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Monsanto Agrees Not to Sell "Terminator" Seeds 247

flanksteak writes "Monsanto has bowed to pressure not to sell single-use seeds for their genetically modified crops. These so-called "terminator" seeds work only once. The resulting plants produce sterile seeds that can't be used to grow more food. This forces farmers to keep buying seed to grow additional crops. Monsanto says it's a way to recoup the cost of genetic engineering. Are we going to have to buy "seed" licenses to grow food? Read about it at the USNews Web site." On a planet covered with 6 billion humans, agriculture is our most important concern. Yes, more important than the Internet. We rarely pay attention to food-growing on Slashdot, but nerds need to eat too. (Fun fact of the day: even frozen pizza and Hostess cupcakes are made from farm products!)
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Monsanto Agrees Not to Sell "Terminator" Seeds

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  • This sounds like a wonderful opportunity to get lots of people on the upgrade treadmill. Imagine a grower getting something like this:

    Dear Seed'98 owner:

    We are proud to announce Seed 2000! This novel product is an upgrade/replacement for Seed '98, for which our records show you are a registered customer.

    Many people felt that the elimination of all birds eating Seed '98 was an overly ambitious goal. Heh, the insects really liked it anyway! In response to customer demand Seed 2000 is now completely bird friendly, causing at most mild diarrhea.

    The gene that caused half the seeds to grow downwards has been fixed.

    Plants will no longer expire on Y2K rollover, the death gene now handles negative ages correctly.

    In addition Seed 2000 only requires twice the water that Seed '98 did.

    We hope you will send us your money soon, so we can ship your new seeds.

    Yours truly,

    SeedSoft Inc.

    P.S. If you have difficulty planting the new seeds due to high levels of insects in your fields, see our new genetically engineered Bird on our avian pages.
  • It is far from clear that genes should be patentable at all. After all they haven't been developed by the biotechnology companies. It's just a cut and paste job from the creator's original source. What a shame she forgot to GPL it.

    Several human genes have been patented also, so in the future it may be wise to consult a lawyer before any unauthorized reproductive activity.

  • OK, I looked like an idiot there....I'm still half asleep. *snore*

    1. Not *all* farmers do this. A lot of 'em do buy seed. A lot of 'em work with seed companies planting new hybrids, etc. etc. But, generally you do set some aside. You can't consistently plant seed from the same crop over and over again as it gets "inbred" as some others have said.

    2. This still seems like a move aimed directly toward the big farming companies, though. I'm sure this stuff isn't cheap. The reward vs. cost wouldn't be worth it unless you had thousands of acres of the stuff.
  • Bollocks. Just because it's institutionalized doesn't make it right. Point by point:
    1. Monsanto has engineered traits into crop plants using, in many cases, germplasm taken from indigenous seedstocks in Third World countries. They did not pay for those seedstocks, yet under GATT they are able to patent "creations" using the genetic material in those indigenous varieties (which are themselves the results of centuries of careful selection via open-pollinated culture).
    2. The people who created the strains that Monsanto used to create their GM seeds did not get a dime.
    3. Since the genetic information in the parent strains was not created by Monsanto, how can they claim it? If they claim IP, then don't they also have to credit prior art?
    4. Fair only if you grant them ownership to begin with....
    5. Unfortunately, the data are already coming in proving that transgenes are being expressed in non-GM planted crops and even in wild plants. Monsanto could conceivably sue the bejeezus out of a farmer whose non-GM crop had been contaminated by wind drift from a neighboring field.
    6. The agribiz industry giants of today are the chemical industry. Monsanto wants to sell seeds tailored to its brands of chemicals, because that's where it really makes its money. So we're supposed to feel sympathy for them because they have to cover their butts?
    The worst part of the whole treadmill-like scenario is that it does nothing to address the root issue: Large-scale, petrochemical based crop production has been in a spiral of decreasing yields for two decades plus. Throwing more chemicals, gene splicing, and lawyers at the problem isn't helping. It has, on the other hand, led to new poison-resistant pests, eroded topsoil, contaminated water and bankrupt farmers.

    And, AC, you should go out and meet a few farmers. There are still a lot of them who are not large conglomerates - they just have to dance to the tune that ADM plays if they want a market for their crops.

  • Conventional hydridized crops at least _breed_. Conventional crops in fields neighbouring fields that had the terminator genes would end up with a massively decreased yeild of fertile seeds as a result of cross-polinization(sp?) with the terminator gene carriers. It's fine to condem yourself to continually buying seed form the company, but you should force others to do so by screwing their environment.

    Of course, if they just made plants that wouldn't breed in the first place, this wouldn't be a problem, but that wasn't Monsanto's objective...

  • Prior to the internet, which is now penetrating the third world, only big corporations like Monsanto could hope for wide enough distribution channels to have a broad presence in the third world. But now anybody with a green thumb and a laboratory, who can make productive seeds without the terminator feature, should be able to go on Ebay and sell them to local distributors, and sometimes directly to farmers.

    The terminator feature is a copy-protection dongle for seeds. In most areas of software, dongles have proven unprofitable, and hopefully the terminator feature will suffer the same economic fate. Monsanto is now folding to public opinion, but that isn't a long-term fix; unprofitability would be.

    Then the next step will be open-source seeds.

  • We already grow plenty of food to feed everyone on the planet. The real problem is distribution.

    People look at these genetically-engineered crops and think, "Whee, now Farmer Akumbo in Africa can grow enough to feed his whole village!"

    They don't realize that Farmer Akumbo could already feed his whole village if he used modern fertilizers and a tractor and rotated his crops and generally modernized his farming techniques into the 1950s. Farmer Akumbo might be better at farming if his fields weren't full of General Fwalumbwebwe's land mines and his sons weren't drafted into the People's Guerrilla Revolutionary Army every spring.

    The real market for these high-yield crops is Farmer Johnson in Missouri, who along with all his buddies in Missouri already grows so much that the prices for what he grows are pretty low. The only way he can stay in business is to try to grow more and more and more so he can sell enough crops to try to recoup his costs. The trouble is, Farmer Johnson is competing with Farmer Robinson and Farmer Jones and everyone else in Missouri, and there simply isn't enough market for their crops.

    However, as soon as Farmer Johnson falls behind on his mortgage, we have all these TV news images of the evil banks coming and seizing the family farm from the noble upstanding farmer. The farmers call their congressmen and get them to set up price supports and farm subsidies -- so now Farmer Johnson gets money from the government to help him stay in business, and so does Farmer Robinson, and so does Farmer Jones, etc.

    But eventually Farmer Johnson decides to chuck it and he sells his farmland to a developer, who puts up a housing development.

    Farming is a business. People think the business model is simple, "Grow crops and sell them." The thing is, farming has a stranglehold on the Congress and on the popular imagination, and so people don't realize that there are simply more farmers than we need. If someone is starving in Missouri it's not because there's not enough food being grown in Missouri. People aren't starving in Africa because of Farmer Akumbo's lack of genetically-engineered crops, they're starving because General Fwalumbwe is spending his time fighting wars and robbing the treasury.

    Who's getting rich? Monsanto. Farmer Johnson, when he sells his farmland to a real estate developer who'll put houses or a mall on it. General Fwalumbwe, of course.

    Who's starving? Poor people in Africa, who could probably do pretty well for themselves if they could just get rid of General Fwalumbwe (easy) and replace him with a reasonable government (hard).

    The people in Africa didn't have much chance of getting rid of General Fwalumbwe during the Cold War, because the U.S. probably supported him against the People's Guerilla Army. Maybe now that the Cold War is over, we'll stop supporting SOB's like that. Truman said once of someone like that, "He may be an S.O.B but he's _our_ S.O.B.

    Some of that seems to be happening in Indonesia; Indonesia doesn't get a free ride any more just because they're not Commies.

