Genetically modified organisms
BASF halts GMO development in Europe
By Eric van Puyvelde | Tuesday 17 January 2012
Given the persistent wariness towards genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe, Germany’s BASF will stop developing new products targeting the European market exclusively. The group announced, on 16 January, that it plans to refocus its activities in the sector on more receptive regions, such as the United States. “We are convinced that ‘green’ biotechnologies are crucial for the 21st century. But they are not accepted enough in many parts of Europe by the majority of consumers, farmers and political leaders,” said Stefan Marcinowski, member of BASF’s management in charge of GMOs, during a telephone conference. “That is why it does not make sense economically to continue to invest in products aimed exclusively at this market,” he added.
The European Commission took note of BASF’s decision. “This is a business choice and we take note,” commented the spokesman for Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli. He added that the Commission would not authorise any GMO before obtaining an agreement on rules for their cultivation. The Commission reaches the same conclusion as BASF on the rejection of GMOs, the spokesman stated.
Greenpeace hailed “a victory for consumers” and a “step towards the development of safe biotechnologies”. Friends of the Earth Europe echoed that view. “This is another nail in the coffin for genetically modified foods in Europe. No one wants to eat them and few farmers want to grow them,” reads a statement by a representative of the ecological NGO, Adrian Bebb.
BASF, the world’s number one chemicals firm, fought for a decade before obtaining EU marketing authorisation in 2010 for Amflora, a genetically modified high-starch potato. Shortly afterwards, though, BASF mistakenly planted in an Amflora field in Sweden another of its GMO potatoes, Amadea, which has not received authorisation from European officials. After this scandal, “European sentiment towards transgenic products declined further,” said Marcinowski. BASF will therefore totally halt the planting and marketing of Amflora, initially grown on around 300 hectares in three countries but limited last year to a two hectare field in Germany. Its sales in 2011 were close to zero.
Research and development on other transgenic products aimed solely at the European market, including a mildew resistant high-starch potato and a variety of fungus resistant wheat, will also be halted. The group has nonetheless decided not to drop its applications for authorisation in the EU for its transgenic potatoes already developed, Amadea, Modena and Fortuna (since member states cannot reach a qualified majority on these authorisation requests, they are generally referred to the Commission). The market for high-starch potatoes, used in the paper, textiles and adhesives industry, is limited outside the EU because “in other parts of the world industrial starch is produced from other crops like maize,” said Marcinowski.
To develop its presence on North and South American markets, the group has also decided to relocate the seat of its ‘green’ biotechnology activities to Raleigh, North Carolina (United States) from two German sites and one in Sweden. BASF will cut 140 jobs from its plant biotechnology activities in Europe but will try to transfer these employees to other activities within the group. GMO research and development units in Berlin and Ghent (Belgium) will be reinforced, by contrast. “Although conditions for GMO cultivation are unfavourable in Europe, there are internationally ranking research institutes and universities” in this area, noted Peter Eckes, head of BASF’s plant biotechnology division.
“This is a business choice and we take note,” commented the spokesman for Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli