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2-Plants: Monsanto waits for studies before commercializing Terminator technology

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TITLE:  Monsanto will wait for studies of disputed new gene technology
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA
DATE:   April 23, 1999

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Monsanto will wait for studies of disputed new gene technology

Monsanto's "terminator technology" may not be terminated, but neither will it be germinated soon because of the global furor it has caused. St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. announced Thursday that it would not market the controversial new gene technology until the completion of studies that examine the environmental, economic and social effects. "We believe that the concerns about gene protection technologies should be heard and carefully considered before any decisions are made to commercialize them," the company said in a statement.

So-called terminator technology is one of the seed-sterilization methods being developed to prevent genetically modified seeds from being used for free. If crops produce sterile seeds, farmers must buy new seeds at the next planting. For Monsanto, Thursday's announcement amounts to a retreat from its spirited defense of the technology. Philip Angell, Monsanto's director of communications, said the company had taken its new position "because the reaction to terminator in a lot of different quarters in many countries was clearly becoming the dominant discussion about biotechnology." Angell said Monsanto had consulted with prominent scientists before issuing its statement, which he described as "recognition that we need some level of public acceptance to do our business." Monsanto is not alone in developing the technology, which is believed to be several years from the market. But Monsanto has drawn most of the heat because of a widely publicized U.S. patent for sterilization awa!
rded last year to theDepartment of Agriculture and a Mississippi seed company that Monsanto is acquiring.

In parts of the world, seed-saving is fiercely protected. Farmers and their advocates fear the loss of this age-old practice along with diminished seed choices that they see resulting from recent consolidation of seed companies by Monsanto and its rivals. Farmers have reacted angrily, even violently, to the prospect of these changes. In November, members of a farm cooperative in India - where 70 percent of farmers save seeds - burned two of Monsanto's experimental fields. Meanwhile, scientists and farm economists in the world's largest agriculture research network - the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research- voted late last year to condemn the technology.

It was unclear who would conduct new studies and when. A United Nations scientific and technology panel organized under the Convention on Biological Diversity already is studying terminator technologies, and several countries are pushing for wider U.N. involvement. The International Food Policy Research Institute also may be studying the issue. Phil Pardey, a research fellow for the Washington-based institute, referred Thursday to "a woeful lack of understanding of the potential impacts on both developed and developing nations." Jim Moody, president of Washington-based InterAction, said he had agreed to help disseminate information about the technology to the 160 organizations under his umbrella. InterAction is known primarily for helping refugees and disaster victims. The Rural Advancement Foundation International, which has offices in the United States and Canada, coined the terminator technology phrase and has been the most vocal critic of plant sterility research. The foun!
dation's Hope Shand predicted that studies will recommend that the technology be dropped.

Monsanto often has fought for global acceptance of biotechnology with little help from rivals, and it may be alone in the terminator controversy. A spokeswoman for Swiss-based Novartis, Monsanto's main rival in the business of genetic science, referred to the issue as "a Monsanto matter" and declined tocomment. A DuPont spokesman said his company had no plan to pursue the technology.


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