    Monsanto has nothing to do with it.

  • In a hundred years small family farms will be a thing of the past no one needs to accelerate this trend.

    It is well past time for the small family farm to have gone the way of the small family loom and the village ferrier. The more acceleration, the better.
  • I can't see how this would happen. If there would be a cross polination, and the terminator gene was transferred, well, then the product would not survive and the gene would not spread. To me it sounds like a terminator gene is much safer than any other kind of gene manipulation.
    Let's say some mutation of the terminator seed is only 75% effective, and it weakens the ability of crops to reproduce instead of terminating them completely. This bug gets mixed into the normal strains. Get the picture now?
  • by ajlitt ( 19055 )
    Ok, Hostess cupcakes, maybe. But you're not gonna convince me that Twinkies aren't made from pure industrial waste chemicals. Nuh-uh. And try to explain away Snowballs. And to think that we were worried whether blue M&M's can give you cancer!
  • Biotechnology has many other issues that go beyond its face value. The issue of cross-pollination, and monster genes getting into other crops has been touched on here.

    I would like to see genetically engineered crops that do not produce pollen. I would like to see them go a step beyond including genes which kill seeds, and ensure that other strains and clones of plants to not get corrupted through cross-pollination.

    Before you work yourself into a hissy about poor farmers being forced to buy new crops every year, hear me out. I would also like to see the biotechnology companies initially sell a crop at a decent price that will compensate them for their R&D, but then in subsequent years, sell the same seeds for a greatly reduced price. Subsequent radical improvements would be bought again, but farmers would be able to use genetically engineered seeds without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money each year.

    There needs to be some sort of controls over what happens when some of the more radical crops start being used. I would hate to see widespread ecological damage because an engineer was too busy 'improving' a plant to think about the possible repercussions. Hopefully some sort of 'insurance' in the form of sterile plants can be used, without bankrupting farmers.

  • >In fact, they`re more likely to become resistant with the organic growers applying it to the plants, as they have to use so much more of it.

    Actually, do you know ANYTHING about organic farming and the usage of BT?
    BT is EXPENSIVE. (If it was CHEAP, then it would be the toxin of choice rather than your chlorpyrifos)

    BT is used by organic farmers when normal crop rotation methods, soil management, and other methods have failed, and you have too high a population of worms. Given the high costs of BT, you don't want to use it more than 2 times a year, if at all.

    In field usage data for 40 years of BT application have shown NO resistance buildup.

    It is the effectiveness of BT that Monsanto trots out when they talk about the wonders of yieldmaster. *IF* worms become resistant/immune to BT, then the blame can be laid on Monsanto. But blame is useless, as the organic farmers will have lost the only effective tool they have.

    (Of course the pesticide debate is moot when farmers deploy solar powered bug-hunting nannites)
  • >Important part of the terminator is to stop these GM species


    From the Monsanto spokeswoman on the BBC.

    The terminator was to be included in 3rd world countires to stop the farmers from re-planting seeds. The reason was to PROTECT THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY of the Monsanto corporation, because in 3rd world places, IP rights are weak.

    The 'sanity' is the defending of the rights of the company vs your rights as an individual.

  • Monsanto sells seeds to farmers every year; farmers buy seeds to replant. They do not commonly use last year's seeds to plant this year's crops because the seeds they buy from Monsanto will provide better a better return. This is common where I live (Illinois, large farms), and it's why hybrid crops are so popular. It's why the local television stations air seed-corn commercials in the spring-time.

    That Monsanto argues that farmers must start buying self-terminating crops to cover their research and development costs is ludicrous. Monsanto already makes money selling the results of their research and development, and makes a hefty profit doing so. Perhaps Monsanto should have determined whether self-terminating seeds would sell at all before they incurred research costs in developing them!

    They make it sound as if they're developing new agricultural technologies exclusively for the good of all mankind, and are just now needing some income to balance expenses. They've been raking in the money all along, and this product was a flop.

  • Huh? How are antibiotics used in making seeds? Breeding animals I can see, but seeds?
  • Well, IANAF but do know it is possible to clone [] at least some plants.

  • ok, some useful info on corn that i may not have exactly right, so any farmers (or Iowans) out there feel free to clarify.
    corn, as grown for food, is sterile. you can't plant your leftover food corn. in order to be used for "seed corn", it must be painstakingly hand-fertilized (i.e., tie off the tassels with a paper bag then collect the stuff & redistribute, inseminating the poor celibate plants)
    this is the result of centuries of genetic engineering the slow way.
    the kind of corn we eat could not reproduce in the wild without human intervention, i.e. farmers must buy new seed from people who do corn sex.
  • The FDA ruled that genetic modification of food was in the same class as food additives. In other words, including genes from other species in your corn is equivalent to Red Dye #2.

    There is a serious conflict of interest in the FDA and the agricultural industry (ditto for the USDA & FCC): senior FDA folks go on to six figure jobs at Monsanta, ADM, etc. when they leave public service. You think they're going to bite the hand that feeds them?

  • This line caught my eye too. This just sounds too much like a line from a bad scifi movie.

    So they start slipping in other hidden genes, and then they start adding innocent things to the water (like flouride... ;) ) to turn these genes on and off.

    Then what happens when Dr. Evil comes along and discoveres a way to flip a hidden magic *switch* to kill all of the plants with these genes?
  • "Are GM seeds/food/etc even safe? In the US, medicine cannot be sold unless it's approved by the FDA."

    There are *no* protocols for testing the safety of genetically modified food either through direct genetic engineering or traditional hybridization techniques. There is simply no analogue to the sort of methods used to screen pharmaceutical compounds (and such protocols are impossible to design from a practical standpoint).

    There is no evidence yet that there are any specific problems with genetically modified foods that are any different that the sorts of problems encounter with hybridized foods.
  • "Genetical engineering" is probably the most important thing humans have learned how to do in a long time. Yes, I think it is much more important than internet .-)

    Imagine the possibilities in front of us - plants could be made "better" in various ways:

    - The rice lacks some vitamines? Let us fix this..
    - Beeing vegetarian is bad for you because some proteines are missing in plants - well, not any more!

    And what does our dear food-industry produce using this technology?

    - plants which cannot reproduce: so you have to buy seeds again and again and... With a good chance that your neighbour will have to do the same, because of the cross-insemination.

    - plants with higher resistivity against insect-killing and (other) plants-killing chemicals... Meaning more chemicals can be trown over the fields, killing everything except the plant they sold you. As a side effect, YOU will get more more chemicals in your food, insect become more resistent and all those farmers who do not buy "resistant" seeds get ruined.

    I suppose I should not be surprised - after all, the same thing happens every time a new industry is build: the "bad guys" get a grip on it first.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Farmers would buy the seeds because 1) no till farming o saves equiptment wear & tear, o uses less fuel o greatly reduces soil erosion o requires less of their time o reduces their exposure to toxic herbicides (RoundUp is not toxic and has zero soil residue) 2) crop yields increase (less competition from weeds) 3) no technology liscence to sign 4) non-transgenic seeds (conventional hybrids) have an average product life of 3 years; they buy new seed technology on a regular basis anyway. 5) they understand value-added farming... invest $$ make more $$
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This behaviour is common in the farming industry and has been for years. Companies like Monsanto have been prosecuting farmers who do not purchase their seeds every season.

    Here is the reasoning:
    1) Monsanto has created seeds via genetic engineering that are resistant to chemicals, or pests, grow with less water, etc.

    2) This process costs Monsanto millions of dollars.

    3) Since this seed does not occur naturally, Monsanto has created the seed and therefore "owns" the seed. It is the product of their intellectual property.

    4) Since Monsanto "owns" the seed, they can sell it (license it) using any method they wish. That includes requiring that the farmer does not reuse the seed, share the seed, or use seeds that are descendants of the original seed.

