Biotech's "radical rural campaigners" (18/8/2004)

The first article below refers to "the surprise emergence in France of a group of radical rural campaigners claiming to be in favour of open-field [GM] experiments".

So who are these "radical rural campaigners" with a taste for genetic contamination?

According to the article, they're led by Pierre Pagesse, "a farmer and the managing director of the French biotechnology firm Biogemma". Pagesse is also described as "president of Limagrain, a leading European seed company of which Biogemma is the research arm."

When ranked by sales, Limagrain was the 4th biggest seed company in the world (in 2000), with only DuPont (Pioneer), Monsanto and Syngenta outselling it. Like those agrochemical giants, Limagrain has invested heavily in GM crop R&D and has undertaken GM field trials.

In 1994 Limagrain took over the seed production assets of the French agrochemical giant Rhone-Poulenc, through an exchange of shares, which led to the creation of Limagrain Genetics International -83% owned by Limagrain and 17% by Rhone-Poulenc. The two companies also developed common research programmes for developing GM crops within a joint venture.

The biotech firm Biogemma was created by Limagrain in July 1997. In April 1998 RhoBio, a subsidiary common to Biogemma and Rhone-Poulenc was formed. RhoBio went on to become a joint venture with Aventis Crop Science and then Bayer Crop Science.

According to a report on Limagrain's innovation strategy, "At the same time that it created Biogemma, Limagrain also made the strategic decision to concentrate on biotechnology and agro-industrial activities, and to dedicate *all its resources* towards this goal." (emphasis added)

In other words Limagrain bet its shirt on biotech. As the report notes:

"biotechnology is one of the central themes for the company; and mastering biotechnology is seen as necessary if the group is to keep its identity and independence... resources, such as the company's capacity for research and development, are [therefore] earmarked for biotechnology."

The report identifies as a key challenge to this strategy: "the acceptability of GMOs". It also notes that, "ironically" investment in genomics "may provide a way to avoid transgenic methods altogether delivering it from the current controversy".

Under the leadership of Pierre Pagesse, however, rather than controversy being sidestepped,it is being embraced.

As Limagrain has farmers as shareholders and stakeholders, they may wish to consider the quality of Pagesse's strategic thinking and whether it isn't time for more intelligent leadership.

Limagrain also owns the United States-based company Biotechnica Agriculture. Limagrain Canada is owned by Monsanto (see second and third items below).

1.Rival groups in GM controversy clash in French maize field
2.Monsanto Acquires Limagrain Canada Seeds Inc.
3.Monsanto/Limagrain Genetic Engineering Error

1.Rival groups in GM controversy clash in French maize field
By Alex Duval Smith in Paris
The Independent, 17 August 2004

A new front has opened up in the controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food with the surprise emergence in France of a group of radical rural campaigners claiming to be in favour of open-field experiments.

In a maize field near Marsat in the Puy-de-Dôme at the weekend, gendarmes intervened after the anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové and 500 of his supporters came to blows with a new group describing itself as "volunteer farmers and researchers in favour of GMO tests".

The clash came amid growing signs that the French authorities are wavering in their opposition to open-field tests of GM crops, the seeds of which are developed in laboratories to be resistant to certain pests or to herbicides. In recent weeks even the conservative French wine-growing industry has announced it wishes to keep an open mind over the possible benefits of GMOs.

The weekend clash, which resulted in two arrests, was the first physical confrontation between the two camps. France - where anti-GMO campaigners trample experimental crops most weekends - has become Europe's main battleground over the issue, but police rarely intervene and most confrontations have been confined to courtrooms. Mr Bové has called on his supporters - known as "the volunteer reapers" - to step up their campaign of civil disobedience before a European Commission decision on the issue due this autumn.

The commission, which in May for the first time authorised the planting of a genetically modified maize seed manufactured by the Swiss company Syngenta, is divided and must decide by November whether to authorise the US chemical giant Monsanto to sell its transgenic NK603 maize in the EU.

Mr Bové's "volunteer reapers" said yesterday that the emergence of a group campaigning in favour of open-field tests was an attempt by the GMO industry to give a "grassroots flavour'' to its efforts to win over public opinion.

