Terminator Seeds

Terminator Seeds – They Won’t Be Back!

Group 76

“Terminator technology” or “suicide seeds” coin their name from the genetic use restriction technology (GURT) which caused controversy when it was used to develop plants that yield sterile seeds. Although not yet commercialised, biotech companies claim the innovation protects intellectual property and prevents the escape of modified genes. However, others are viewing this as an unethical method of controlling the availability of engineered crops in the agricultural community.

Is this an attempt to monopolise the world’s food supply? Or the next step in advancing crop production?

Cream of the Crop

Having the ability to produce a commodity that is technologically advanced compared to rivals is the basis of competitive business. Industrial development is often resource intensive, but this is usually justified by the unique product that the company can offer. However, the agricultural industry is left hung out to dry as consumers are able to regenerate seeds indefinitely, leaving companies with no control over their product.

Shouldn’t you have the right to your own design?

Terminator technology prevents unauthorised repeated cropping and sowing of patented seeds, allowing for direct product sales. This would provide an incentive for reinvestment into R&D, promoting competitiveness and industry advancements, including improved quality of food production as well as special vaccine production and diagnostic tool technology which GURT has been linked to.

On the surface, it appears that these corporations are adopting an egoistic approach which could be considered ethical as they are only acting to ensure profits which is in their best interests; they are a business after all. However, it can also be argued from a utilitarian perspective that the aforementioned technological advancements actually have the potential to benefit the future of humanity, thereby bringing a greater degree of happiness to the world.

Are we putting a ban on progression?

Terminator technology would be applied to existing genetically modified (GM) crops which are engineered to have better yields, disease and pest resistance etc. These crops are essential to the problem of feeding the ever increasing global population. However, they contain genes that would not be present in wild types – transgenes. There is concern that these genes may ‘leak’ into the environment through cross-pollination, wreaking havoc upon nature. Terminator seeds have the potential to prevent this, by ceasing crops’ ability to reproduce.

10 Genetically Modified FoodsThe GM movement has always raised issues concerning environmental ethics to which terminator technology can provide solutions for. From an anthropocentric perspective, (the view that the environment has only instrumental value for humanity) terminator seeds will prevent damaging effects to the environment which is in our own interests as future generations will inherit a healthier world. Even from a biocentric point of view, (the belief that the environment has its own intrinsic value) terminator seeds only serve to protect it by preventing transgene escape. GM crops are an already established part of agriculture and terminator technology only strives to make such crops eco-friendly.

Seedy Business

The central counter argument that stems from this debate is the effect upon farmers, especially those in developing countries. Traditionally, these farmers would reserve a portion of seeds for growth the following year but instead, the use of terminator seeds will force them into dependency upon seed companies, having to rebuy the same stock year in, year out. Proponents of the debate think this is fair – biotech companies need to protect their investment, right?

Poor farmers simply cannot afford to live like this!

The issue is that most farmers from developing countries cannot afford annual seed purchases meaning that their income and thus welfare and social security are impacted as a consequence. By exploring a utilitarianism framework, it is evident the no-harm principle is violated, as the act of forcing annual purchases is detrimental to farmer happiness in the long run.

You might think the obvious answer would be for farmers to avoid buying from seed companies, however this would be detrimental to themselves. Poor farmers often live in areas with extreme climates and severe pest problems and therefore by choosing not to buy industrial seeds, they are opting out of the resilience benefits that make GM seeds so useful in the first place.

Is it fair to restrict poor farmers from accessing genetically superior crops, the people who arguably need them the most?

From a deontological perspective, the answer is no. Kant believed that the action itself is important in ethics, not just the outcome. By this logic, you cannot justify high prices which deny poor farmers the best seeds, who would benefit from them the most, even if the consequences mean greater profits and reinvestment into R&D. It’s about respect for each and every human, not just the masses.

According to the UN, the right to food is a basic universal human right. Handing over control of this right, a necessity to life, to giant companies is a mistake we cannot afford to make. We cannot allow the food market to be monopolised in this manner as it would give corporations a frightening amount of power, who may prioritise profits over the security of the global food supply.

This is a patent that really turns on the greed gene.”

