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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK

Business: The Company File

Monsanto bows to pressure

Trials of GM crops sparked protests from environmentalists

The US biotechnology giant Monsanto has bowed to consumer concerns about genetically modified food and wants to help plant breeders create crops using traditional methods.

The BBC's John Kay: "The company may turn to more traditional methods"
The company, a major player in the genetically-modified food industry, has offered its databases to help plant breeders create new varieties of crops using traditional cross-breeding methods.

This would allow them to exploit Monsanto's knowledge of plant DNA, while avoiding the use of genetic engineering.

This way, the company hopes to reverse the widespread opposition to biotechnology in the UK and Europe.

In a statement, the company said: "We now have a much better understanding of the issues. We hope further dialogue will take place."

Consumer welcome

Monsanto has already presented the idea to environmental and consumer groups who have welcomed it.

Patrick Holden of the Soil Association told BBC Radio 5 Live the decision represented a change in policy for the company based in St Louis, Missouri.

" I felt that they had been shocked and completely taken by surprise at the strength of public reaction against genetic engineering in Europe.

"I did emerge from the meeting with a very clear impression that they are prepared to rethink their position fundamentally out of an awareness that Europe has said no to genetic engineering and perhaps a fear that the North America public might follow suit," he said.

The British government has come under fire from the anti-GM lobby in recent months after agreeing to limited test trials of GM crops to determine whether the technology is safe.

It is unclear if these trials will now continue.

Consumer outrage was such that several major supermarket chains, including Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer, are removing all GM ingredients from own-brand ranges.

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