GURT, also called terminator technology, is a biotech-based strategy that prevents seeds from germinating in the next growing season unless treated chemically by the seed company prior to planting. When seeds of crop varieties (containing this kind of genetic manipulation) are purchased from the company and planted, they germinate and grow normally but produce seeds that do not germinate when saved by the farmers for sowing during the following season. Thus, healthy and high yielding plants are genetically commanded to produce ‘sterile’ seeds preventing the farmers to use them for the next season’s planting. The technology was first developed by theDelta & PineLand, a multinational seed company, and the US Department of Agriculture. If commercialized, ‘terminator’ would compel farmers to purchase fresh seeds from the company every year. It is bad for agricultural biodiversity and worse for the small and marginal farmers.
Farmers have to purchase seeds of high yielding hybrid varieties because seeds produced by the hybrid plants are not uniform and their production capacity decreases in successive seasons. Hybrid varieties are not yet popular in self-fertilised crop plants like wheat and rice whose seeds are normally replaced after five years or so and that too on exchange among the farmers. Multinational seed companies intend to prevent this traditional practice through GURTs.
It is noteworthy thatIndiaopted to enact its sui generis system (PPVFR Act 2001) for protection of crop varieties as required under the WTO-TRIPS provisions. The Indian system is largely compliant to an accepted international system for variety protection, called UPOV 1978, that permits farmers to use saved-seeds and also exempts researchers in using seeds of protected varieties. These two exemptions distinguish this system from its more recent version called UPOV 1991 which does not permit them and operates more like the patenting system. GURTs can be employed to achieve this objective without the need to seek protection or patenting of new seed varieties.
The International Agricultural Research Centre, operating under CGIAR, decided in 2000 against the use of this technology andIndiawas the first country to block its entry. The Government of India has further strengthened this action through Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001. Its section 29 (3) states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (2) and sub-sections (1) and (3) of section 15, no variety of any genus or species which involves ‘any technology’ injurious to the life or health of human beings, animals or plants shall be registered under this Act. For the purposes of this subsection, the expression “any technology” includes genetic use restriction technology and terminator technology.”