Plant Science Portal 
Benefits of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies

Delta & Pine Land Company is not the only company to have developed Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs).

AstraZeneca have developed their own system, which also received a US patent in 1998 (Bridges et al. 1998). Another was awarded to Syngenta in 2001 (RAFI 2001a). Halweil (2000) stated that “...more than a dozen companies and public institutes hold at least 31 patents that involve seed sterilization (sic). These patents are pending in more than 80 countries”.

RAFI (2001c) provided a comprehensive list of companies with ‘terminator’ patents, shown below:
Figure 4: A schedule of companies with patents on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies.
Figure 4: A schedule of companies with patents on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies.
Key reasons for developing Genetic Use Restriction Technologies include the opening up of new markets for seed companies in second- and third-world countries (Halwiel 2000), protecting US agriculture and gene technology (Shand & Mooney 1998, Oliver & Velten unpub) and allowing commercial financing of breeding research into self-fertile crops (Gupta 1998, Delta & Pine Land Company 2001).

It is well recognised that the protection of intellectual property (IP) is a major reason for the development of TPS. In third-world countries, there is considerable upset about the impact TPS and other transgenic crops may have on their mostly-poor farmers. India took a lead on this issue and was the first country to ban TPS (Edwards 1998; POA 2000). This followed violent protests in India where farmers torched transgenic cotton in a protest called “Operation Cremation Monsanto” (Ivins 1999).

However, not all developing countries are so fervently opposed to transgenic crops.

According to Epstein (1999), Brasilian farmers were upset when a federal court judge temporarily halted Monsanto’s plans to market transgenic soy in that country. Some farmers were keen to purchase the seed on the understanding that it may lower costs through the reduced requirement for fungicides, herbicides and insecticides which obviously has environmental benefits as well. One farmer told Epstein (1999) that he could save up to US$70 per hectare with GM crops. Jackson (1998) cited further cases of considerable financial and environmental savings (through a lesser use of chemicals) made with transgenic crops. It is understandable, given this scenario, why the developers of these technologies wanted to protect them.

Australia has recognised plant breeders rights for about 20 years.

The issue was first considered in 1982 and then again in 1984 by a Senate Standing Committee (Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 1984). The Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 was enacted but replaced later with the current Plant Breeders Rights Act 1994, an act of the Commonwealth Parliament which provides breeders with legal protection of a plant variety. Australia, like New Zealand (PVRO 2001), is a signatory to the inter-governmental International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants [UPOV] (AFFA 2001).

The UPOV agreement spells out how member countries should offer legal protection for plant developers. One key clause states:

“…each Contracting Party may, within reasonable limits and subject to the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of the breeder, restrict the breeders right…to use for propagating purposes, on their own holdings, the product of the harvest which they have obtained by planting…the protected variety” (Article 15, Sect. 2 (UPOV 1991))

However, in a footnote that forms part of UPOV (1991), the following is stated:

“[The above] should not be read so as to be intended to open the possibility of extending the practice commonly called “farmers’ privilege” to sectors of agricultural or horticultural production in which such a practice is not a common practice…”.  (UPOV 1991)

The above clause is designed to limit a farmer’s right to collect seed for the purposes of sowing the following year. This has caused concern with some groups as it appears to hand more power to the plant breeders and less to farmers (Gupta 1998). Indeed, when a proposal was made recently to conserve and share the genetic resources of the world's major food crops, Australia objected to the scheme which involved a tax on royalties of transgenic crops; preferring instead to allow PBR to be applied to all crops (RAFI 2001b).


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