The Green MP Moisette Crosnier said: "Eighty per cent of Europeans are against GMOs in their food and 75 per cent of French people are opposed to open-field experiments. We have to keep up the pressure on the government and remind it of the will of the people.'' So far only 21 open-field GMO tests have been authorised on 48 plots totalling 7.3 hectares.

However, the "volunteer reapers'' have strong grassroots support and have convinced 3,000 French mayors to ban GMO tests in their area. One mayor, in Bax, Haute-Garonne, is facing court action by the prefect of his département who wants to overrule him. Last year, Mr Bové served six weeks in prison for destroying GM crops and he is due to be interviewed by police next week over an incident in Haute-Garonne at the end of July.

The "volunteer farmers and researchers in favour of GMOs'' are led by Pierre Pagesse, a farmer and the managing director of the French biotechnology firm Biogemma. He says he launched his group because the "continuing destruction of crops is playing into the hands of France's competitors".

He said: "At this rate European farming will fall behind. To have sustainable agriculture you first of all need to sustain the farmers."

Mr Pagesse is president of Limagrain, a leading European seed company of which Biogemma is the research arm.

Despite popular opposition to GMOs, the farming industry and French scientists are increasingly arguing that the phenomenon is unstoppable. The agriculture ministry has begun a process of public consultation by internet and a report by the French food security agency, AFSSA, last month claimed that GM maize and cotton, as well as beetroot and rice, showed health benefits.

2.Monsanto Acquires Limagrain Canada Seeds Inc.

Winnipeg, Manitoba - July 4, 2001— Limagrain Genetics Inc. (LGI) and Monsanto Canada announced today that the two companies have reached an agreement whereby Monsanto has acquired a 100 per cent equity position in Limagrain Canada Seeds Inc. (LCSI), a Saskatchewan-based canola seed research, production and marketing company.

Monsanto acquired a minority position in LCSI in 1997, with an option to explore a further equity position.

The purchase provides Monsanto with the assets of Limagrain Canada Seeds Inc. - assets that include quality canola germplasm, license agreements, a canola breeding program, current and future canola varieties, and a group of dedicated employees. Limagrain Canada Seeds Inc. will now be called Monsanto Canada Seeds.

In making the announcement, Gord Froehlich, Director, Seed/Trait & Licensing for Monsanto Canada said the purchase of LCSI supports Monsanto's commitment to continue to invest in Canadian agriculture and make new and innovative technologies available to Canadian farmers.

"The purchase of an integrated canola seed asset like LCSI is a great investment for Monsanto. LCSI's outstanding germplasm and canola seed varieties are a great complement to Monsanto's strength in biotechnology research," said Froehlich. "The purchase also gives Monsanto a leadership position in a North American

Jim Simon, president of Canadian Operations for Limagrain Genetics Inc., supported Froehlich's comments, saying "the sale of LCSI to Monsanto will provide the company and its personnel even greater opportunities for development through access to technologies that can be incorporated into the best varieties and provide the infrastructure and marketing expertise to facilitate the entry of these varieties into the marketplace." Simon added that LGI will now focus its investment in Canadian agriculture on the research, production and marketing of elite corn and soybean seeds under the Pride brand.

Limagrain Canada Seeds Inc., based in Saskatoon, is a subsidiary of Limagrain Genetics Inc, which is a member of Groupe Limagrain, a leader in the international seed business.

Monsanto Canada, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a subsidiary of Monsanto, a leading provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity.

3.Monsanto Genetic Engineering Error in Canada

In mid-April, Monsanto announced that it was recalling genetically engineered canola seed containing an unapproved gene that had gotten into the product by mistake.

The recall was reportedly initiated by Monsanto Canada Ltd., and by Limagrain Canada Seeds, Inc., of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which was selling the seed under license from Monsanto. The canola seed had been genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide marketed by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup.

According to "The Ram's Horn," a Canadian newsletter devoted to analysis of the food system, Monsanto reported to the Evaluation Branch of the Biotechnology Strategies and Coordination Office of the Canadian government that it was recalling 60,000 bag units (enough seed to plant 600,000 to 750,000 acres) of two types of canola seeds because one or both types contained the wrong gene.

Limagrain's Gary Bauman said his company will try to discover how the mistake occurred. However, he said it will be difficult to trace exactly where in the process it happened because the seeds available for testing now are progeny of the original seeds. "We may never know how it happened," he said.

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