    5) This final step is just a technological enforcement of their policy. Farmers still do not have the "right" to use Monsanto's variation. Those that do are doing it illegally.

    6) Prosecution and enforcement costs the industry millions every year. The only people that benefit are the lawyers.

    I agree with Monsanto in this. Since they have spent millions creating a seed variation, they now "own" that variation. If the farmer doesn't like it, then don't use the variation. Don't believe the hype that the farmer is some starving hick. Most farmers are large conglomerates earning millions every year.
  • I have read through this thread a bit and some of the comments have forceds me to go from lurking mode to non-lurking mode. I am now going to college, but I grew up on a family farm all my life, and my father was (and is) heavily invovled in Farmers Union []. I saw a comment saying that it was high time that family farming went the way of family looms and such, and that really make me angry.

    The same monopolistic business practices that we despise in Microsoft and some of the other large software companies are the same type of practices that are putting THOUSANDS of multiple-generation family farmers off the farm every year. Cargill and Continental are every bit as big as Microsoft, and control an unnerving amount of the market share. I think there was an anti-trust case against one of them not too long ago, but I am not sure how it went.

    I am all for progress- don't get me wrong. My family uses RoundUp and other chemicals- but they also are very conscience of the concept of stewardship and leaving things better than when you got them. I hope this post made some people realize that family farming and its lifestyle is something that everyone should be able to support. I won't be a farmer after college, I want to be a system or network admin (for now), but I will defend with every last atom of my being family farming and everything behind it.

    Thanks for listening to me rant. =)

    Andrew Giessel
    Hydropnic on efnet
  • Hostess cupcakes and frozen pizza really couldn't be much farther away from food...
  • the way we practise it (waging war on every
    other species on this planet, except for those
    we feed upon) is actually the core problem. It
    might look like a short term success, but its
    nowhere near evolutionary stable.

    Six billion people are made of what? Sunlight?
    Moonbeams? No, out of what they eat. The more
    food you produce, the more people you will get;
    the more more people you get, the more food you
    will produce, forever the same experiment
    run 10,000 times ever since our "agricultural
    revolution" took place in the fertice crescent
    10,000 years ago.

    Agriculture was not an invention to fight hunger;
    it pays off much less than hunting and gathering
    if you look at the calories involved (1 calory
    spent on hunting and gathering buys you 4 cals
    of food, while 1 cal spend on agriculture buys
    you only two).

    Using increased food production to "finally feed
    the starving millions" once and for all is one
    of the common myths of our culture. I cannot
    work for above reasons, nor will it ever work.

    More on this and other interesting concepts

  • Since the term "large megacorp semi-monopolies" shows that you are completely open-minded and receptive to reasoned debate...

    Hostility? I just don't look upon the small family farm with sentiment. We haven't been launching government programs for the last seventy years to save home looms or blacksmiths -- let the family farm survive or die on its own merits, if it has any.

    Frankly, I'd rather get my food from somebody I don't have to bail out with my tax dollars every time there's bad weather. Note how this year's farm crisis that has forced millions of dollars of federal bailouts didn't affect enough of the food supply to change prices? Those farms should be allowed to go under.
  • by rde ( 17364 )
    When I first read this (a couple of weeks ago. d'oh!), I gave a little dance. Fortunately, no-one saw me.
    I've a few problems with GM food, and terminator was the main one. Now all we've got to worry about is the ridiculous amount of antibiotics that goes into making the seeds. Once that's dealt with, as far as I'm concerned most of the problems with the production will be over. Legal problems, however...
  • What I found interesting was a tiny little sentence at the end, where it said that Monsanto was trying to figure out how to turn "on and off" gene sequences by spraying a chemical on the plant. I guess if you don't pay your seed license, they cropdust your fields & your plants become "normal".

    Aside from the ethics, doesn't this strike anybody as pretty cool? It's like having controls on a protein-manufacturing machine, turning on & off different proteins by squirting it with different environmental cues.

    I wonder if you could have an "all-in-1" common protein plant, where the plant is genetically programmed for lots of different kinds of useful proteins, but you turn "on" & "off" the proteins according to currently desired uses...
  • Some anonymous coward dun said:

    Meat proteins are actually harder to extract and require a longer intestinal tract than we posesse to digest properly.

    Minor nit to pick here--actually, most carnivores have short intestines, whilst herbivores have long intestines.

    For examples, cats, which are obligate carnivores (cats require a certain amino acid, taurine, that only occurs in meat; if a cat is fed a vegetarian diet the cat will get fatty heart degeneration and die...taurine deficiency was actually discovered when well-meaning vegans tried to feed kitty a vegan diet, and most vets now agree that trying to make kitty a vegan is an act of cruelty) have guts that (proportionally) are shorter than those of a human. Cows, which generally don't eat meat unless one is boffo stupid enough to put rendered animal parts in commercial cow feed (which is how we got BSE and "new variant" Creutzfeld-Jakob disease--apparently some of those rendered remains in Britain included sheep who had died from scrapie), have far longer gut tracts than humans, proportionally speaking (and also have special compartments in their gastrointestinal tracts to help them digest plant food).

    Humans, along with most other great apes (and let's all be honest here--creationist, evolutionist, whatever, the evidence shows humans can be classified as great apes--our closest relatives are chimps and bonobos, and it's generally agreed we share a common ancestry somewhere even by genetic evidence (and that humans are more closely related to chimps and bonobos than chimps and bonobos or humans are to gorillas); those who don't want to think we're cousins to Washoe may boil it down to the fact that God indeed has a sense of humour, but the fact remains that in physiological terms and genetic linking we may well be classified as a family of great apes) are (surprise, surprise) omnivorous. They don't eat as much meat as humans, but this is largely because most have to catch their food (and there are reports from primatologists that chimps HAVE killed and eaten animals for food). Remains of hominids from roughly the time we split from the chimps and bonobos to modern times have shown evidence that we are in fact omnivorous. Our gut tract is right in the range for omnivores (along with chimps and bears and--this may shock you--some canids). In fact, the only major exception to omnivorousness in apes is gorillas (which are largely vegetarian, and have evolved the gut tract to deal with a mainly vegetarian diet--this is why gorillas have pot bellies).

    This is not to say I think people should go hog wild on meat. I think (ObSlashdot) that a lot of the things they do to grow meat anymore, from how they raise veal to loading chickens and cows up with antibiotics to feeding them sheep remains to injecting them fulla hormones IS asking for trouble, to put it mildly (and people wonder why we get crap like BSE and haemorragic E. Coli food poisoning :P...the conditions most animals are raised in are damn near the perfect breeding grounds for it). Then again, the same argument can be done for plants (injected fulla hormones, often artificially ripened, full of God-only-knows what chemicals both GM-engineered and sprayed on). Perhaps we should all go back to growing our own or hunting and gathering and we'd all be much healthier :)

    And for those who say meat is murder--well, when one eats plants you're either eating plant lungs (leaves), plant "naughty bits" (flowers), plant stomachs/intestines (roots), or ABORTED PLANT FETUSES (fruits/seeds). And most of the time THE POOR THINGS ARE STILL ALIVE WHEN YOU'RE EATING THEM AND ONE DOESN'T HAVE THE DECENCY TO MAKE SURE ONE'S FOOD IS PROPERLY DEAD :)

  • Hostess Cup Cakes are made from farm products? You mean that crap occurs naturally?

    What the hell am I going to eat now?

  • What's the next step? When we purchase our genetically engineered offspring, maybe they'll sneak in code to make THEM infertile. After all, they don't want to put themselves out of business do they? Of course the logical conclusion is a society of infertile clones depending on the "engineers" to sustain life, a la E. R. Burrough's reptilian society in his "At the Earth's Core" series.

    Farfetched? Today, maybe...

