March 24, 2006

Greenpeace Slams Australia for Promoting GMO Seeds

CURITIBA, Brazil (Reuters) - Environmental group Greenpeace criticized Australia on Friday for promoting the experimental use of highly controversial "terminator seeds" derived from genetically modified plants.

The non-government group gave Australia its first Flat Ball Award for its defense of a seed that critics say undermines biological diversity and creates dependence among poor farmers.

Terminator seeds come from genetically modified plants and their offspring are sterile, meaning they cannot be stored for use in future crops. Environmental activists and several developing countries say the seeds would make poor farmers throughout the world dependent on multinational companies to supply them with the seeds annually.

Australia, Canada and New Zealand have lobbied hard to reopen discussion of field testing of terminator seeds at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, in the Brazilian city of Curitiba.

A working group at the convention rejected the proposal on Friday. It still faces a final vote in the plenary session.

"This victory will go a long way toward ensuring that biodiversity, food, security and the livelihoods of millions of farmers around the world are protected," said Greenpeace's Benedikt Haerlin.

Australia, Canada and New Zealand had sought to lift a moratorium implemented in 2000 on the use of terminator seeds, saying the ban limits scientific research. They argued in favor of case-by-case decisions.

In addition to the cost to farmers, opponents say terminator seeds could spread their genes into conventional crops and make them sterile.

The seeds' promoters say they will help stop farmers from reproducing their GMO seeds with each harvest without paying royalties.