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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.
This type of GURT produces sterile seeds, so the seed from this crop could not be used as seeds, but only for sale as food or fodder. 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.
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.
This article needs to be updated.(October 2013)
Terminator seeds were initially developed as a concept by the United States Department of Agriculture and multinational seed companies. As of 2006, they had not been commercialized anywhere in the world due to opposition from farmers, consumers, indigenous peoples, NGOs, and some governments. This opposition mostly cropped up due to concerns on the behalf of these parties. With this technology, companies that manufacture genetic use restriction technologies stand to make a lot of money because the seeds that they sell cannot be resown. Those who are purchasing the seeds would be greatly impacted, given that they now have to buy new seeds every year, which could reduce the amount of money that the farmers can make. Farmers making less money is also bad for the consumers, given that the farmers need to maintain their businesses, so the use of GURT technologies could lead to higher prices for consumers. 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 and the language strengthened in March 2006, at the COP8 meeting of the UNCBD.India and Brazil have passed national laws to prohibit the technology.
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.