  • This is truly a good thing.

    This would mean that the "high-tech" genetically engineered plants are also available to third world farmers who could benefit very much from some properties of those plants such as resistance to certain diseases and insects.
    That in turn would benefit the environment because they would need less chemicals.

    Everybody happy, including Monsanto, they get a better image
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Explain to me why it is good that third world farmers have access to better seeds?

    Are you under the impression that world hunger is caused by farmers not growing enough food?

    I can assure you that is not the reason, even though the liberal media will tell you otherwise.
  • We haven't been launching government programs for the last seventy years to save home looms or blacksmiths -- let the family farm survive or die on its own merits, if it has any.

    There are a couple of holes in this reasoning:

    • The fact that we didn't try to save other home industries is not an argument against the family farm -- perhaps we should have tried to save them as well.
    • You assume that the goverment farm programs have, in fact, aided the small farmer. This is not necessarily true.
    • If the family farm had been left to "survive or die on its own merits", it might have done better. This has not been true, however, since WWII.

    Frankly, I'd rather get my food from somebody I don't have to bail out with my tax dollars every time there's bad weather.

    You are not avoiding this by allowing your food supply to be provided by corporate farming.

    Note how this year's farm crisis that has forced millions of dollars of federal bailouts didn't affect enough of the food supply to change prices?

    Yeah, I note how lowered production has not yielded higher commodity prices for farmers. I also noted this year, when hog prices collapsed to worse than Depression prices, that pork wasn't any cheaper at the grocery store. What lesson exactly am I supposed to take from this?

    Those farms should be allowed to go under.

    No, they should not. The argument why is longer than I have time to go into. If you really care, I suggest you read The Unsettling of America : Culture & Agriculture [] by Wendell Berry, which goes into great detail about the failures of the American family farm (hint: while farmers have certainly cooperated in their own destruction, the destruction of the family farm has been deliberate corporate and government policy for decades, sad-faced politicians notwithstanding).

    But there is another strong objection which I, one of the laziest of all the children of Adam, have against the Leisure State. Those who think it could be done argue that a vast machinery using electricity, water-power, petrol, and so on, might reduce the work imposed on each of us to a minimum. It might, but it would also reduce our control to a minimum. We should ourselves become parts of a machine, even if the machine only used those parts once a week. The machine would be our master, for the machine would produce our food, and most of us could have no notion of how it was really being produced.
    -- G. K. Chesterton
  • If the seeds that they had to buy every year produced bigger vegetables, more wheat, larger potatoes, but if those seeds don't do that through genetic engineering what's the point in using those seeds.

    And I agree with comment #2 those twho things couldn't be farther away from being food.

    When's the next Slashdot Radio coming out?

  • "Fun fact of the day: even frozen pizza and Hostess cupcakes are made from farm products!"

    Haha. Yeah, sort of like how PentiumIIIs, Alpha, and Cray super computers are built from rocks. They're about the same number of generations apart. =)
  • With all this genetic modification going on, shouldn't the open source movement adopt it's own project? Start up the FFF, free food foundation?

    Maybe hacking (reverse engineer) these new seeds to make them spawn non sterile offspring?

    Never mind me. I've had my try at biotechnology, and I like computers better. Lucky for all of us heh?
  • Don't they already own MonSanto? That one shot seed wreaks of M$ product design.....
  • by Cebert ( 69916 )
    (Fun fact of the day: even frozen pizza and Hostess cupcakes are made from farm products!)

    NO!! It's a lie!!! Please tell me he's lying? :~(

  • by Suydam ( 881 )
    This is truly frightening..but I have to ask: what makes these seeds to great that anyone would be WILLING to buy seeds that can't re-produce? Can't farmers just walk down the street and buy someone else's seeds that DO re-produce? If all the big corp's start making terminator seeds can some small-time organic farmer just start selling his seeds? It seems like even if MonSanto (MS...hmmm) wanted to become the evil empire of farm products, they'd have a losing battle on their hands.

  • Having fields full of plants with exactly the same genetic makeup decreases biodiversity and if they are suceptable to a certain pest or fungus then the whole crop is wiped out. Every year new strains are needed, and (hopefully) have even better pestilence resistance. I'm not 100% on this - but - the farmers contractually aren't allowed to sell or plant the seeds from last years crop. There is some initiative to sell/trade/plant seeds from last years crops, but the amount of seed needed is large and the scale isn't there. Pretty much buying seed from large producers like Monsanto is usually the most economical solution.
  • I was just discussing this with my Dad about a two months ago. He has been a farmer most of his life. I did work on the farm, but it has been awhile so this is all IIRC.

    The "Terminator" seeds don't really effect US farmers. Why? Because they already buy new seeds every year. Why would they do that if they can re-sow what they have? Because they can't, current seeds have been cross-bread and genetically engineered already to the point where the second-gen seeds are not nearly as good as the original. How are they not as good? They don't produce as much crop as the originals, they aren't as resistant to bugs and weather, they aren't as healthy, etc. The cost of new seeds every year doesn't compare to the equipment costs and amount produced with new seeds. It is economically in their best interest to pay a little extra to get more yield.

    So smart-guy who does this affect? Third world countries. Many of these farmers don't have all the equipment that big first world farmers have. They are out there with their ox and hand plow. So for them it does become economically better to re-sow seeds even if they don't produce as well. The cost of the seeds is their highest cost.

    I think the US farmer organizations lobbied against it on principle though.


  • i have been following this issue for a while now, and though i believe the "terminator" would not affect the 3rd world farmers who save seeds (3rd world subsistence farmers probably couldnt afford to buy hi-tech seed in the first place) RAFI is still sending an important message to the Mega-Agri corporations of the world.

    The real victory here is that RAFI fought a successful info battle with a giant Agri-corporation like Monsanto and got them to bend.

    RAFI even suggested that this "terminator" technology could be transferred to other plants and crops growing nearby... realistically this is impossible, but still a great scare tactic! they were effectively sending the message that "these crops will sterilize the world and turn it into a barren wasteland"

    It may be worth noting that the vast majority of 1st world farmers dont plant part of their crop for seed, (its just not cost effective for them to save seed) "store bought" seed has some really fabulous insecticides and chemicals on it that helps them germinate and keeps out the bugs...

    i hate to be pessimistic, but this little victory is only one small battle in the war against hunger and proprietary technology in general (the atrocities of the ADM's and Monsantos of the world that you DONT hear about are where you should really be concerned) because its really all about maximizing shareholder wealth, not feeding people.

    feed the world!
  • by evilj ( 94895 )
    The whole point of terminator seeds is to prevent cross-polination. One of the big problems with GM foods is that once they are out there, you can't get them back (as they will cross-polinate with normal crops), and with pesticide-resistant GM versions of grains you could end up with superweeds. So, terminator seeds are good, as the adult plants won't be able to cross-polinate natural organic produce. That way, people who choose to eat natural, organic, non-Frankenstein foods, can do so safe in the knowledge that their food hasn't been cross-polinated with some untested genetically modified food that may cause severe allergic reactions in some people.
  • >Actually, this is all much ado about nothing. For
    >the last 40 or 50 years almost all crops have
    >been grown with hybrid (crossbred) seeds. The
    >result is that they don't "breed true" anyway -
    >you can't save seeds and replant the next year,
    >because the resulting plants will not have the
    >same characteristics as the hybrid plant. You
    >already can't sell the resulting seeds because
    >nobody would want them, as the quality and
    >productivity would not be the same as the
    >commercial hybrids. The real risk (hopefully
    >unlikely) is that if civilization collapsed, and
    >hybrid seeds were no longer available, we mostly >don't have the seed stock for self-sustaining
    >agriculture anymore. (but see organizations like

    This is not entirely correct - it does not apply to certain crops, such as wheat, rice, soybean, and cotton. Since one of Monsanto's best-known products is the Roundup Ready soybeans (which are genetically engineered to be used with a certain pesticide), Monsanto certainly has a commercial interest in actually using this technology.
  • I think rde means that they make the plants resistant to RoundUp which Monsanto also solls. Then farmers can go out and happily spray more RoundUp on their fields.

