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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Monsanto departure pleases greens
Rape seed
Monsanto is seeking a buyer for its cereal seed business
Anti-GM campaigners have welcomed a decision by biotechnology giant Monsanto to close its European seed cereal business in the UK.

The announcement came on the eve of the government's report into genetically-modified crop trials.

Monsanto will close its operation in Cambridge, with up to 80 jobs lost.

Friends of the Earth said the withdrawal was a victory for anti-GM campaigners as it showed the "failure" of the market for GM crops.

Monsanto, a huge US company which pioneered GM crops, issued a statement which announced its "intention to exit from its European cereal seed business".

"They've got it absolutely wrong," responded Jeff Cox, Monsanto's general manager for Northern Europe.

"We do not have GM cereals in Europe," he told BBC World Business Report, stressing that Monsanto is firmly committed to further development of GM foods.

Market 'failure'

Monsanto blamed the failure in the growth of a market in hybrid wheat seeds for the closure decision, saying it had "failed to materialise".

This is good news for the European population generally
Pete Riley
Friends of the Earth

Operations in France, Germany and the Czech Republic will also be affected by the closure.

But, stressed Mr Cox, "these are conventional seeds".

Earlier this week, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said US bio-tech companies of "trying to lie" and "force" unsuitable GM technology on to Europe.

Monsanto said it will immediately begin to seek a buyer for all or parts of its cereal seed business.

It was in talks with trade unions, employee representatives and affected staff about the closure.

It said it intended to move its crop protection and oilseed rape business to a new base in Cambridge.

Strategy

"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," said Mr Cox.

The company said the move was a "strategic decision by Monsanto's corporate management to realign the company's core businesses" but anti-GM campaigners said they believed the decision was related to the GM controversy in Europe.

Pete Riley, from Friends of the Earth, said: "This means that Monsanto has no intention of introducing GM wheat or barley into Europe which is pretty good news.

"It is a further sign that they have misjudged the market and are having to cut costs to keep their business afloat.

"This is good news for the European population generally.

"They have tried to dress this up as corporate rationalisation, to cut costs, but the fact is they set up the operation in Cambridge five years ago with the clear intention of introducing GM wheat and barley into Europe.

"This has been a pretty abject failure."

But Mr Cox 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.

"While our lack of success in hybrids means this is no longer a good strategic fit for Monsanto, the changes we've made could make it a great addition to another company's portfolio."

Monsanto's withdrawal leaves only two companies - Syngenta and BayerLifeScience - involved in GM crops in Britain.


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



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


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