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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Did a Bond film inspire Monsanto's Terminator gene?

The James Bond film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is on ITV today. Released in 1969, the movie, scripted by Richard Maibaum, features Telly Savalas as the villain Blofeld. His scheme is to threaten the use of a biological agent that will permanently render infertile selected crops and animals.

In reality, the technology for this was developed much later in the USA - the patent application was not submitted until 1994. Its potential is, to use an overused word, awesome. Imagine the profit - and power - if you could make the world's farmers buy their seeds from you afresh, every year. Or refuse them.
"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," says Wikipedia article on "genetic use restriction technology".

Monsanto bought Delta and Pine Land in 2007 for $1.5 billion, having previously (1999) pledged never to "commercialise gene protection systems that render seed sterile". (Note the careful use of the word "commercialise".)

That hasn't stopped Monsanto from patenting seeds and suing farmers whose crops have been inadvertently contaminated by GM plants. In 2011, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association brought a lawsuit challenging what they saw as the aggressive pursuit of such patent claims, but it was thrown out and a year ago the US Supreme Court upheld the decision.

As Ludwell Denny said in "America Conquers Britain" (1930):

"We shall not make Britain's mistake. Too wise to try to govern the world, we shall merely own it. Nothing can stop us. What chance has Britain against America? Or what chance has the world?"

From the review of the book in the Sydney Morning Herald (7 April 1930)

Denny did not foresee that eventually it would be, not nation against nation or empire against empire, but multinational corporations over all. We shall be managed, farmed...

Bond villains are not so implausible, then.


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Wildgoose said...

I recommend the reading of a superb SF novel called "The Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi.

It is based in Thailand and set in a devastated future world in which fossil fuels have run out, bio-engineered plagues have been unleashed and the new powers are the "Calorie Companies" who sell infertile seeds for food crops.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Sackerson said...

Great link, thank you!

Sackerson said...

JD comments:

On Monsanto:

This is worth reading-

... and I seem to recall Rupert Sheldrake helping to improve crop yields for Indian farmers without resorting to chemical interference.