    Of course, weeds will eventually become resistant to RoundUp, too. Not to mention the many other harmful effects that an increased pesticide use can / will have on the environment.
  • Is how Monsanto enforces [] it's "licenses" to use it's product. Even if your neighbor's field cross-polinates with yours, you can be held liable for growing Roundup-ready canola (a herbicide-resistant crop).
  • Except that, being genetically engineered, the Monsanto plants might be more marketable than the normal type. In this situation, the public demands that the farmers produce these exceptional veggies and the farmers, to remain in business, have to plant them. After all, who wants to buy a 5" tomato when you can have a 25" one?


    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • You should be more curious (or concerned?) about where the market infrastructure of the ag industry. You have food prices going up, production costs shooting sky-high yet raw commodity prices (the $/bushel or whatever unit the farmer gets in return) are the lowest values they have been in 30+ years. A decent tractor costing ~$100k per, harvester costing ~$200k per, yet soybeans averaging $5.00/bushel, corn ~$2.00/bushel. How the hell can you expect to keep alive in this kinda busisness?

    I come from a farm; I'm not continuing the tradition and in a way it breaks my heart. But today's market makes it almost impossible to do so. Think about that the next time you buy your $FOO at the grocery.


    ps... some other values for semi-completenes. Say. ~35 bushel/acre bean yield, ~180 bu/ac corn. Beans can be $40-70/acre to produce, corn $30-60. Yields are estimates based on what our farm has done in the recent past, costs are semi-WAG based on schoolwork a number of years ago. And of course this ignores efficiencies, maint. costs, etc... and let's not get into property tax.
  • Monsanto made seeds that germinate only when fertilized by other Monsanto GM'd plants - kind of a genetic 'embrace, extend and privitize'. And if they could make some sort of Monsanto logo grow on each leaf, perhaps GM'd so that advertising shows up on each corn stalk like "Use only genuine Monsanto products" or "Best grown with Monsanto!".

  • Many years ago, DDT is used to kill pests. Then the environment impact is found and UN bans the use of DDT.

    Roundup is nothing special except it is slightly better than DDT, roundup degrade faster than DDT.
    When you say GM soybean is not affected by roundup doesn't mean GM Soybean will not absorb herbicide.
    Instead, the resistant only mean the GM soybean can ABSORB MORE HERBICIDE and not dying.
  • This whole genetically engineered "kill switch" thing has been around for awhile. The original plan was to put a sterilization gene in the Roundup Ready and other already genetically modified seeds to help protect the patent and keep other countries from buying a few hundred tons of the seed one year and then using it to grow their own crops. Market protection also.

    Many farmers (my father included), don't like the idea because of the possible consequences. In order to provide seed for next year's crop, a certain amount of acreage has to be planted with usable seed, while the rest can be planted with a crop that produces sterile seed. If something goes wrong with the seed crop, you have no other seed to get next year's crop from, because all the other seed is sterile. Very big problem.

    There are some things in nature which just shouldn't be messed with. Creating genetic enhancements in order to produce more or make the plant better is great, but creating them just for controlling purposes is stepping over the line.


    Yes, consumers play important roles here.
  • I don't see why everyone is so riled-up over this. Monsanto, Cargill, etc. have all been limiting generational growth and have been adding marking agents for years. This is standard practice in the seed industry. Why? A lot of R&D goes into the development of geneticlly engineered seeds and, like high-end 3d rendering software, its a vertical market prone to piracy. Yes, there are seed pirates. Any farmer with a combine (harvester), modern chemicals (40 gallons of FallowMaster = US$740 or so), and a seed cleaner can pirate and put out a product that is just as good as the big boys.

    I know that OpenSource works just peechy for software, but it doesn't work for 'plantware'. Unlike OpenSource, the creation of a new breed of a seed isn't dispersed to darkened rooms across the planet, filled with hoh-ho wrappers and stacks of jolt cola in a proud attempt at making a bucky-ball. This is research laboratory stuff, folks. There are amazing start-up costs, costs to keep everything running, R&D, marketing (sorry, the farm economy isn't terribly wired yet), etc., etc. The seed companies need, to an extent, protect their investment and their product.

    (This isn't to say that they're rat-bastards--they do overcharge and they could allow for only two generations.)

    And who am I? Just a rural North Dakotan who has spent his entire life in a agricultural based economy. My father is a grain marketer for Benson-Quinn; when the elevator is short staffed, he'll still go load train cars. I've fixed fence. I've spent a day sitting in a combine actually doing something useful.

  • The problem with the "terminator" seeds is that many farmers may feel compelled to use them because they will be engineered to have superior insect and pesticide resistant properties. If the farmer wants the better crop, he may have no choice but to accept the terminator gene with it.

    In the worst case, terminator seeds could become so common that regular "free" seeds would be difficult if not impossible to acquire.

    There may also be the risk that the genes that make the plant terminate will be spread to other plant species, with obviously catastrophic effects.
  • The term should be changed to "Pharmaceutical salespeople".

    It's like those financial planners, who help sort out your bills and finances, to figure out what corners you could cut to afford a life-insurance policy.

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • >what's a duck squeezer??
    I think it's like a tree-hugger...
  • "Explain to me why it is good that third world farmers have access to better seeds?

    Are you under the impression that world hunger is caused by farmers not growing enough food?

    I can assure you that is not the reason, even though the liberal media will tell you otherwise."

    Just bumping some important content up in score with my Karma, - just because the guy was an AC, and all the moderators have finished with this discussion, doesn't mean this statement deserves to languish at 0.
    Saw a news report on CNN about the Monsanto thing, the closing statement was by Greenpeace guy - saying basically that GM foods are unnecessary, starvation in the world is caused not by a shortage of food or surplus of people, not by a longshot, but instead by inequality and economic hardship - factors which are not affected by genetic engineered crops.

    I guess CNN wasn't hoping for a renewal for advertisements from Monsanto and ADM. . .

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • DDT is a pesticide. It kills animals
    Roundup is a herbicide. It kills plants.
    Which are you?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is truly frightening..but I have to ask: what makes these seeds to great that anyone would be WILLING to buy seeds that can't re-produce?

    Because I don't don't use bin-run (beans stored by the farmer to be used for sead) beans. I buy my soybeans from a sead dealer because,

    1) They have been tested and shown to have a 90%+ germination.

    2) They are of different varieties, so that I can spread my risk. Different varieties take different amounts of time to mature, and so they are affected by poor weather differerntly. They have different succeptability to pests. Saving some from each variety for the next year would be a pain.

    3) New varieties come out that are better than what I plant today.

    4) When I purchased the beans I agreed that I wouldn't use bin-run.

    Can't farmers just walk down the street and buy someone else's seeds that DO re-produce? If all the big corp's start making terminator seeds can some small-time organic farmer just start selling his seeds?

    Yes, that is the current situation.

    Companies like Monsanto are coming up with genetically modified (GM) soybeans that are resistant to herbicides like Roundup, that will kill most plants. Roundup is cheap, so by using a Roundup ready soybean, I can use a much cheaper form of herbicide to get good weed control. There are also varieties resistant to cyst nematodes. Cysts can destroy a bean crop. It is worth it to me to pay the extra to insure that I get a crop. The terminater gene would insure that they would be able enforce the agreements made with the farmer when they sold him the beans.

    It seems like even if MonSanto (MS...hmmm) wanted to become the evil empire of farm products, they'd have a losing battle on their hands.

    Unlike MS there are plenty of competitors to Monsanto. And I buy my seed from several different companies.

