GM crops giant Monsanto pulls out of Europe
By Robert Uhlig
The Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2003
Monsanto, the American pioneer of genetically modified crops, said Wednesday it was pulling out of its European cereal seed business. The move was widely seen as a sign that it has given up hopes of introducing GM cereals in Europe.
It announced its decision on the eve of Thursday's publication of results of farm-scale British evaluations of GM crops, the final and most influential part of the Government's investigation into whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially. The trials, which investigated the effect of GM maize, oilseed rape and sugar beet on farmland wildlife and biodiversity, are expected to give a mixed verdict on the technology.
Two other Government reports on the economic benefits of growing GM crops and on scientific understanding of their environmental and health effects have also failed to present a strong case for rushing into commercial GM cultivation.
There are also questions about the value of the GM maize trials, which did not take the vital factor of crop yield into account.
Monsanto's announcement that it wants to sell its cereal development stations at Cambridge, England, and in France, Germany and the Czech Republic, followed hardening resistance to GM crops throughout Europe.
Insurers are not prepared to underwrite GM farmers, and 98 per cent of 37,000 participants in GM Nation?, a public consultation, told the Government they did not want GM crops or food.
Jeff Cox, Monsanto's general manager for northern Europe, said the withdrawal from Europe was to allow the company to realign its business to "focus on those projects that will best capitalise on in its market and technological strengths".
He said the company needed to save up to pounds 65 million and would be making one in 11 of its workers redundant worldwide.
When Monsanto bought Plant Breeding International Cambridge from Unilever in 1998, Hugh Grant, then president of Monsanto's agricultural division, said GM crops would be commercial reality in Britain by this year.
Anti-GM lobbyists said the withdrawal was a sign that Monsanto was "throwing in the towel" in Europe. They said that with Canadian farmers campaigning against licensing Monsanto's GM wheat, the company was also facing severe resistance in North America.
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said Monsanto was ``pulling out after five years with no products to show and no test sites for Monsanto GM cereals in Britain this year''.
He said: "They are clearly backing off GM wheat in Europe, where until now they were the pioneer."
This week Margot Wallstrom, the European Union's environment commissioner, accused American biotechnology firms of lying about the benefits of GM technology and trying to force it on people''.
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