The Terminator

This is one tough little seed

Gardening, Hudson Valley Seed Library, environmental living, terminator, seeds, sustainable

The seed world is abuzz with a new technology known as the terminator gene. In what was originally a taxpayer funded project, researchers created a specific genetic sequence which when implanted in a seed renders that seed, and the plant it grows into, sterile. Saving seed from that plant is useless – nothing will grow. Scary? Yes. But as Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, points out, it’s just one item in a long list of concerns.

“It’s interesting, terminator seeds have really struck a cord with people, but I think it’s largely because of the name “terminator,” he says. “They’re not that widely used yet, so right now I’m far more concerned with what’s happening with alfafa, or the fact that Monsanto has 95 percent of the soybean market.”

In addition, he says, we already widely employ a technology that renders seeds unable to be saved – hybridization. Seeds from a hybrid plant will not reliably produce similar offspring. “You have to buy hybrid seeds every year,” says Greene. “There’s no specific technology in them making a plant sterile, but the effect is the same – you can't save the seeds.”

As Greene sees it, terminator seeds are just the latest signifier of an array of problems within our food system and the seed industry.  “These technologies are being rushed and pushed through based on the market and how much money can be made,” he says. “There aren’t adequate studies about the long term health and environmental impacts of many of the technologies utilized in agriculture today.”