    Any opinions expressed in this message are not necessarily those of the company.

  • I prefer the organic method. Some of your points are valid but some not.

    >2). Wrong. Third world countries are already >using the biotech products of the IRRI.
    Using doesn't mean EVERYBODY is using

    >3). Wrong. The amount of arable land in >production in in rice growing countries is >strictly limited by geography.

    Think twice! Don't blame the geography countor. It is mostly due to policies and political. Some agriculture land is convert for short sighted economy purpose such as golf course, housing, manufacturing, etc.

    >5). IRRI super crops are being used to feed >nearly 50% of the world population today.
    I am sceptic with this figure.

    >6). Rice supplies the basic calorie input of 50% >of the world population today. It is a simple >fact. Fruits and vegatbles are nice too, but the >basic caloric intake needed to sustain life comes >from grains.

    >7). Irrigation is not going to increase the >output of a rice paddy that is already >intensively irrigated.
    Wrong. Science have prove that, proper organic irrigation increase the yield instead. Organic irrigation sustain the earth nurtition, reduce usage of fertilizer, reduce the underground water polution due to over fertilize.

    Organic irrigation will takes time to heal the earth. It is not easy to restore mother nature after we spoilt it with chemical. But mother nature will rewards us if we appreciate her.

    > 8). If Southeast Asia used organic methods like > you propose 1 Billion people would die of > starvation next year. Their methods are not > organic, but are sustainable.
    Wrong. femine issue will fade if people know whats go wrong. Food issue in the world is cause by power struggle and the country policies.

    Yes, modern agriculture is attractive, anyone can see the result almost immediate. How about the impact? The deficiency of modern agriculture?

    We have see the effect of relying commercial herbicide, insecticide and fertilizer :super weed
    resist/immune to herbicide, super bugs resist/immune to insecticide, over fertilize poison the land and reduce crops yield.

    In addition, the latest research have shown that the heavy machinery used for irrigation, have reduce crops yield 10-20% per year, due to deficiency of the machine.

    No, it doesn't mean we must use the slow and old way. Why not adopt the mother nature way with science?
  • The problem with celibacy is that there's not enough sex involved.

  • If you've ever heard of the chemicals known as "PCBs" (used in electrical tranformers), it was Monsanto who originally told everyone they were harmless.

    Now they're known as one of the nastiest carcinogens that exists.

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • I spent many summers in my youth pulling weeds out of soybean fields, and I'd like to suggest another advantage to having seeds which do not reproduce: if you rotate your crops, then you don't have to deal with seeds left over from this year's harvest being the next year's weeds.

    Just a thought.
  • When corporations willingly restrain themselves, I have to ask "For how long?" What's stopping them from threatening to introduce this again in 5 years. And 5 years after that. How long before the media and people in general will ignore them doing this, because they've heard about happening so many times?
    What's stopping a GPLed software producer from re-distributing their software under a proprietary license? Answer: Everyone would ignore them, and just continue to redistibute the GPLed version.

    Seeds are the biotech version of free software. If Monsanto changes their mind in five years and re-introduces terminator seeds, then everyone will just use the old seeds. (It may be illegal under their "seed license", but I'd like to see them try to enforce it.)

    At any rate, I don't see why terminator seeds are a so horrible. I can't grow an infinite number of TV sets from the one I just bought, luckily for Sony. Monsanto just wants to close that loophole in the seed business. Besides, although I like genetically engineered products in general, I'm not sure that I want corporations manufacturing fertile organisms.
  • What has been truly disgusting about this whole thing is that companies that DON'T use GM foods (or livestock hormone treatments) in their products are LEGALLY FORBIDDEN from labelling their products "GM Free" or "rGBH Free" (or it might be the converse - that the US Government has forbidden the labelling of GM foods as such) - in either case - there's some legislative voodoo going on that, bottom line, FORBIDS consumers from making an informed choice, and thereby applying market forces to eliminate these technologies. The arguments against the labeling are such garbage as "the consumers have bought into this hysteria which has no sound scientific basis, so it would be economically harmful to allow labeling". This attitude generally came about through the use of expensive biotech industry lobbyists.

    Folks, Intel's USB 2.0 FUD may be evil, Microsoft Passport may be evil - but this stuff is capital-E Evil. Evil of the worst sort. Nasty McEvil. Bad, bad, bad, bad, goes against everything I believe in Evil. If the biotech companies have an image problem, then they need to fix it, and fund some good compelling studies that support their position - apparently they haven't been able to do that, and possibly it's cheaper to hire lobbyists (ie- bribe politicians).

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • right. And NT 4.0 running Exchange is all the Enterprise Messaging Platform anybody will ever need.

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • Two issues :

    1) Re: Antibiotics.. As a medical student i beleive the only really agricultural issues involved with antibiotic use is in the large mostly unregulated amounts and varieties of antibiotics which are available to farmers for use on livestock. When it comes to this, farily potent chemicals are used with trace amounts being detectable in the end produce, which is then eaten by man. The problem with this is that basically when humans take unrequired antibiotics, they expose the drugs to whatever microbiological species that may be residing in the host human. The result is darwinian evolution leading to selection of micro-organisms that are resistant to the drug. However the importance of trace amounts of antibiotics prolly is quite insignificant compared to the EXCESSIVE amount prescribed by medical practitioners... from memory the french have the worst prescribing habits, followed by australia...

    b) Re: Terminator gene. Although monsanto has canned the terminator gene project, they are now funding for switchable enhancement genes. For example they may design a gene that enables rice to surivive wider ranges of temperatures, but this enhancement would only be active in the presence of a secondary substance that would be added to soil etc... and in the absence of this substance, the rice would revert to being plain old rice..
    The socio-economic ramifications of this are obviously not as sharp as those of the terminator gene (which limited the reproductive capabilities of the grain, effectively forcing farmers to purchase grain each season), however from a argo-biochemical perspective i would be VERY interested in the techniques involved in embedding such a regulation mechanism.. and then see if u can get it to factor large polynomials :)

  • It's not that you don't have a point (because you do), but I'd bet that us /.ers could probably make a correlation between just about anything and Open/Closed Source.


    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • If the seeds that they had to buy every year produced bigger vegetables, more wheat, larger potatoes, but if those seeds don't do that through genetic engineering what's the point in using those seeds.

    The main feature that's genetically engineered into Monsanto's GM crops is resistance to particular herbicides. This lets farmers using Monsanto crops drench their fields in Monsanto herbicides to kill off weeds without killing off the crops. Deciding whether that's actually such a bright idea is left as an exercize to the reader.

    My opinion: I'm not against genetically modified food in general; all agricultural products are genetically modified, that's what defines a domesticated plant or animal. It doesn't make that much of a difference that traditional crops are genetically modified by breeding as opposed to transgenic methods. I think some GM crops, like Flavor Saver tomatoes, are a Good Thing. But when GM techniques are used 1) to create artificial monopolies, as with terminator seeds, or 2) to allow agricultural intensification (higher energy inputs per calorie returned) in cash crops, I'm not so happy.

    The scalloped tatters of the King in Yellow must cover
    Yhtill forever. (R. W. Chambers, the King in Yellow)
  • This is an interesting point. Actually, European countries are trying to block hormon meat, and European population appears to be strongly against GM modified food.

    On another hand, it appears that USA Gov. is trying to force european countries to accept those products via mondial commerce organisation. (we already have to pay huge penalities for refusing meat with hormones).

  • --------------------------------------------------

    And wouldn't Monsanto just hike the price of buying seeds to cover the fact that every customer is going to buy the seeds only once?
    Monsanto should raise prices because people don't trust the new seed, and want to do things the way they've always been done? perhaps i'm misunderstanding you here.
    What I'm saying is: Monsanto obviously expected to make lots of money buy re-selling seeds each season to the same customers. Now, they can't, so they might have to meet those budget expectations by raising the price of the seeds, seeing as now people will only buy them once.


