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Curb on GM Crop Trials After Insect Pollution

By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent
Daily Telegraph (UK)
October 14, 2003

Stringent new rules for trials of genetically modified crops are to be imposed after Government researchers found that insects carried pollen more than six times the distance previously known.

bees on flower

They also found one sowing of GM crops could contaminate non-GM and organic crops for more than 16 years.

The research, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, came as thousands of people protested in London against GM crops and delivered a 70,000-signature petition to Downing Street yesterday.

On Thursday the Government will publish results of field-scale trials of GM crops. They are expected to show a deterioration in farmland biodiversity among at least two of the three GM crops.

Meanwhile, the row between Europe and America over GM crops moved up a gear yesterday when Margot Wallstrom, the Environment Commissioner, accused US biotech companies of "trying to lie" and "force" unsuitable GM technology on to Europe.

She said public suspicion and fears about the technology had been fuelled by US lobbying tactics.

Whitehall sources said the Government was concerned at a public backlash should it decide to commercialise GM crops after considering the results of the farmscale trials.

Yesterday's findings by Government scientists give further cause for concern as well as grounds to back down on the Prime Minister's favoured plan of licensing GM crops next year.

Scientists at the Central Science Laboratory found that GM oilseed rape had cross-pollinated with non-GM oilseed rape plants more than 16 miles away.

A second study by the Scottish Crop Research Institute found that if farmers grew GM oilseed rape for one season it would take 16 years for contamination by wild GM plants produced by seed from the first planting to fall to below one per cent contamination.

Even at this level, the contamination would not be sufficient for a farmer to sell his crop as GM-free or organic, qualities that demand less than 0.9 and 0.1 per cent contamination respectively.

Pete Riley, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "If GM contamination cannot be controlled on test sites, what hope is there if GM crops are widely grown?"

The findings played a part in leading the Government to stipulate new restrictions on test plantings after a biotech company supplied impure, genetically-modified oilseed rapeseed at 12 trial sites.

Elliot Morley, the environment minister, said: "We are determined to have effective systems in place to ensure consumer choice whatever the future of GM in this country."


US Firms 'Tried to Lie' Over GM Crops, Says EU

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
October 14, 2003

American biotech companies tried to lie to Europe in an attempt to force genetically modified crops upon them, Margot Wallström, the European environment commissioner, said yesterday.

Far from developing GM crops to solve the problem of starvation in the world, as they claimed, the biotech companies did so to "solve starvation amongst their shareholders", said the European Union's leading green politician.

Speaking to journalists in London, the 49-year-old Swede followed her broadside over GM with an attack on the US over the so-called ghost fleet of rusting and polluted American ships being sent to Britain for dismantling, saying they should be kept in America.

She further suggested that the US government had been putting pressure on Russia not to ratify the Kyoto protocol.

Mrs Wallström's unusually outspoken remarks will add to the ill-feeling between Europe and the US over genetic modification, which has led to the American government launching a legal action through the World Trade Organisation on the basis that European nations are dragging their feet over GM crop authorisation.

Her comments raise the political stakes before the publication on Thursday of Britain's farm-scale trials of GM crops, which may provide evidence of environmental damage that could lead to the crops being banned.

At a lunch with journalists, the commissioner spoke of the "legitimate concerns of European citizens and farmers and other groups about the effects of GM crops on human health and the environment".

Asked if US biotech companies had chosen the wrong products to introduce into Europe - meaning crops that were modified to take more powerful weedkillers, rather than give any other benefit - she replied: "Of course they have. Absolutely. They have to face that. They have to realise that they have chosen the completely wrong approach from the beginning.

"They tried to lie to people, and they tried to force it upon people. It's the wrong approach. You cannot force it upon Europe. So I hope they have learnt a lesson from this, especially when they now try to argue that this will solve the problems of starvation in the world and so on. But come on ... it was to solve starvation amongst shareholders, not the developing world."


Monsanto to Quit Europe

Paul Brown and Mark Oliver
Thursday October 16, 2003
The Guardian

Monsanto, the world's largest GM seed company, is pulling out of the European cereal business in a surprise move that raised hopes of victory among anti-GM campaigners.

The firm, the American pioneer of GM, confirmed yesterday that it is to close European cereal business headquarters at Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, which employs 125 people.

