"Every European gets a dose of GM every day" (19/2/2008)

Mike Mack runs Syngenta. In the Times' piece below, Mack admits Syngenta's retreat in the face of intransigent European opposition to GMOs - 'We don't conduct any GM research in Europe. We took all our GM research to the US years ago.'

Europe's no longer even part of Syngenta's game plan, according to Mack: 'Our financial ambitions are not underpinned by the EU because we cannot see that happening anytime soon.'

But Mack makes an interesting claim - that the proof of the safety of GM foods is there for all to see in Europe, because European livestock, he says, eat imported GM maize and soya - hence, 'Every European gets a dose of GM every day.'

This is a startling admission because up till now the industry has always claimed, as part of its argument that meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM crops do not need to be labelled, that consumers are not exposed to GM material by eating food from GM-fed animals. And they could just about get away with such a claim up until 2005 as studies which tried to detect GM DNA in milk, eggs and tissues from GM-fed animals had only detected non-GM DNA from the crops.

But more recent scientific evidence shows GM DNA does end up in milk and animal tissues of GM-fed animals, contrary to the assurances from the industry and the likes of the UK's Food Standards Agency. Worse still, at least 13 animal feeding trials now show a range of alarming health effects in animals fed GM: lesions in the gut, toxic effects in body organs, unexplained deaths and stunted growth in their offspring.

The European Comission and EU member governments have always said they support consumer choice over GMOs, while surveys consistently show consumers want labels where GM crops have been used in animal feed. With the biotech industry now boasting, 'Every European gets a dose of GM every day', it's time to label.

For more information about GM animal feed: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=8490


Syngenta Is Fighting An Ideological Battle For Hearts, Minds And Mouths
Carl Mortished The Times, 14 February 2008

Mike Mack runs Syngenta, one of Europe's leading businesses, but in one respect he has almost given up hope on the Continent. Europe has turned its back on a technology that some believe will be essential for feeding the world in the 21st century.

He runs a Swiss company that is a hybrid of long-established European businesses of top vintage. Behind Syngenta are Novartis and Astra-Zeneca, the pharmaceutical giants. Their parents were equally distinguished: respectively Ciba and Sandoz, of Switzerland, and ICI, once Britain's leading industrial company.

ICI has disappeared, absorbed by Akzo Nobel. The British chemical giant was in decline for a long time, but it did have a seeds business. That was shed with the demerger of Zeneca in 1994 and in 1996 Zeneca brought the first genetically modified tomato to the market place: a tomato puree called Flavr Savr.

It was clearly identified as GM and it was an instant consumer success, but it did not last long, suffering an intense and relentless assault, including lawsuits, from opponents of the technology.

Mr Mack says that GM seeds are only 5 per cent of sales, while European crop protection - herbicides and fungicides is a huge business, serving an enormous agricultural market. However, it is the GM seeds that will grow fast. They account for half of an $800 million (GBP407 million) research budget. Within five years, he expects GM technology to represent 10 to 11 per cent of the company's revenues. Mr Mack is an American, but the future, as he sees it, is in Asia and in the Americas. The genetic technology has left Europe to be developed on more fertile soil, he argues.

He said: 'We don't conduct any GM research in Europe. We took all our GM research to the US years ago. Our financial ambitions are not underpinned by the EU because we cannot see that happening anytime soon. We are looking to the US, to Canada, to Latin America, primarily Brazil and Argentina and we are looking to Asia, primarily China.'

More research money is going into China and seed development stations are popping up in Brazil. Still, the EU refuses to approve Syngenta's seeds, despite repeated clearances from the European Food Safety Authority.

It is an ideological battle about who should carry the burden of proof: must opponents show that GM is dangerous or must Syngenta prove it is safe?

For Mr Mack, the proof is obvious, because livestock eat imported GM maize and soya: 'Every European gets a dose of GM every day.'

The Syngenta chief was born in Detroit. His father sewed upholstery on a Ford Motor assembly line and he jokes that until he arrived at Syngenta, he believed that corn grew out of a can. His job now is to convince people that it can grow in a test tube and he thinks that Europeans will wake up to the cost of ignoring technology.

He said: 'When I go to Brazil or the United States, how is it that food is so much more affordable? When people look at the meat counter, they are going to marvel at the price of meat. They are going to have less of it and they are not going to know the truth. My hypothesis is that we lack the political will to tell the truth.'


Back to the Archive