use many varieties of seeds and are less likely to use biotechnology because the farming methods in Africa have been shown to be more sustainable than the solutions offered by biotechnology firms.
The Financial Impact of Terminator Seeds
Since biotechnology firms cannot use the law to stop farmers from reusing seeds, they are relying on science to stop farmers from reusing seeds. About 10 farmers a day commit suicide in India because the exorbitant prices of seeds produced by biotechnology companies are putting the farmers into a cycle of debt and despair that leads them to suicide.
Terminator seeds provide a viable way of protecting plants that cannot be protected by patent laws, and terminator technology is being used to ensure that farmers cannot reuse seeds that cannot be protected by other legal methods to regulate the use of new technologies that are sold by many of the world’s leading biotechnology firms. Technologies such as terminator seeds make it next to impossible for impoverished farmers to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Because terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods, many third-world farmers are starting to use organic and chemical-free methods to control pests and are starting to replace terminator seeds with seeds that are free to save and to share with other farmers. These practices can break the hold that terminator seeds terminator seeds have over farmers, while also helping them practice sustainable farming methods and become more self-sufficient.
– Michael Israel