The decision follows the failure to introduce genetically modified hybrid wheat to Europe, and the company has decided to cut costs.

Monsanto bought the business from Unilever in 1998 at a time of high optimism for GM, when wheat was considered the big money spinner.

The company said yesterday that the growth in hybrid wheat had "failed to materialise".

Jeff Cox, Monsanto's general manager, said: "We've made great progress over the past few years in realigning the cereals business to make it more competitive in a much tougher European seed market.

"Our lack of success in hybrids means this is no longer a good strategic fit for Monsanto."

The company is reorganising its UK herbicide oil seed rape operations. Breeding stations in France, Germany and the Czech Republic will also be affected.

Monsanto announced its decision on the eve of today's publication of the results of the government's farm-scale evaluations of GM crops.

A mixed verdict on the technology is anticipated in what is being seen as a crucial part of the government's research into whether to allow commercial GM crops.

It also follows last month's confirmation of unease among the public when the widest formal public debate ever conducted in Britain found that an overwhelming percentage of people were uneasy, suspicious or hostile to GM crops.

More than 650 public meetings were held around the country and about 37,000 people responded to questionnaires, with 54% saying they never want to see GM crops grown in the UK.

Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said the firm was "pulling out after five years with no products to show and no test sites for Monsanto GM cereals in Britain this year."


Crops Giant Retreats From Europe Ahead of GM report

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
16 October 2003
The Independent (UK)

Monsanto, the huge American biotechnology company which has pioneered GM crops, is withdrawing from many of its European operations and laying off up to two thirds of its British workers.

The announcement came on the eve of the publication of the Government's GM crop trials today.Tony Blair is thought to be in favour of GM crops, stressing the need for Britain to be in the vanguard of new industries that could be worth billions of pounds.

But ministers will be under pressure to limit, or scrap, further development of GM crops in the face of public opposition. One industry insider said the international biotechnology business was becoming disillusioned with Europe's anti-GM stance.

"If there's no market for something, you go elsewhere," he said. "The big companies are looking to China, South-east Asia and South America."

Monsanto said its decision to pull out of conventional cereal crops in Europe was not related to the continent's moratorium on commercial growing of GM crops. But a spokeswoman added: "Monsanto is obviously frustrated by the amount of time it has taken for GM crops to be accepted in Europe, but this decision is part of a much bigger global realignment."

Monsanto said it was closing its multimillion-pound research centre in Cambridge with the loss of up to 80 highly skilled jobs.

Employees heard of the decision for the first time yesterday afternoon even though the plan had been circulating among analysts outside the company earlier this week.

On Tuesday, a company spokesman denied there was any intention to close some British operations. But 24 hours later Monsanto confirmed that it was to shut its European cereals business. "This results from a strategic decision ... to realign the company's core businesses in order to focus on those projects that will best capitalise on its market and technological strengths," a spokesman said.

Today the results of the Government's farm-scale trials of three GM crops will be released. These could give European governments the ammunition to ban the commercial growing of some varieties if they can be shown to damage the environment.

Last month, a test of public opinion in Britain found that the majority of people did not want GM food in their supermarkets. In a series of questions that formed part of the "GM Nation" debate, 85 per cent of respondents said they believed GM crops would benefit producers rather than consumers, 86 per cent said they were unhappy with the idea of eating GM food, 91 per cent said they thought GM crops had a potentially negative effect on the countryside and 93 per cent said GM was being driven by profit rather than public interest.

Monsanto said its closure could affect up to 80 of its 125 British employees, who mostly work on the breeding of conventional varieties of winter wheat, spring wheat and spring barley. Crop breeding centres in France, Germany and the Czech Republic will also be hit by the cutbacks.

Monsanto said it was reducing its global workforce of 13,200 by between 7 and 9 per cent, but the precise number of jobs lost in Britain would not be announced until the end of the 90-day consultation period required by law.

Jeff Cox, Monsanto's UK general manager, said the company hoped to find a buyer for its conventional cereals business which could save some of the jobs.

"Monsanto will remain in the UK as a streamlined crop protection and oilseed rape business, with our flagship plant protection product - Roundup - continuing to lead the market," Mr Cox said.