The essence of terminator technology also begs the question: are the proprietors “playing God?”. From a religious perspective applying ethical absolutism – interfering with the sanctity of life is morally wrong. However, regardless of faith, it could be believed that the nature of programming life to terminate itself is twisted and wholly unnatural.

Food For Thought

The potential risks need to be fully assessed before a final verdict can be made. In the meantime, the topic remains divisive: to what extent can the strive for economic and technological progress be regarded above the questionable methods and repercussions on the lives of others?

60 thoughts on “Terminator Seeds – They Won’t Be Back!

  1. If by 2050 there will be 1.8billion people living in India alone we will need GM crops. My fear is that we will lose the opportunity to feed the world by allowing farmers to save seeds for future cultivation. It’s a dilemma because of the biosecurity risks.

  2. There are some interesting issues raised here. Certainly the escape of modified genes into the environment is something to be avoided. Is there no way for this to be prevented without targeting local farmers?

    Likewise, the idea that businesses need to protect their intellectual property and make a profit. Unfortunately I think that the West, where farmers already primarily use hybrid seeds, is all too often shielded from the consequences of this argument. As stated; “to what extent can the strive for economic and technological progress be regarded above the questionable methods and repercussions on the lives of others?” I believe that this is the crux of the issue. Do we, as a society, prioritise profit and the free market over human welfare?

    In my opinion, the following paragraph summarises the situation perfectly; “you cannot justify high prices which deny poor farmers the best seeds, who would benefit from them the most, even if the consequences mean greater profits and reinvestment into R&D. It’s about respect for each and every human, not just the masses.” We need to focus on the everyday lives of people directly affected by this technology. Surely we should be striving towards putting an end to the global food shortage, rather than perpetuating it?

  3. Some really interesting points are raised here.
    From the perspective of a patent protection, obviously this is a very ingenious piece of technology that will save companies like Monsanto a lot of money. From the perspective of human rights law, however, and particularly Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, this technology poses an undeniable tension with the right to food/sustenance. Countries in South America where farmers have had problems with Monsanto in the past – and no doubt will again – are all parties to this Convention and are legally bound by this provision. Of special relevance here is subsection 2 of Article 11: States are obliged:

    (a) To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources;

    (b) Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.

    It is very hard to reconcile these broad (and granted, wildly unenforceable) obligations with the prospect of a monopoly on crops from corporations with huge amounts of money and power.

    1. These seeds definitely seem like they’re going against point (a). All I see is these seeds are going to prevent the dissemination of food most efficiently. Surely it’s not sustainable to keep manufacturing seeds when the plant can already produce them.

  4. What an interesting and difficult debate. Clearly, GURT technology is a simple and elegant way for agricultural engineers to protect investments so that they can continue to afford research and development costs. The article states that these technologically advanced crops are “essential to the problem of feeding the ever increasing global population”. From a utilitarian perspective it would appear that GURT technology is a necessary evil to protect production food for all. However, I would argue that most GM crops set to make use of GURT technology are produced for farmers in developed countries that can afford the costs of these premium seeds. These large commercial farms are only responsible for around 47% of world food production, with about 53% of world food being produced on small family farms in developing countries (that wouldn’t have access to advanced seeds due to prohibitively high costs). Intensive commercial farms already produce huge yields per area, arguably investment would be better off going to relatively simple inputs of technology or machinery that could vastly improve yield per area on small farms in developing countries. So it appears GURT technology cannot even be justified by the argument that it ‘for the good of the masses’. It seems to me that terminator seeds aren’t essential to securing the future of food for all, but for securing profits for commercial businesses. I couldn’t agree more that GURT is “a patent that really turns on the greed gene.”.

  5. I think it is interesting to consider that in many cases, the problems GM crops are designed to fix (such as pests, drought and nutrient deficiencies) are signs that our current agricultural systems are fundamentally flawed. Intensive mainstream agriculture can be highly damaging. It relies on unsustainable inputs of water and nutrients, soil is eroded, nutrients leached, watercourses polluted, and monoculture crops wreak havoc upon natural ecosystems and biodiversity. All of this leaves crops vulnerable to problems with pests and drought. I would be very hesitant to suggest we can rely upon genetically modified crops alone to overcome environmental challenges and produce enough food for a growing population.

