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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Monsanto retreats from Europe
By Rodney Smith
BBC World Service business reporter

The European centres were not involved in GM research

The world's biggest manufacturer of genetically modified (GM) crops, US company Monsanto, has been haemorrhaging money.

And now it has said it plans to close or sell facilities across Europe to cut costs.

"The hybrids that we were looking to develop were not a success technically and commercially," Monsanto's Northern Europe manager Jeff Cox told the BBC's World Business Report.

Monsanto's decision coincided with the publication of results from UK field trials, which the UK Government will use to decide whether to allow commercialisation of GM crops.

Monsanto made a loss of $188m in the June to August quarter, the last of its financial year, for three main reasons.

  • The costs of a large US court case which it settled out of court
  • The continued drain of earnings from the expiry three years ago of its patent on the Roundup systemic weed killer
  • And, say food and farm industry experts, the costs associated with retaining a research presence in markets where it is excluded from conducting a large part of its business - namely the selling of genetically modified crops.

The company stresses that the European centres that are being sold or closed down - in France, Germany and the Czech Republic - have been working on conventional crop types, not GM materials.

All its GM research is done in the United States, it says.

It also stresses that centres such as the Trumpington research base in Cambridgeshire, England which has a staff of 125, may not have to close.

It is for sale, and enquiries have increased in recent days, although Monsanto is not hinting at who might be interested.

Separate decision?

However, industry observers say it tests the imagination to believe that the decision to retreat from Europe is entirely unrelated to the results of three years of British field trials into the effects of growing GM crops on surrounding plant and animal life.

Just published, the largest analysis of its kind ever undertaken indicates that in two cases - oilseed rape and sugar beet - there is harm to the local ecosystem.

A third experiment, using a type of maize, showed a benefit to local wildlife.

But internal financial pressures have persuaded Monsanto not to stay around to find out why that was.

Monsanto's Northern Europe manager Jeff Cox
"These are conventional seeds."

Q&A: GM crop trials
15 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature


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