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Terminator Seeds and Social Order

Lord Krishna says that godless materialists produce “unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world.” If you think this just means nuclear bombs, check out the latest from Monsanto, the folks who brought us Bovine Growth Hormones. On March 3, 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Delta & Pine Land Co. (acquired in May by Monsanto) announced they had obtained a U.S. patent for a technique that genetically alters a seed in such a way that the crop grown from that seed will produce seeds that won’t germinate.

That could be a big problem for traditional farmers, who use seeds from their own crops. So why invent such a seed—coined “the Terminator seed”? Monsanto says the seed will benefit the hungry of the world, because if everyone has to buy new seeds every year, that will encourage seed companies to invest more money in developing improved seeds with high protein, extra vitamins, more insecticides, herbicide-resistant traits, and so on.

But Chilean agronomist Camila Montecinos expressed alarm: “It’s likely that pollen from crops carrying the Terminator trait will infect the fields of farmers who either reject or can’t afford the technology. … When farmers reach into their bins to sow seed the following season they would discover—too late—that some of their seed is sterile. This could lead to very high yield losses. … We could see … a general—even dramatic—decline in food security for the poorest farm communities.”

Others worry that insects and winds could bring sterilization to the fields of farmers who cannot afford to buy seeds. “It’s terribly dangerous,” says Hope Shand, research director for RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International). “Half the world’s farmers are poor and can’t afford to buy seed every growing season. Yet poor farmers grow 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food, and they directly feed at least 1.4 billion people. … These farmers depend upon saved seed …”

The Terminator seed could drive hundreds of millions of farmers out of agriculture. Some countries are banning the import of the seed.

Noting that science has come up with a potentially devastating product, M. S. Swaminathan, one of India’s foremost agricultural experts, observed, “Science gives you a lot of power, and you must have an ethical code to exercise that power.”

To have a potent ethical code, society’s primary goal must be spiritual advancement, rather than material. People drunk with their quest for power and willing to create devastating products can co-opt a spiritually lame society. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita that those who believe that material advancement is the goal of civilization are demoniac.

In a varnashrama society each person serves the Lord according to his or her ability and thereby gains satisfaction. But a society not organized for spiritual goals is driven by lust, greed, and competition. Those who have the greatest intellect do not devote their intellect to understanding spiritual science, as brahmanas would in a varnashrama society. Instead they become salaried scientific workers. And rather than providing spiritual guidance to the heads of state, they become servants of greedy merchants and businessmen.

Unlike kshatriyas in a varnashrama society, the heads of state in a materialistic society do not take guidance from brahmanas to organize society for the spiritual satisfaction of the citizens. Rather, leaders disempower themselves, bowing down to the interests of businessmen who run large corporations—at the expense of the welfare of the common citizen.

In a spiritually lame society, farmers and businessmen do not protect cows, provide food, or support saintly persons and spiritual activities. Rather, in large agribusinesses, farm workers become dependent serfs.

Finally, neither the brahmanas with their humility, austerity, and spiritualized intellect nor the kshatriyas with their analytical skills, power, and fatherly love of their citizens control society. Rather, control goes to the merchants, the wealthy corporations, whose criteria for success is profit.

A spiritually lame society will always create products like the Terminator seed. Only a spiritual society can produce things that benefit the world, because beneficial acts are possible only when society is devoted to pleasing and understanding God. The first step in creating a harmonious spiritual society? Sincerely chanting Hare Krishna to purify our hearts and minds, so that we may gain the humility to understand the desires of the Lord. Then there will be no more Terminator seeds.