    I think annacrrm raises a particularly interesting point in that food is a basic human right, and we have a responsibility to make full use of technical and scientific knowledge to develop agrarian systems. In my opinion, I believe we need a complete revamp of the way we produce food. GM crops should certainly play a part in this, but only to target specific problems that still persist within more sustainable and balanced system. Perhaps this is something that we cannot rely on commercial companies to do. Just as you say in the article, “Having the ability to produce a commodity that is technologically advanced compared to rivals is the basis of competitive business”. A change in the way we produce food isn’t exactly a commodity that can be sold.

    If we are serious about sustainable food production, maybe we need more centralised funds that are dedicated to developing agricultural techniques that will build a truly integrated and sustainable food system. Terminator seeds might well play a part in this system. As stated in the article they are very useful for keeping GM transgenes out of wild plant populations. Dedicated funds could protect costs of research and development, and ensure we develop a food system that can cope with future challenges without passing on prohibitively high costs to farmers who are most in need of help. After all, food is essential to life and worth investing in.

      1. But it’s affecting people negatively now and we don’t know whether it would actually benefit people in the future. Surely it’s better to know for definite which would mean banning them now.

        1. I agree with NickAlpackham, especially because new gene editing technologies are developing much faster than the laws and policies that regulate them. I think it is wise to put a moratorium on GURT until we can better understand the full social and environmental impacts of using such a technology

  6. There is a parallel here with other developments i.e. pharmaceutical industry. Governments have a responsibility to their citizens to purchase the product thereby ensuring affordability for farmers and supporting R&D. I agree with the comments made by others about the wider context of the ethics of food production and sustainability. Poor farmers are often forced into producing crops they can sell to the west with disastrous environmental impact e.g. palm oil. The solutions lie with governments not just private industry.

  7. I appreciate that we need to grow more to feed an ever increasing world population. However, interfering with nature does not sit well with me. There are always unintended consequences usually driven by big business.

    1. Every animal tries to interfere with nature though. We wouldn’t have many cures and treatments without interfering with nature. Sometimes that’s the best choice for the greater good.

  8. Obviously it is hard to detach from the humanitarian and more emotional considerations, but in order for private companies to be able to provide these products which ultimately will be good for mankind, they have to maintain their revenue and they can’t do that if farmers only have to buy the seeds once. If private companies at the cutting edge of technology and development are undermined and halted by a loss of income then progress will stagnate and given the the worrying environmental problems that we face, this is something we cannot afford.

    That said I do not believe that the poor farmers should pay the price for the rest of humanity and I agree with mccoyj that there needs to be more government intervention and farming subsidies to elleviate the financial burden on those that can least afford it.

  9. My largest fear with GM crops is the loss of diversity in staple crops reduces the overall resilience of the crops to new strains of disease. Mono-cultures are more vulnerable.

    From an utilitarianism point of view it doesn’t (I think) benefit the majority, neither from a deontological point of view either since the motive of the GM companies appears to be more profit-focussed than anything else.

    1. I agree that this shift into a regimented array of “super crops” is a scary idea. But ever since the start of GM crops there have been seed banks to preserve the state of biodiversity around the world as they store every type of seed ever discovered. https://www.bgci.org/resources/Seedbanks/
      I think that it is in the agro corporations interest to provide seeds that are resistant to new threats so would have some form of safeguard themselves, just as any large company would.

      1. Monoculture cropping is detrimental in more ways than just reduced resilience to new diseases. Lack of biodiversity in farmland affects everything from insects, to birds, to soil structures. Granted there are seed banks to preserve genes that might protect against future threats of pests and diseases, but these seeds are stored and mono-cropping still prevails, wreaking havoc on natural ecosystems!!

