The latest development is the advent of Terminator seeds, the production of seed that is sterile or suicidal by nature – or only reproduces upon the addition of certain external inputs (also called Gurts). Meanwhile, seeds as well as individually isolated DNA-sequences have become subject to industrial patenting. Plant variety protection under the global UPOV system (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) has extended to include fees for re-planting of seeds and to incorporate industrial patent rights on GMOS.
The World Trade Organization, under its Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement (TRIPs) obliges member states to introduce a general IPR system on plants. In addition, following the breakdown of the WTO talks in July 2006, industrialized countries are intensifying. The imposition of IPR laws on developing countries through an acceleration of bilateral trade agreements. These are further undermining the potential of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), an agreement that includes securing the exchange of seed under the emerging new global IPR.
The WTO TRIPs agreement, and its Article 27.3(b) on plants, seed and biodiversity, was up for review in 1999. Formal submissions have been made by many countries of the South to exclude life forms, including seeds, from patenting. This review of TRIPs has not been undertaken and must be carried out as a matter of priority.
II b. Privatization of Seed
The artificial split of the nature of seed as production tool and product and its transformation into a sheer commodity extends into most areas of industrial agriculture today, despite the fact that it is subject to controversy and fights, especially in rural areas of developing countries.
At the same time an unprecedented global concentration of private seed companies is taking place. Small seed companies as well as entire national seed collections and institutions are being bought up at comparatively moderate prices by agro-chemical multi-national companies.
For these companies seeds are but one component of their sales packages of agricultural and chemical input, and just another strategy to vertically integrate the global market of agricultural commodities for food and non-food purposes. The transformation of a common resource into a commodity, of a self- regenerative resource into mere ʻinputʼ under the control of the corporate sector, changes the nature of the seed and of agriculture itself. It robs peasants of their means of livelihood and the new technology becomes an instrument of poverty and underdevelopment, one that has displaced huge numbers of farmers.
Public funding for seed development and conservation has been steadily dwindling and has reached today such low levels that even major seed collections are under threat and increasingly depend upon so called public/private partnerships. Such partnerships open the way for private seed companies to further expand their IPR-based control over the global seed stock. While public seed collections are obliged to provide samples of their stocks free of charge, private companies are free to choose not to participate in this system of free exchange and take advantage of it for their own interests. In addition, every new step of corporate concentration of seed stocks comes with a reduction of seed varieties as well as a reduction of the number of breeders and scientists maintaining these seed stocks.