26 March 1999

US organic producers leading backlash

ORGANIC farmers are in the vanguard of the North American anti-terminator lobby, but mainstream farmers and scientists are backing their objections.

"Farmers are the last of the free enterprisers, and this could be lost with terminator," says Larry Lendhardt, organic grower and executive member of Canadas Organic Crop Producers and Processors association.

"Farm communities should fight this obscene effort to further centralise control by large corporate seed companies," adds organic farmer Tony McQuail, who runs a 40ha (100-acre) mixed farm in central Ontario. He is concerned that the concentration of the seed industry means variety research will be directed to GM crops only. Others share his fears. Several Canadian farmers and farm organisations have already initiated their own plant breeding and seed production programmes.

Terminator-type traits could pose an even greater threat to producers through cross-pollination. The consequences could be disastrous if sterility-causing traits get into adjacent crops destined for farm-saving, fear some farmers.

It is a well founded fear, according to Ann Clark, professor of crop science at the University of Guelph. "GM traits move in pollen and risk inadvertently transferring the sterility-causing transgenes."

The risk is greatest in the developing world, since such a transfer into indigenous crops or wild species would have profound economic and environmental consequences, she says.

"Most GMO scientists dont have a clue about the ecological consequences or implications of the work theyre doing."

One research group creating new varieties for the developing world is the Consultative Group On International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It has already said it will not use terminator technology in any of its seed.

Other groups are calling for an outright ban on terminator technology. RAFIs Pat Mooney says countries could ban such technology under World Trade Organisation rules concerning intellectual property rights, because they pose a threat to the environment or public morality.

But the last word goes to Mr McQuail. Terminator offers no agronomic benefits to farmers, he says. His advice to UK farmers is clear: "Do not jump into this (GM crops). Just watch what happens from the safety of your island for the next 30 or 40 years." &#42