  10. There are very few advances that carry no downside. Amongst other benefits, this development seems to me to have the potential to be hugely valuable in ameliorating the problems caused by invasive plants, be they a consequence of the enthusiasm of Victorian plant hunters or new problems associated with genetic modification. We have been “playing God” for centuries. The food we enjoy today would not exist without generations of cross-breeding of wild plants and animals. Are ethical concerns expressed about the F1 hybrid, which does not breed true from seed? What is needed to meet the ethical concerns associated with poor farmers is for clear sense of corporate responsibility to become the commerical norm. Strategies that would permit developers to obtain the rewards they need to justify the development work without pricing the poor farmer out of the market are perfectly possible with imagination and a will to see the bigger picture. Demanding a full commercial return from every deal does not necessary result in the best possible financial outcome, as a walk down any high street indicates.

    1. I couldn’t agree more that seed companies have to obtain the rewards they need to justify seed development. But when 53% of the world’s commercial seed market is controlled by just three firms, I don’t think we can depend on companies corporate responsibility alone to keep seed prices fair. Governments and regulations need to take the hard line to protect vulnerable farmers, and this will likely include a ban on GURT. Walking down a high street indicates the power of market force and competition between suppliers. Such a large share of the worlds most productive seed market is in so few hands, it can’t be left to market forces alone to control.

  11. Firstly, I would like to say that this is a very well written, concise and informative article. I think both sides of the argument have been explained clearly and in a balanced manner.

    I believe the ‘terminator technology’ sounds like an excellent idea.

    The intricacies and balance of the eco-system is currently not understood and therefore should not be tampered with in my opinion. However, this new termination technology seems like an excellent method in controlling GM crops and preventing an ecological disaster.

    With the new termination technology in place, it would be safe to fully utilise GM crops – potentially preventing world hunger, reducing deforestation and decreasing food productions carbon footprint (HUGE BENEFITS). Additionally, due to constant demand and increased supply, food prices should show an overall decrease!

    The article mentions that there is concern with regards to poorer farmers not being able to afford the new crops? However, surely the benefit that the termination technology brings (access to GM crops, benefits listed above) far outweighs this.

    Were traffic lights banned in order to prevent the redundancy of traffic police? No.

    ‘To make an omelette you’ve got to crack a few eggs’ – Unknown genius

    Some farmers won’t be able to afford the seeds and will therefore have to leave the farming business. But that is life! We live in a capitalist society and therefore the farmers will have to go find work elsewhere (of which there is plenty).

    With regards to companies monopolizing the seed industry and controlling the world food supply, I think this argument is easily settled with worldwide policies set by governments. Many policies already exist regarding industry monopolization, I’m sure a few more can be fabricated.

    So…. lets use the new termination technology! With the resultant effect due to GM crops of: Increased food supply, reduced deforestation, reduced food prices and reduced pollution to our beautiful precious planet.

    xoxoxoxoxox

    1. Thanks for the comment srd14.

      I just wanted to address one of your statements concerning farmers finding work elsewhere. ‘Poor farmers’ in this article refers to some off the least wealthy farmers globally, not just in the UK. Many of these are subsistence farmers which means the food they produce is used to feed their own families. In this case they are not farming to making a living but farming to live; therefore changing jobs is not possible.

      1. In this case though why do they need the GM crops to live? Surely they can grow food for themselves using normal seeds and get a new job? Maybe this is a bit cynical but it’s another view to look at.

        1. Just to reiterate though, I do think these seeds should be banned, but more to do with me thinking this technology is just another way for investors of these companies to ride the gravy train.

  12. I actually think the Genetic Use Restriction Technology is quite a masterstroke. If I were a company which had invested millions in research and development for “super crops” I would not that genetic code being copied by anyone else. These even have the added incentive of not being able to be re-harvested by consumers, some of which I am actually assuming sell these crops on, thus making a profit of my research.

    I do agree with the argument regarding underdeveloped countries as what is the point of these modified crops if they are not accessible to those who really need them? I think GURT is a good idea but does need some regulation before the technology really takes off. A suggestion I would make is maybe seeds with limited reproduction rather than none at all.

    1. with limited reproduction would seeds still be able to pass genes on? could be nightmare in terms of cross contamination and spreading genes for seeds that cant reproduce 🙁 imagine if this got into wild plants! think the biggest benefit of terminator seeds is that they can’t pass on their genes to the environment

  13. Very interesting article.
    Reading through the comments I do have to agree with srd14 that we don’t understand the intriancies and balances of the eco system and by intervening with the use of genetic technology we could be tipping the scales.

