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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Monsanto Co. Drops 'Terminator' Program

ST. LOUIS -- The Monsanto Co., one of the giants in agribusiness, has promised not to experiment with biotechnology that leaves seeds sterile - a possibility that has raised fears among critics of gene manipulation.

Monsanto chairman Robert Shapiro said concerns have made it important to stress his commitment against the practice of manipulating three genes to make a seed good for only one planting cycle.

His comments were contained in a letter sent to Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which says gene-altered crops can help reduce world hunger but opposes the idea of sterile seeds.

On Monday, Conway called Monsanto's decision a first step in making "the fruits of plant biotechnology" available to poor farmers worldwide.

Producing crops with infertile seeds - dubbed the "terminator" technology by critics - could prove very valuable to agribusinesses, which already make genetically altered seeds resistant to insects and herbicides.

Opponents fear companies could begin offering those traits only in sterile seeds, which would require farmers to buy them each year rather than replanting seeds gathered from mature crops.

Monsanto has been criticized over the issue even though it didn't develop the technology, hasn't done research on making sterile seeds and doesn't expect sterile seeds to become a commercial prospect for at least five years.

The terminator technology was developed by the U.S. AgricultureDepartment and Delta and Pine Land Co.

It was patented in 1998, two months before Monsanto offered to buy Delta, a bid awaiting antitrust review by the Justice Department.