Genetic use restriction technology
Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology or suicide seeds, is the name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile. The technology was developed under a cooperative research and development agreement between the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and Delta and Pine Land company in the 1990s, but it is not yet commercially available.
Because some stakeholders expressed concerns that this technology might lead to dependence for small farmers, Monsanto Company, an agricultural products company and the world's biggest seed supplier, pledged not to commercialize the technology in 1999. Customers who buy patented transgenic seeds from Monsanto must sign a contract not to save or sell the seeds from their harvest, which preempts the need for a "terminator gene". The Delta and Pine Land Company, which had performed greenhouse tests of Terminator seeds and owned a Canadian patent on Terminator granted on October 11 2005, intended to commercialize the technology, but D&PL was acquired by Monsanto in 2007.
There are conceptually two types of GURT:
- V-GURT: This type of GURT produces sterile seeds meaning that a farmer that had purchased seeds containing V-GURT technology could not save the seed from this crop for future planting. This would not have an immediate impact on the large number of primarily western farmers who use hybrid seeds, as they do not produce their own planting seeds, and instead buy specialized hybrid seeds from seed production companies. However, currently around 80 percent of farmers in both Brazil and Pakistan grow crops based on saved seeds from previous harvests. Consequentially, resistance to the introduction of GURT technology into developing countries is strong. The technology is restricted at the plant variety level, hence the term V-GURT. Manufacturers of genetically enhanced crops would use this technology to protect their products from unauthorised use.
- T-GURT: A second type of GURT modifies a crop in such a way that the genetic enhancement engineered into the crop does not function until the crop plant is treated with a chemical that is sold by the biotechnology company. Farmers can save seeds for use each year. However, they do not get to use the enhanced trait in the crop unless they purchase the activator compound. The technology is restricted at the trait level, hence the term T-GURT.
Initially developed as a concept by the United States Department of Agriculture and multinational seed companies, Terminator seeds have not been commercialized anywhere in the world due to opposition from farmers, indigenous peoples, NGOs, and some governments. In 2000, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity recommended a de facto moratorium on field-testing and commercial sale of terminator seeds; the moratorium was re-affirmed in 2006. India and Brazil have passed national laws to prohibit the technology.
Possible advantages 
Non-viable seeds produced on V-GURT plants may reduce the propagation of volunteer plants. Volunteer plants can become an economic problem for larger-scale mechanized farming systems that incorporate crop rotation.
Use of V-GURT technology could prevent escape of transgenes into wild relatives and prevent any impact on biodiversity. Crops modified to produce non-food products could be armed with GURT technology to prevent accidental transmission of these traits into crops destined for foods.
See also 
- Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
- Convention on biological diversity
- Diamond v. Chakrabarty
- Genetic pollution
- Hybrid seed
- Genetically modified organism
- Seed saving
- Transgenic maize
- Digital rights management
- International Seed Federation Position Paper on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (Bangalore, June 2003) http://www.worldseed.org/cms/medias/file/PositionPapers/OnSustainableAgriculture/Genetic_Use_Restriction_Technologies_20030611_(En).pdf
- Vidal, John (1999). "World braced for terminator 2". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-01-28.
- Warwick, Hugh (October 2000). In Wijeratna, Alex; Meienberg, François; Meienberg. Syngenta – Switching off farmers' rights? (PDF). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved Saturday, 23 October 2010.
- "Monsanto Company Completes Acquisition of Delta and Pine Land Company, Seeks Approval of Related Divestitures". June 1, 2007.
- Scientific explanation of Terminator Technology
- USPTO Patent Number 5,723,765 - method for producing a seed incapable of germination, (claim no. 10)
- Sterile Seeds audio broadcast on Kootenay Co-op Radio's Deconstructing Dinner program
- International Seed Federation: Position Paper Supporting GURT development
- Ban Terminator Organization
- Detailed timeline of history of Terminator Technology
- UN Convention on Biological Diversity - Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
- Eco-matters website, providing resources from Progressio, Chair of the UK Working Group on Terminator Technology