  • Actually I don't think the free market would solve this one. Big farmers(all US farmers even the small ones are big compared to many third world farmers) would still buy the ones with the "Terminator" genes, because they buy new seeds every year. The seeds have advantages that these farmers are willing to pay for.

    In fact, unless Monsanto patented it and inforces the patent, I would think other seed companies would try to copy the idea. They would all still happily make enough money off the larger farmers, while 3rd world farmers would find life much more difficult.


  • >Is there anything these guys can't genetically engineer:
    > Now Monsanto is considering technologies that turn engineered genes on and off in plants after they are sprayed with a chemical.

    This isn't big news. It's even a basic technique in molecular biology. Hell, I'm only a student, but I do it in the lab every day.
    However, this might hint into the way they do the fertility thing. Did you think of how they grow the fertility-impaired seeds in the first place? Yes, crossing of two different parental strains might be an answer - but it's a long shot and would lead to many complications. Since the Microsoft analogy has already been used, they might have used a "back door" into their "terminator" seeds, by placing a essential gene for reproduction under control of a promoter that's off unless a special chemical is present, then grow their production crops in presence of the chemical. It's simple enough to do, and wouldn't need as much time/money for R&D as any other approach.
  • I can see one good thing about the terminator gene: it would have been one further limit to gene- modified crops establishing themselves in the wild.
  • >The whole point of terminator seeds is to prevent cross-polination. One of the big problems with GM foods is that once they are out there,
    >you can't get them back (as they will cross-polinate with normal crops), and with pesticide-resistant GM versions of grains you could end up >with superweeds. So, terminator seeds are good, as the adult plants won't be able to cross-polinate natural organic produce. That way,
    >people who choose to eat natural, organic, non-Frankenstein foods, can do so safe in the knowledge that their food hasn't been
    >cross-polinated with some untested genetically modified food that may cause severe allergic reactions in some people.

    However, the Terminator patent allows for the gene that prevents live seeds from being 'blocked' until the seeds are chemically treated - at that point, the next generation's seeds are supposed to be nonviable. (This approach makes it much easier for Monsanto to grow seeds to sell). However, if a few seeds out of the bunch are not correctly treated, then these plants which have been genetically modified to survive better AND have a death-gene hidden away could cross-pollinate with natural organic produce - spreading the terminator gene much wider than just the Monsanto crops. If the gene were somehow triggered by the environment at this point, the result would be famine - the doomsday scenario.
  • I agree with Monsanto in this. Since they have spent millions creating a seed variation, they now "own" that variation. If the farmer doesn't like it, then don't use the variation. Don't believe the hype that the farmer is some starving hick. Most farmers are large conglomerates earning millions every year.

    Replace "seed" with "software", and "farmer" with "customer". Do you still feel the same way?

    (Incedentally, most farmers are not large conglomerates; the world is a lot bigger than just your United States, you know ... yes, Virginia, there really IS a "third world"... and note that it was at the poor individual farmers that Monsanto was explicitly targeting these products)

    Berlin-- []
  • Can you imagine the results of accidental cross-pollinization with 'Terminator' crops and regular???

    It could've resulted in the accidental genocide of, say, corn.

    This shows a complete and utter ignorance of natural selection. Think about what you just said. Organisms that win out in natural selection do so according to their darwinian fitness. For those of you who don't know what this is, darwinian fitness is defined as an organism's ability to pass on its genes.

    Any plant that crossed with a terminator and inherited the terminator genes would be unable to reporduce. Period. That means that its darwinian fitness would be zero. Such a plant cannot pass on its genes, and therefore cannot compete against a plant that isn't sterile. For that matter, it can't compete at all.

    The truly sad thing isn't that this guy doesn't understand ecology, it's that so many otherwise intelligent environmental organizations have put forth this same absurd argument.

  • (BT is the only effective organic killer of the pest worms. So, if the worms develop a resistance, the only product organic growers have for killing worms will be gone.)

    The worms are as likely to become resistant to bacillus toxins if they are on the plant as they are if they are in the plant. This isn`t an issue. In fact, they`re more likely to become resistant with the organic growers applying it to the plants, as they have to use so much more of it.
  • Anyway, what ever did happen to 100% pure food?

    What the hell is pure food? No such thing. Even 100% organically grown food varies tremendously in chemical composition depending on where and how it was grown, what the rainfall was, whether or not a particular plant was attacked by beetles on xyz day, when it was harvested, what fungus was growing on it that day and so on.

    Let's give an interesting example. Here in the East part of the US this year we had a bad drought. Some farmers where however able to get perhaps 25% production of corn. This corn however turns out to be completely usesless for animal feed because the concentration of nitrates in the corn is so high that it is toxic to cattle. On the other hand, this was a GREAT year for grapes. The hot dry weather led to usually high concentration fo sugar in the fruit making them tasty and very potent for wine making.

    If they are unsafe, wouldn't they be forced to cease and desist selling the GM seeds? Or worse, the government might consider them safe and ignore the other consequences, such as the environment.

    There has been all kinds of debate on this topic, and many of the techniques used in making the GM foods have been worked out specifically to address these concerns. There are trials going too, before each type of food is introduced.

  • It is well past time for the small family farm to have gone the way of the small family loom and the village ferrier. The more acceleration, the better.

    Why such hostility to small family farms?

    Do you truly prefer depending on large megacorp semi-monopolies for your food?

  • Sorry but this is rubbish

    Did you even look at the web site I posted a link to? IRRI is a third world run organization. It has nothing to do with Monsanto or large agribusiness. It has a long history of delivering new hybrid rices to sustinance level farmers. There are VERY few if any organizations in the world today that have done so much to alleviate human suffering - right now their hydbrids are feeding something like 3 BILLION people per day; it has been estimated that their work has already saved 1.5 billion people from starvation.

    They know how to get around the political and distribution problems, and how to develop products that third world farmers can effectively use. They have done it for many years, and very successfully.

    They are embracing GM in a big way because of it's potential to further eliminate human suffering.
  • The distribution/political problems are real. Third world countries often don't produce enough to feed their population, and can't afford to buy food on the international market. T

    The answer is to get the tools into the hands of local farmers to grow more of their own food. If you were take a look at the IRRI web site you would realize that this is exactly what they are doing, and they are making heavy use of GM R&D to achieve this laudable goal.

  • by dingbat_hp ( 98241 ) on Wednesday October 13, 1999 @04:43AM (#1617570) Homepage

    The really scary issue with the Terminator gene is that of cross-pollination. No one knows how likely GM products are to cross fertilise with nearby crops, nor do they know how close they have to be to be "nearby". This is a huge question over GM in general, and the doubt is sufficient to justify a halt on the entire commercial usage of GM crops, until more is known.

    If Terminator crops cross-pollinate with non-GM, then the seed from that plant will also be substantial sterile (I'm assuming Terminator is dominant, else how do they produce it commercially). This means that not only will the crop of seed purchased from Monsanto fail to deliver seed for next year, but so may the neighbour's crops. Why should any farmer or agri-business have the right to destroy another farmer's crop like this ?

    (UK poster - we're scared and angry on this side of the pond, not just the duck squeezers)

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Wednesday October 13, 1999 @04:43AM (#1617573)
    I just don't understand the ruckus about this. Conventional hydridized crops don't breed true; if you want to replant the same hybrid you must buy new seeds anyway.

  • Also note that the article states a half dozen or so other companies are looking into the same tech. Also, they haven't given up. The article goes on to say that now they'll develop a spray which could have the same effect (among others, I'd imagine).

