Wednesday, March 12, 2008

GM Agriculture and Terminator Technologies - Another Blow Against the Third World?

So called 'terminator technologies', at least in the agribusiness world, are essentially those GM or genetic modification technologies that allow seed companies to 'improve' and patent seeds for specific crops. This insures that everytime a farmer wants to plant a new crop, they have to go back to the seed or GM company to get a new supply of seeds. This is partially because most of these GM crops are designed to be sterile in the field, and partially because intellectual property laws preclude unlicenced (non paid) use of any seed products containing one or more of the gene sequences patented by the GM company *even those grown by the farmer themselves*.

Now in the first world agricultural producers have for the most part abandoned the practice of keeping personal stocks of 'seed grain', or grain saved from a previous crop in order to plant a new crop, in favor of purchasing these stocks from commercial suppliers some time ago. So for these customers, the difference between buying GM seeds for the next crop versus buying non-GM seeds is a matter of degree rather than kind.

For farmers in the third world, however, its a different and more disturbing story. Most agricultural producers in the developing world rely on maintaining personal stocks of seed grain in order to minimize the costs associated with planting and harvesting each crop. It turns out that once they buy into the hype associated with genetically modified crops, it is very difficult to reestablish themselves as traditional 'seed grain' producers, and very difficult to make enough of a profit to pay for next years GM seeds. A disturbing prospect, and one reason governments in the third world are pushing modernized versions of traditional methods rather than buying into the capital intensive methods pushed by agribusinesses in the first world.