    From a business perspective I can understand why companies want to enforce this terminator seed plan, however I do not agree with the situation that puts farmers in less developed countries who don’t have the finance to comply with the situation.

    From a utilitarianism perspective I do nott think the notion of carrying out terminator seeds does not benefit the majority.

    I don’t agree with the idea of monopolisation because I believe that the market should be free for companies to compete against each other to provide the best food situation for this growing population

    Keep up the good work can not wait for your next article!

  14. Very good article, the structure explained the relatively unknown topic to the reader and provoked real debate on something that could effect us all.

    The argument advocating the sterile seeds was well written and highlighted the reality that seed companies are run as businesses who are looking to make profits. In this case I would encourage the readers and authors to draw comparisons to other industries, pharmaceuticals being the most obvious. Within pharma a similar argument can be raised when companies patent drugs for diseases with few alternatives for treatment, this system can be seen unfair but does encourage R&D and innovation. This also relies on the patent system that can expire, which then opens technology to generic manufacturers. This system although not perfect does allow for both companies and patients to prosper but must be coupled with scrutiny and regulation which is often lacking.

    The against argument is equally powerful, as it is easy to envisage farmers being exploited by seed companies which are often large multinationals. When considering the utilitarian argument, there should be more focus on the benefit to the consumer as this stakeholder is carries the most weight in this framework. If farmers are able to produce more stable yields this could offset the costs of seeds and benefit both parties. The danger is where farmers have limited choice which in the real world is not always corrected in the free market, more research into the examples of this would be great.

    Overall I really enjoyed reading the article, as I have not encountered this topic and provides a provoking debate.

  15. I agree with the conclusion that the risks need to be properly thought through before allowing such technology.

    For me the utilitarian argument against the technology is strong. It isn’t fair at all to impose this technology on the most vulnerable farmers and force them to buy of the seed companies as it leaves them in a position to be exploited.

    Interesting article about a subject that I didn’t know about before- great read.

  16. Very interesting reading the complex issues on both sides of the argument. I enjoyed it being layered on a Utilitarian to Kantian ethical framework.

    It seem to me that the need to help farmers in the developing world is ethically paramount and the answer may well lie in regulation. The research and development undertaken by the companies requires an investment return, otherwise why do it. On the other hand it is likely that their planned returns are based on sales to the developed world and in this I am struck with parallels with the drugs industry. A regulator could develop reduced rate (or even free of charge) terminator seeds for developing nations. A regulator such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations could also ensure that the seed companies were unable to play being God.

  17. Very interesting read about the sorry state of the agricultural industry. Considering that over 50% of the world commercial seed market is controlled by just 3 major companies, it would be absurd to be invested in the belief that they would act in the public interest with little viable competition and I’m pleased to see you share a fear of the implications of the monopoly. With genetic modification being such a profitable and powerful technology with an apparent increasing significance in our future it is troubling to think about an emerging world in which genes for sale could herald overreaching commercialisation of the building blocks of life itself.

  18. Interesting read about something I was not aware of. I personally feel the food chain should not be monopolised by a handful of seed companies. Bioengineering firms should be offering any help possible to ease working farmers problems in the climate changed world we live in today. I like how you pick up on this with GM crops being drought and pest resistance so to install these GM crops with terminator technology is indeed “seedy business”. From a utilitarian point of view the technology does not benefit the many, it only offers profit to the few.

    1. I agree that it would be a lovely world to live in if these huge companies looked out for the little guy, but how reasonable is it to assume a company would stick to?
      I admit that I’ll always look out for number one as long as it doesn’t negatively impact anyone else. And these “negative impacts” are just companies trying to stop people stealing their hard work!
      I don’t see that they are doing anything wrong if we are going to see an improvement in technology in the near future!

      1. I agree, and not just protecting their hard work! They’re protecting the environment from cross contamination with agricultural genes into wild species. Esp for crops that could be designed to produce bio plastics and pharmaceuticals. GURT could be a v valuable technology to protect both the environment and research costs

  19. Nice read!

    I’ve recently read in the news that these seeds are trying to be made commercial in Brazil so very relevant.

