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scientists comment on BASF announcing relocation of plant biotechnology research

As BASF announced it would relocate its transgenic plant operations from Europe to the USA due to a “lack of acceptance for this technology”, the SMC circulated reaction from plant scientists.

 

Denis Murphy, Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan and Biotechnology Advisor to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, said:

“This news is very disappointing to those of us in Europe who are working on methods for the sustainable improvement of crops, especially in the context of food security.

“The world is now facing unprecedented challenges in providing sufficient food as populations continue to rise and as climatic changes affect crop growth and also enable new diseases to spread. In order to meet these challenges plant breeders need all the scientific tools to help them develop better crops, particularly in developing countries where food security is already a major threat.

“Modern biotechnology is about a lot more than GM crops, for example we have tools like marker-assisted breeding and induced mutagenesis which rely on high-tech methods but do not involve GM technology. When companies like BASF pull out of Europe, the entire modern crop improvement operation (GM and non-GM) will be lost to us.

“Europe is now in danger of becoming a scientific backwater and will be unable to assist developing countries the address food insecurity. Several European scientists highlighted this very issue in 2010 and 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.”

 

Professor Maurice Moloney, Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research, said:

“Anything that moves the focus of crop science even further away from Europe is deeply regrettable. It will make innovative new technologies, including but not limited to GM, less available to European producers and consumers and carries the risk of denying them access to crops and foods with health and environmental benefits. Ultimately, it will be likely to have an adverse impact on economic growth and our own food supply at a time of challenges posed by global food security, which is being actively addressed by the UK’s world leading researchers. It is ironic that much of the science that created modern biotechnology came from Europe and yet Europeans have been deprived of the environmental benefits such as the reduction of the use of pesticides and improved soil quality as well as the more obvious economic benefits of cheaper food and agricultural products.”

 

Dr Alan Dewar, entomologist and crop protection consultant, said:

“BASF’s decision to quit Europe to pursue their biotech research elsewhere is indicative of the ever-increasing isolation that European scientists find themselves in. If promising novel biotech developments ever get to the point of field testing here, the local protestors (and there are many of them) will make sure that field trials never reach harvest unless the tightest (and most expensive) security measures are implemented (witness the security that John Innes Institute had to implement to get their blight resistant potatoes through to harvest). If I was BASF, I would also go to a science-friendly environment somewhere else.

“Given the inadequate sentences handed out by judges in various European countries to protestors who have been caught red-handed in the act of trial destruction, it is not surprising that biotech crop research has stalled in Europe. The requirements by government to identify precise locations of field trials does not help the process. Either laws will have to change, or we are destined to remain a scientific backwater in this important area of research.

“The irony of all this is that we will ultimately be importing the produce emanating from this emigrating science, but the financial benefits will be earned by another continent.”

 

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