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End of an era as BASF stops GM crops production in Europe

Chemicals company BASF has announced it will stop developing and marketing genetically modified crops in Europe.

The company will focus instead on markets in the US, Latin America and in Asia, where political and consumer resistance to GM crops is weaker than in Europe, BASF said in a statement on 16 January.

“We are convinced that plant biotechnology is a key technology for the 21st century. However, there is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe – from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians,” said Stefan Marcinowski, a member of BASF’s board of executive directors, responsible for plant biotechnology. “Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market,” added Marcinowski.

Environmental groups have hailed the news as a victory for European consumers. “BASF’s retreat to the Americas follows a string of defeats for the industry over the last two years in China, India, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere,” said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, based in Brussels.

But some researchers believe that Europe’s regulations are driving science away. Disagreement between member states means that just two GM products have been authorised for commercial cultivation in Europe since 1998, with some 20 products stuck in the approvals process (see RE 21 Jul 11).

Denis Murphy, professor of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan, UK and biotechnology advisor to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a statement released by the UK Science Media Centre: “There is now a danger that we will lose, not only companies like BASF, but also academic researchers and students—as well as any influence that we have had previously in developing countries where we used to be major providers of assistance and expertise.”

Overall, the company will cut 140 jobs in Europe, in particular in Germany and Sweden, but says it will aim to offer these employees other jobs within the group.

BASF said it has halted work on the Amflora potato. This GM crop variety was authorised by the EU in March last year, inspite of the disapproval of several European governments. It was later withdrawn from the market after another BASF GM variety called Amadea, not approved at the time, was found growing in fields in Sweden.

BASF Plant Science’s headquarters will move from Limburgerhof, Germany, to Raleigh, North Carolina in the US. Research facilities in Ghent, Belgium and Berlin, Germany will be maintained and strengthened, the company said.