    What spooks me most is where this leads logically. Imagine you're given a life saving gene therapy only to be told you've purchased a time limited license. In 12 months you can buy another license or die! That's the sort of situation we're heading for with all this IP protection BS.
  • GM won't feed the starving millions

    Absolute crap. Your ignorance of this issue is breathtaking.

    Take a look at the International Rice Research Institute [] in the Phillipines and tell me that GM won't have a HUGE impact on feeding the starving millions (840 million at last estimate).

    GM foods are one of the most important scientific developments of this century. Ultimately their impact will affect third world nations that must import food from the developed world FAR more than any other new technology developed this century.

  • by james b ( 31361 ) on Wednesday October 13, 1999 @05:36AM (#1617581) Homepage

    Monsanto ( []) make a bunch of different things, you can browse their products on that site. Now, one product is Roundup herbicide, and they market verious genetically modified crops that they label 'Roundup Ready', modified to be resistant. So farmers using Monsanto seed can spray huge amounts of weedkiller and still get a healthy crop.

    The other reason for the possible success of these seeds is that Monsanto have enough capital to actually undercut any other vendors of normal seeds with seeds containing the terminator gene. They could say, "It's better! Try it!", and naive farmers would use this seed for a year, and then quite possibly when the price of buying it each year is suddenly massively increased, they find that they didn't keep any of their old seed, or that it has died and won't germinate. Then, certain farmers could be locked into subscribing to Monsanto seed each year.

  • This is an interesting situation - at one end, if Monsanto were to limit these plants, it would have a negative impact on farming. On the other hand, I have to agree that they deserve to make money off of it, and if they do not have a method of limiting the seeds, what is to stop a farmer from selling off his seeds cheaper? And once everyone has Monsanto seeds, Monsanto has no more buisness, and they lose out. Doesn't seem very fair for them.

    But if they were to use some method of limiting seeds/distribution/whatever, then the world would not benefit nearly as much, and we would still have a large food shortage.

    As much as I agree that this should be in widespread use, Monsanto should definitly get what they deserve for it, as well.
  • Can you imagine the results of accidental cross-pollinization with 'Terminator' crops and regular??? (It's been proven to happen)
    It could've resulted in the accidental genocide of, say, corn.
    Good riddance. That's probably why Mosanto has ditched the plan.
  • My, you wrote a long reply. Too bad none of it is correct.

    1). The IRRI is not a GM company. It is a non-profit organization funded by third world countries to improve rice for use by sustenance level farmers. It has been very effective doing this; it is estmated that it's products feed 2-3 billion people right now.

    2). Wrong. Third world countries are already using the biotech products of the IRRI.

    3). Wrong. The amount of arable land in production in in rice growing countries is strictly limited by geography.

    4). Monsanto is not the IRRI.

    5). IRRI super crops are being used to feed nearly 50% of the world population today.

    6). Rice supplies the basic calorie input of 50% of the world population today. It is a simple fact. Fruits and vegatbles are nice too, but the basic caloric intake needed to sustain life comes from grains.

    7). Irrigation is not going to increase the output of a rice paddy that is already intensively irrigated.

    8). If Southeast Asia used organic methods like you propose 1 Billion people would die of starvation next year. Their methods are not organic, but are sustainable.

    Simple - by looking at the people and the politics we can solve the problem not by throwing more technology at it.

    While you screw around with pie in the sky ideas, 840 million people are starving.

  • are you sure you have *all* the facts

    In this case, yes. The IRRI is a third world run institute with a long established record of delivering innovations to rice growing countries that have made huge impacts already to the quality of life in these countries. It has been estimated that their hydrid rices already have resulted in productivity gains that have saved over a billion people from starvation. They know how to deliver improved technologies to sustinence level farmers. They are not allied with first world agribusiness in any way.
  • by Evangelion ( 2145 ) on Wednesday October 13, 1999 @03:45AM (#1617595) Homepage
    When corporations willingly restrain themselves, I have to ask "For how long?" What's stopping them from threatening to introduce this again in 5 years. And 5 years after that. How long before the media and people in general will ignore them doing this, because they've heard about happening so many times?

    (Keep in mind what Nestle did in China - giving formula to new mothers for a few months for free - until they dried up, and then they started charging them for it. The UN pointed out to them they were violating human rights and made them stop. They started again 5 years later. What can the UN do? You can't continually work people into a frenzy every 5 years over the exact same thing.)

    I have no doubts that these seeds will be back.

    -- Your friendly neighbourhood cynic.

  • The only problem with this announcement is that those terminator genes, although designed to be a profit saving device, may have been the only mechanism to save us from widespread ecological damage due to a runaway genetically modified plant.

    With the terminator gene in place the harmful spread would have been limited to one generation, now they're free to expand indefinately. []
  • I'd suspect it would be hard to collect seeds from your harvest of seedless grapes to replant.

    Hahahaha you are joking, right? Grapes have been propagated by cuttings (a form of cloning) for at least the past 4000 years or so. Grape vines are perennials - they last a very long time, perhaps 50 years or so, if properly cared for. It takes 3-5 years for them to mature enough to get a good harvest. Most grapes grown now are actually grafts - a hardy rootstock with the desirable fruit producing variety grafted at the stem.

    Seedless watermelon seeds (invented in Korea) are obtained by hybridizing two other varieties that result in a sterile cross (no seeds).

    Don't people take high school biology?

  • I agree that frozen pizza is made from farm products, but Hostess cupcakes are made from petroleum by-products, as any consumer knows.

    "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
  • Realizing that hacking C code is a wee different from gene sequencing, I still wonder if there's a new breed of hacker (pardon the pun) on the horizon. As many academic groups and biotech firms have shown, you can do a lot of research with minimal equipment. True, you can do a lot more with a wad of cash, but cash usually buys reduced time and not creativity. Following the thought through, won't we begin to see agri-hackers emerge as big firms put the squeeze on small producers? (Just as MS put the squeeze on the rest of the industry using bad-for-the-consumer products?)

    There are already countless farmers and biologists who are hybridization experts, and I don't think it's a great leap to see them experimenting with Monsanto's latest genetically engineered product, and chatting with their virtual neighbors about it. Hybridization techniques are a far cry from laboratory engineering of specific genes, but still quite effective for guiding/preserving/producing desired traits. And gene sequencing no longer takes the army of researchers it once did. A little of both would reveal all manner of wonders -- Monsanto's NDAs be damned. All that's missing from the picture is an updated forum for sharing information (alt.agro.gene.warez? rec.hybrid.splice?) and some websites detailing how to do gene sequencing/splicing at home hosted by down-home agrihackers, hybrid-phreaks, and gene-crackers.

    I'd venture a guess that in 10 years, Monsanto will have to develop gene encryption techniques in order to maintain their current business model, and we'll be looking at SETI@home or RC5-crack style distributed sequencing projects.

    - Jon (sticking to certified organic food)
  • by SEE ( 7681 )
    Farmers in the U.S. already generally buy their seed each year instead of saving seeds already, with contracts that forbid them from saving seed.

    Now, why do they do that? Because the seeds they buy are hybrids that are significantly more productive/resistant/etc. than the product of uncontrolled pollenation. It is therefore financially advantageous to buy seed each year and sell a larger crop than to save seeds and sell s smaller crop if you have sufficient capital.
  • by ai731 ( 36146 ) on Wednesday October 13, 1999 @03:54AM (#1617652)
    The system has three key components:
    1. A gene for a toxin that will kill the seed late in development, but that will not kill any other part of the plant.
    2. A method for allowing a plant breeder to grow several generations of cotton plants, already genetically-engineered to contain the seed-specific toxin gene, without any seeds dying. This is required to produce enough seeds to sell for farmers to plant.
    3. A method for activating the engineered seed-specific toxin gene after the farmer plants the seeds, so that the farmer's second generation will be killed.
    Full technical description on the Edmonds Institute Website []



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