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From the PNB News Team, as posted on the Disaster List
US Patent on New Genetic Technology Will Prevent Farmers from Saving Seed

On March 3 Delta and Pine Land Co. (Mississippi, USA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they received US Patent No. 5,723,765 on a new genetic technology designed to prevent unauthorized seed saving by farmers. The patented technology, "Control of plant gene expression" would allow seed companies to control the viability of progeny seed without harming the crop. In other words, the new technology genetically alters the seed so that it will not germinate if re-planted a second time.

The patent is broad, applying to plants and seeds of all species, including both transgenic (genetically engineered) and conventionally-bred seeds. If commercially viable, the patented technology could have far-reaching implications for farmers and the commercial seed industry. If the technology is widely licensed, it could be a boon to the seed industry - especially for companies marketing self-pollinating seeds such as wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, oats and sorghum. Historically there has been little commercial interest in non-hybridized seeds such as wheat and rice because there is no way for seed companies to control reproduction. If commercially viable, the new technology could mean huge profits in entirely new sectors of the seed industry. For farmers, the patented technology will undoubtedly mean greater dependence on the commercial seed market, and a fundamental loss of control over germplasm. If widely utilized, farmers will lose the age-old right to save seed from their harvest.

Seed Germination or Termination
New Scientist, 28 March 1998

They call it "terminator technology", a "breakthrough" in genetic engineering. It is the seed that doesn't germinate. If adopted, it means that the tradition of saving seeds from one crop for the next season's planting will disappear. In early March 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a Mississippi seed company, the Delta and Pine Land Company, were granted a patent for a tenchnique that can sterilize the seeds produced by most agriculture crops.

They expect the technology to be adopted by all the major seed companies which for many years have been looking for ways to prevent farmers from recycling seeds from their crops. Willard Phelps, a spokesman for the USDA, predicts the new technique will soon be so widely adopted that farmers will only be able to buy seeds that cannot be regerminated.