American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Technology Down on the Farm: Time to Pay Attention
Last year, Monsanto, in the US, and Astra-Zeneca, in the UK, patented seeds that are good for only one harvest; the second generation seeds are genetically engineered to be sterile. Farmers who plant these "terminator" seeds are hooked into purchasing new seed every growing season.
Poor farmers cannot afford this. They grow 15 to 20% of the world's food, most of it from seeds saved from the previous harvest. At least 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seed for their survival.
Proponents argue that farmers don't have to buy them, but farmers' choices can be severely limited when seed companies, national governments, and banks offer credit only to those farmers who agree to plant selected varieties.
The US Department of Agriculture, which helped Monsanto develop "terminator" seeds, admits the goal is "to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in second and third world countries."
Every country has the right to deny licenses for "terminator" patents, and if international organizations take a strong stand against "terminator" technology, governments will take heed. A resolution to condemn the "terminator" will come before the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in April. The FAO can effectively influence governments to reject "terminator" technology.
Please send a polite letter to: Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director General, UNFAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracella, 00100 Rome, Italy; FAX: International access code +390(6) 570-53152. In your letters, urge the FAO to condemn "terminator" technology because:
1) The FAO is the voice for world food security and should come to the defense of the 1.4 billion people who depend on farm-saved seed for their survival.
2) Scientists warn that under certain conditions the trait for seed sterility will be carried by pollen to surrounding plants causing inadvertent sterility.
3) If farmers are forced or persuaded to use "terminator" seeds, centuries of crop genetic diversity developed by the world's small farmers could be lost forever.
4) An FAO resolution against "terminator" technology will effectively warn governments of the danger of granting patents on them.
-Global Response, Environmental Action and Education Network,
POB 7490, Boulder, CO 80306-7490
Two recent studies have confirmed that genetically engineered plants can pass on herbicide-resistant genes to surrounding weeds. In addition, engineered plants seem to be more fertile than natural plants, demonstrated by their pollen living noticeably longer and their ability to cross-pollinate at a rate up to 20 times greater than natural mutants.
These weed-crop hybrids tend to retain the vigor of their weed parents while passing on the herbicide-resistant trait to successive generations of "superweeds." As a result, farmers will be tempted to increase their herbicide sprayings to more hazardous levels.
One study was reported in the 9/3/98 issue of Nature by University of Chicago professor Joy Bergelson and colleagues. Results of the other study were presented to the Ecological Society of America, 8/98, by Allison Snow, Ohio State University.