    In my personal opinion these seeds are clearly only for the benefit of the corporation and are just another way to move towards monopolisation. These business already make enough money to fund the research and are making billions of profit. Potentially pricing out poor farmers preventing cheap food to many poorer nations to make some more money seems ridiculous!

    I hope these are never implemented!

  20. I’m not sure how far I would go as to criticise these large corporations. Although terminator seeds would allow them to control their patents more closely, giving them more potential power, I do not believe that this would take money away from the poor.

    I believe this is a similar case to what is seen in the pharmaceutical industries, although they may be able to charge more for a superior product, the price is always location dependant. For example, a vaccine in America will usually be much more expensive than the same version in India. This is due to demand and supply in different economic regions, the price of a product is set to its worth to the people who can purchase it. Also these major corporations would not want to miss out on any potential financial gains from the large farming populations (usually poorer people). Therefore, seeds will always be available to these people.

    For this reason I think that terminator technology is utilitarian in nature as it does not have such an ill effect on poorer nations.

  21. Funny Picture Guys! Whoever designed that should be a graphic designer!

    These seeds sound quite useful. I understand why you there is a potential scare of companies owning all the food sources but I can’t imagine that ever being a problem. Plus I’m sure they could just sell the seeds cheaper in the countries with poorer farmers.

    Also farmers are already using GM crops and having to constantly buy the newest one to compete with other farmers. I’m sure this isn’t every season unlike the seeds would be, but with the benefit of bio-safety I am quite interested in the implementation of these.

    1. Haha thanks we’re quite proud of it.

      I think the worry with monopolisation is the loss of the free market. If a single company (e.g. Monsanto) controls the entire market, then they will not be forced to maintain low prices or even maximum quality products to ensure they are successful in the face of competition. Of course they could sell the seeds cheaper to developing countries but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will…

  22. Interesting article. I’d never heard of these before but I think the prevention of gene leakage isn’t touched upon enough. Many of our interesting crops have been produced from cross-pollination and maybe many more in the future. If this technology can stop GM genes that aren’t natural leaking into the environment then why wouldn’t you want to do that? I’m very much for these seeds. Plus companies need to make money !

    1. I agree completely. Especially as many of the crops that would be using GURT technology already make use of gene patents. I have heard numerous stories of court cases and farmers being fined heavily for inadvertently planting seeds that have patented genes. Seeds that make use of GURT technology would avoid problems with cross-contamination and accidental planting of GM crops.

      1. Thanks for the comments guys.

        Something that wasn’t included in this article given the word count constraint was the counter argument for terminator seeds’ effect upon the environment. Whilst proponents of the technology state that the seeds will prevent the escape of transgenes from GM crops, there is also the fear that the terminator genes themselves may have the capability to escape. This could be disastrous; imagine the leakage of genes encoding sterility into the environment and the effects it would have upon biodiversity.

        While at this stage this is purely speculative and isn’t based upon much, I do think it’s an interesting point to consider. You can read more about it from the following article:

        http://www.adonline.id.au/terminatorseeds/transfer-to-wild-plants/

  23. I firmly believe that it is of paramount importance to preserve bio-security by preventing transfer and mutation of GM genes. Despite the research going into this, we frankly have no idea of the consequences of cross pollination. Have you seen day of the triffids?!?! However, progress should not be stopped for fear of the unknown and GM crops are the only way i see us being able to meed the food demands of the future and sustain our pillage of Earth’s resources, especially in regions that have been most affected by global warming.
    It is unfortunate that the people affected most by this are further strong-armed by the (western) monopoly controlling their food supply. The bio-security risk is a convenient argument for said companies but this does not excuse them pricing out the farmers and the people most at risk that the technology is “there to help”. Sadly, this is the way of the world and i don’t see how an engineer could have a say in this…

    Nevertheless, this is a great article highlighting some of the issues many are not aware of

  24. I’m no scientist but creating this new technology that causes seeds to kill themselves just doesn’t sit right with me. I think there’s something morally wrong with that. Yes I know I eat vegetables and it’s the same sort of thing, but making something die on purpose isn’t the right thing to do in my opinion. How long before they try to implement this on animals for some skewed reason???

