NDP ag critic’s bill looks to block GURTs

The federal New Democrats’ agriculture critic has re-introduced his private member’s bill from the previous session of Parliament seeking a ban on so-called “terminator” genetics in Canadian seed.

Alex Atamanenko, an NDP MP from British Columbia’s Kootenay region, said Tuesday his proposed Bill C-353 would ban the release, sale, importation and use of variety-related genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) in seed.

The bill, he said, is “designed to protect the right of Canadian farmers to save and re-use seeds.”

“Terminator” genetics give seeds what critics call a “suicide” characteristic, in which plants produced by such seeds yield sterile seeds that cannot be replanted.

The genetics were seen as a way for seed companies to protect their patents on specific seed traits, but critics are concerned that such seed would cross-pollinate with neighbouring crops of the same species and inadvertently spread the GURT trait.

A spokesperson for Atamanenko said the bill is intended as a pre-emptive measure, as no seed company is currently seeking to register a seed variety with variety-related GURT genetics.

Atamanenko’s release Monday criticized the federal government for “working against global consensus” on the issue of GURTs. The government, he said, has previously stated it will assess the technology on a “case-by-case basis” rather than impose an outright ban as India and Brazil have done.

“We have an opportunity to bring the world a major step closer to eliminating this detestable technology,” Atamanenko said.

“No plans, no research”

“Terminator” technology has come in for heavy criticism since a U.S. patent was granted to seed firm Delta and Pine Land in 1998 for such a genetic event.

Monsanto, which bought Delta and Pine Land in 2006, says on its website that it has committed since 1999 not to commercialize sterile-seed technology in food crops and has “no plans or research that would violate this commitment in any way.”

The company said if it ever decided to “move forward in the area of GURTs, we would do so in consultation with experts and stakeholders, including NGOs.” It noted that it may be possible to breed GURTs that shut off only a patent-protected trait in harvested seed, rather than render the offspring seed completely sterile.

Another seed company that has come under fire on various websites for allegedly pursuing registration of a “terminator” potato variety says it has no such crop in development.

Syngenta writes on its website that it is “not involved in (genetically modified) potatoes and is not involved in so-called ‘terminator technology’ in potatoes or anything else.”

Rather, the company said, “Syngenta does not believe that there is any ‘terminator potato’ in existence and neither we nor, to the best of our knowledge, our competitors, nor anyone else, are involved in developing one.”

Syngenta said it has previously stated, in a letter to the Indigenous Coalition against Biopiracy in the Andes, that it “does not dispute or oppose anyone’s right to use or reuse potato planting material.”

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