By Steve Connor
16 October 2003
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.
came on the eve of the publication of the Government's GM crop trials
today. They are expected to show that two out of three genetically modified
crops in the tests may damage the environment. 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
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.
of the decision for the first time yesterday afternoon even though the
plan had been circulating among analysts outside the company earlier
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.
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.