    1. I’m not sure that I stand with you fully. I agree that designing something to kill itself is fundamentally wrong but we are taking about crops here. They have no notion of feelings or conscious.
      I doubt the day would ever come where any form of society would allow that type of technology to be implemented in a conscious being so we should not use that as an argument for this issue.

  25. Great Picture. Made me chuckle.

    Seems a pretty straight forward ethical argument to me. Implementing these seeds doesnt seem to benefit the many at all. I think “Is it fair to restrict poor farmers from accessing genetically superior crops, the people who arguably need them the most?” sums it up for me. If I was a poor farmer I’d hate this and it seems like it’ll affect more people negatively than positively. Plus seeds are basically babies and you wouldn’t want your baby being killed on birth.

  26. These seeds sound very scary. I can’t believe these corporations want to make seeds that destroy themselves just to make some more money. They’re rich enough as it is! Disgraceful! If I was one of these farmers I’d be extremely angry. They struggle to afford to live. Absolutely disgraceful these companies are!

  27. Something that was discussed in the article but hasn’t yet been picked up on by commenters is the nature of this technology itself, regardless of its consequences. One of the definitions of life we are taught at school is the ability to reproduce – what does this mean if we take this away from these crops? I understand genetic modification has been going on for ages but this is taking it to the next level in my opinion. It shows a blatant disregard for the instrinsic value of life.

    1. That’s a very interesting argument, its so hard to know where to draw the line over what is natural and allowed. GM crops are planted across the world already, gurt tech could stop these GM genes entering the natural environment. I do agree it feels very unsettling to engineer plants that cannot reproduce, it is the main purpose of life after all. I suppose maybe the line should have been drawn way back before these GM crops became so prevalent.

  28. Very interesting argument although it seems to be a morality vs corporation greed. However we don’t know for certain whether this technology was produced by the scientists as a useful technology to help the worlds food supply or deliberately made as a way to enforce their patents to make more profit. Either way I agree that from a utilitarianism point of view that this won’t benefit the many and I believe this argument is the strongest for this dilemma.

  29. The ethics of this debate really interest me. I am not sure if the argument of utilitarianism supporting the technology is valid. Yes, increased funding into R&D will advance technology and hence benefit future generations which with a growing population does mean billions of people. However, unborn future generations are not technically people yet whereas the majority of farmers alive today look to be harmed by these seeds. It makes a lot more sense to me to argue utilitarianism against the seeds, as not only will poor farmers be impact, but every person that is dependent on their supply of food.

  30. The article is very much correct that the bioengineering companies are acting in an egotistical manner but this immediately represents a selfish thought process which negates the utilitarian ethical argument. Farmers if they want to should buy GM crops as given the research put into the seeds there will already be a premium put on the seeds which is fair enough. In turn, maybe the most advanced seeds deserve to not to be recropped given the time and money spent by the bioengineering companies hence terminator technology could be implemented in said seeds. However, when you factor in the poorest of farmers or subsistenance farmers it cant be regarded ethical to implement the technology into all GM seeds. Potentially some regulatory board such as the food standards agency could regulate how terminator technology is implemented. Furthermore subsidiaries could potentially be organised for poorer 3rd world countries hence generating cheaper seeds.

  31. This debate raises some interesting points and has become more critical as we are faced with a growing population to feed. In my opinion,I see the advantage of using these seeds to boost agricultural production for poorer populations and underdeveloped areas that have difficulty growing climates. However,the sustainability of this idea is what I question. Having third world farmers shifting their focus to purchasing seed each year as opposed to saving seed from the year to plant the following year is a much more ethical and sustainable approach and is one I favour.

  32. I found this a very interesting read that presented both sides of the argument thoroughly and fairly. As something I hadn’t really considered until reading this article, my immediate response relates to the question discussed of ‘are terminator seeds playing God?’. If terminator seeds are playing God, then the GM crops that they are intended to prevent from dominating the natural environment with monoculture certainly are too. While I agree that GM crops are almost a necessity now to feed our ever growing global population, I think that to enable the populations in need of this engineering support the most to continue farming sustainably, a balance needs to be found between utilisation of GM and non-GM crops. Access to seeds that can thrive in the available growing conditions is important, as is maintaining biodiversity of the environment, but it is unrealistic to expect, and indeed unethical to force farmers in under developed areas to repeatedly and frequently spend a proportion of their income on terminator seeds. More traditional methods to maintain biodiversity, such as crop rotation where possible, should be implemented to allow both crops and farming communities to thrive.

