Biodiversidade Biotecnologias Biossegurança

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quarta-feira, março 22, 2006

Canada acting as U.S. pawn in support of 'suicide seeds,' say farm activists

March 21, 2006 from Canadian Press
Canada is lobbying at a major UN conference this week to lift an international moratorium on field testing of controversial "suicide seeds" despite opposition from farm organizations around the world, activists say.

The seeds, officially known as Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT), are one of the most controversial products biotechnology has yet produced, and critics say they could undermine traditional small-scale farming.

They are genetically modified to produce sterile offspring, meaning farmers have to buy new seed every spring instead of saving some from the previous year's crop.

Six years ago, Canada joined other parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity in imposing a moratorium on use of the seeds, but observers say Ottawa is now advocating field tests on a case-by-case basis.

Countries that have ratified the UN convention are currently meeting in Curitibo, Brazil, to negotiate a "Biosafety Protocol" which would set rules for the handling of genetically engineered crops.

India and Brazil, both major agriculture countries, have banned the terminator technology. Australia and New Zealand are backing calls to permit testing while the United States is working behind the scenes because it hasn't ratified the biosafety convention.

"We see the terminator technology as a crime against nature," Vandana Shiva, a prominent Indian scientist, author and environmental activist, told a news conference Monday.

"The driving force behind this is quite clearly the United States. The problem is the United States has never become a member of the UN Biosafety Convention. Instead they're using Canada do its dirty work."

Shiva noted that the U.S. government is co-owner of the terminator technology.

The companies that produce terminator seeds say the plants are bred to be stronger and to produce better crops, and they argue that they're simply protecting their investment.

But Colleen Ross of the National Farmers Union says the seeds will cost Canadian farmers millions of dollars and will reduce biodiversity. She also says Ottawa isn't listening to farmers on the issue.

Denise Dewar, vice-president of CropLife Canada, a biotech lobby group, said there is nothing new about GURT, noting that seedless watermelons and hybrid corn are sterile.

New genetically engineered products coming in the future, such as plants that produce pharmaceuticals, that could be prevented from contaminating other crops through GURT, she said.

Dewar said farmers could still save seeds, because fertile seeds would still be available. "We should allow farmers the option," she said.

Patent protection for biotech companies is another benefit, she argued.

The Canadian delegation in Brazil is led by Environment Canada, but a spokesman declined to answer questions. Agriculture Canada is in charge of the file.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Canada said there was no one on hand to answer questions because all relevant experts are in Brazil.

Shiva said genetically engineered crops have been a disaster in India because they drive up production costs but remain unreliable.

"It is time for all the world community to do what India has done, ban the terminator (seed)," she said.

"I would plead for the parliamentarians of this country to wake up to a hijack of democracy."

Author: Dennis Bueckert