Syngenta flees Europe altogether!
'[Syngenta research director, David Lawrence] pointed out that his business had often found conventional methods to be more effective than biotechnology. "We have conducted many genetic engineering experiments for seed materials and plant protection and they have often failed." On the other hand, excellent results had frequently been achieved with the traditional approach to plant growing.'
Syngenta halts genetic engineering projects in Europe
By Hannelore Crolly
Die Welt, November 29, 2004
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The world's biggest agro-chemicals group transfers all its biotechnology research activities to the USA
BERLIN - Syngenta, the world biggest agro-chemicals group based in Basel, has halted all its European field trials of genetically modified plants and seed material varieties.
Syngenta research director David Lawrence told Die WELT that Syngenta had no intention of quitting genetic engineering altogether. But the group had placed all its projects on ice in Europe because of public resistance, high authorization hurdles and the lack of market opportunities.
The entire biotech research function is being transferred to the USA. Lawrence warned that Europe was causing itself lasting harm by its sceptical attitude to new technologies. There was a risk that it would miss the green genetic engineering boat and leave other forces, especially in Asia and the USA, with the task of shaping the rules of the game.
In Germany, Syngenta had, for example, conducted field trials to fight fungal diseases affecting wheat. After the fields had been repeatedly destroyed, Syngenta finally declared the failure of its repeated attempts to organize trials.
The business which was incorporated in 2000 from the agricultural divisions of Novartis and Astra Zeneca has also pulled out of the United Kingdom after many setbacks. Syngenta's Institute at Jealott's Hill near London remains the world's biggest private agricultural research centre. But its research is now focussing entirely on conventional techniques.
Syngenta has now followed in the footsteps of Monsanto, Du Pont and Bayer Crop Science which have all abandoned their biotechnology activities in England. Not one field trial has been registered in Great Britain this year and Germany is well on the way to finding itself in a similar situation. In Germany, the European Commission still reports five field tests planned by various companies and research establishments. The largest number of field trials is scheduled in Spain. Applications for nine projects are still pending in that country.
In Germany, the growing of genetically modified plants is now possible although stringent conditions have been imposed. Following a lengthy debate, the Bundestag adopted the genetic engineering act tabled by the social democratic and green parties. However, the authorization and liability rules are so stringent that experts doubt whether genetically engineered crops will be grown on any extensive scale.
Lawrence said that Syngenta's withdrawal from research in Europe would have no significant impact for the time being. The fact was that the company in any case only achieved around three per cent of its sales (2003: 6.6 billion dollars) on genetically engineered products. However, biotechnology accounted for a significantly higher proportion of research. Of Syngenta's total research and development expenditure amounting to 727 million dollars, 454 million are spent on plant protection, 127 million on the development of traditional seed materials and 146 million on biotech research. The group employs 19,000 persons worldwide, including nearly 5000 working in research, development and technology, largely in the three main research centres located in Switzerland, Great Britain and North Carolina in the United States.
Lawrence pointed out that his business had often found conventional methods to be more effective than biotechnology. "We have conducted many genetic engineering experiments for seed materials and plant protection and they have often failed." On the other hand, excellent results had frequently been achieved with the traditional approach to plant growing. The convenient "Pure Heart" water melon was the best example. The Syngenta melon in picnic format was not only better for single households than the traditional big water melon for families but also had a thinner rind, no pips and was just as sweet on its edge s as in the centre. The market launch in Europe is scheduled for 2005 and the melon is already on sale in the USA.
The melon points the way in which the business is thinking. Research director Lawrence is looking for markets for his group extending beyond the traditional plant protection business in which chemical products are used to control insects, weeds and fungus infections. Plant protection still accounts for 85 per cent of group sales but the global market is flat.
The Swiss therefore hope to achieve growth primarily in the seed materials business where Syngenta is currently world number three behind Monsanto and the pioneer Hi-Bred owned by Du Point. In addition to new varieties of field crops such as soy beans and colza, this also included business in flower and vegetable seed materials. For example, Syngenta is already number one in Europe for flower seeds and seedlings.
"In this particular area, one task of research is to find out what consumers like and what they think tastes best", Lawrence says. For instance, Syngenta is currently testing a new tomato with a particularly strong aroma a meaty, deep-red contender to replace tasteless standardized tomatoes.