  33. I think it seems pretty obvious to me that these big seed companies are really acting for themself and are not concerned about farmers. This has been proven in the past by the tragic pandemic of Indian farmer suicides which occured when India opened up its seed sector to Monsanto etc., where due to their rushed introduction and monoculture nature, harvests were poor (I’ll leave a link for the blog I read about it). The fact these corporations are more concerned about profits than care for their fellow humans worries me and leads me to believe this should be banned.

    Here’s the blog: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/vandana-shiva/from-seeds-of-suicide-to_b_192419.html

  34. hey guys I really enjoying this, something I hadn’t ever encountered before. It strikes me that these corporations are trying to push their special GM crops on the developing world but i dont think it needs them. As you said in the article farmers usually save their seeds and trade them etc. to develop crops over time with proper resistances to local conditions like pests, soil or whatever. the GM seeds may have special resistances designed into them but they havent properly evolved to suit local conditions meaning them probably wont work as well. whats more the fact is that if they are monoculture then a single virus come could along and wipe all the crops out leaving no food left. I know we have to feed a growing population but the techniques farmers from developing countries use have evolved over years and i dont think we should interfere with that

  35. I think the idea of a company owning a seed is completely bizarre. Seeds have evolved over millions of years. We couldn’t exist without them, and quite frankly they are a work of art. How can modifying a tiny part of a seeds huge genetic code mean that you own it? If I was to put a scratch on the Mona Lisa, would that make it mine?

    As I read in another article, “Corporations did not create seeds and many are challenging the existing patent system that allows private companies to assert ownership over a resource that is vital to survival and that historically has been in the public domain”.

  36. I find topics such as these very sickening. Being from an older generation technology such as this is very concerning. I would have never believed such a technology existed whilst I was growing up. I can’t imagine how you could patent something that is such a fundamental part of life. What would happen if all the food crops were owned by such a minority who had the power to refuse food to the world? Having never seen these ethical frameworks before I did a quick yahoo on the Kant’s theory that you mentioned in the article. I strongly agree with this principle in terms of this argument that the seeds can’t be argued to be good in all contexts and therefore should definitely stay banned.

  37. I believe we need to start looking at the bigger picture as a human race. I imagine with the rate of growth of GM foods, preventing these seeds from being reproduced is just going to lead to the majority of seeds needing to be manufactured. What a waste of time and resources that is… plus putting the power into these greedy companies, especially Monsanto who have always been in the news for as long as I can remember for pulling dirty tricks. Even in developed countries I don’t think its fair for farmers with money either as I believe they will end up under the hook of these corporations and not have any choice to use another product form another company. I discussed it with my husband and he was also against the use straight away. Maybe a bias with GM crops as we are both against it but nevertheless they should never come into commercialisation in my opinion. Great article!

  38. I agree that R&D cannot be pursued if companies profits are harmed by the loss of revenue. But the scale of revenue coming from small scale farmers is fairly insignificant (>2%) in proportion to industrial farming seen in developed countries.

    So by making seeds financially inaccessible to poorer farmers there would be huge impacts on local communities without major financial benefits to seed companies.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/small-vs-large-which-size-farm-is-better-for-the-planet/2014/08/29/ac2a3dc8-2e2d-11e4-994d-202962a9150c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.458b91923a29

  39. How both sides of the debated were presented was great, however I do think in terms of actual ethics the argument against this novel technology is much stronger. For me, the utilitarian framework explained is the most prominent. To strive for a better world, surely we should make the decisions that benefit the majority of people, in this case farmers, rather than biotech firms?

    Having said that I do appreciate the requirements for funding for R&D to further agricultural production but I don’t think, honestly, this technology has been developed with this primarily in mind; it seems more like a cash grab scheme.

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