GM Food Giant Monsanto Starts Retreat From Europe

By Valerie Elliott
The Times
October 16, 2003

MONSANTO, the American biotechnology firm leading the field in genetically modified foods, announced yesterday that it was pulling out of the European seed cereal business and closing its operation in Trumpington, Cambridge, with the loss of 125 jobs.

The surprise move came as the Government prepared to publish the results of scientific tests on GM crops and their effects on the environment and wildlife, delighting anti-GM campaigners who scented victory in the battle over the controversial technology.

Jeff Cox, general manager for Monsanto UK, denied that there was any link with the huge opposition to GM crops in Europe, although he admitted that the timing of the announcement was "unfortunate". The decision was part of a global corporate strategy that would save the company some $90 million to $105 million (£54 million to £63 million) after tax. He made clear, too, that the company would continue to lobby against the EU's "de facto moratorium on GM crops".

The company blamed the failure in the growth of a market in hybrid wheat seeds for the decision and said that it intended to move to a new base in Cambridge for its crop protection and oilseed rape business.

Asked whether the decision was connected with the stinging rebuke of the GM companies this week from Margaret Wallstrom, the EU Environment Commissioner, Mr Cox said: "I am not getting drawn on that." Ms Wallstrom had accused them of "trying to lie" and "to force" unsuitable crops on European farmland.

The pressure group Friends of the Earth was, however, convinced that the move was related to the GM controversy. Its spokesman, Pete Riley, said that when Monsanto bought the former Plant Breeding International business in 1998 it was always said that it would be its springboard for GM in Europe. "If they are pulling out then we should rejoice."

The only companies now involved in GM crops in BRitain are Syngenta, which was formed after a merger of Astra Zeneca and Novartis, and BayerLifeScience, which has also threatened to pull out.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors gave warning last night that GM crops in the UK would cause chaos unless there were a land registration system. It suggested that biotechnology firms should be given legal responsibility to publicise all GM sites three months before planting.


Monsanto Overhauling Businesses

By Andrew Pollack The New York Times Published: October 16, 2003

Monsanto, the world's leading agricultural biotechnology company, says it is abandoning efforts to produce pharmaceuticals in genetically engineered crops to focus on businesses that could pay off sooner.

The company, based in St. Louis, said that its decision was not related to the controversy that has surrounded such efforts. Rather, it said, the move was part of a broader overhaul announced yesterday that would result in layoffs of 7 to 9 percent of its work force, or as many as 1,200 people.

Scientists are experimenting with putting genes into plants that cause the plants to produce proteins for use as drugs, like growth hormone or various monoclonal antibodies. This approach, called pharming or biopharming, is not done commercially yet but may prove to be cheaper than the current method of producing such drugs in genetically modified animal cells grown in vats.

Pharming has attracted opposition not only from the environmental groups that usually oppose genetically modified foods, but from food companies, which worry that pharmaceutical-containing corn might wind up in corn flakes, forcing product recalls and undermining public confidence in the safety of the food supply.

Such concerns were stoked by a couple of incidents last year in which pharmaceutical-containing corn developed by ProdiGene, a small biotech company, intermingled with food crops, though the problem was discovered before any of the food was eaten. Regulations have since been tightened in a way that could make it more difficult to grow pharmaceutical-containing corn - the crop Monsanto was concentrating on - in the Corn Belt.

In a conference call with analysts yesterday, Hugh Grant, the chief executive, said that the decision was based on the "uncertainty of the longer-term reward from a highly capital-intensive business." He said the company was trimming research and development spending and focusing on projects that had a nearer-term payoff.

Bryan W. Hurley, a spokesman for Monsanto, said in a subsequent interview that the move was "purely a business decision" unrelated to the controversy. The company's plant-based pharmaceutical division, known as Monsanto Protein Technologies, employed about 70 people.

Monsanto remains committed to genetically modified crops, he said. The company is suffering from generic competition to its Roundup herbicide and is focusing more than ever on seeds and biotechnology.

The company said yesterday that it would trim its work force, largely in the agricultural chemical business. It also said that it would exit the European breeding and seed business for wheat and barley, though it will continue to develop genetically engineered wheat resistant to its Roundup herbicide.

It announced a loss for its fourth quarter of $188 million, or 72 cents a share, largely because of a settlement of a lawsuit tied to decades-old pollution in Alabama. Revenue rose 10 percent, to $1.31 billion.

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