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Monsanto to quit Europe and other news on company

(Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Paul Brown and Mark Oliver, The Guardian: Monsanto, the world's largest GM seed company, is pulling out of the European cereal business in a surprise move that raised hopes of victory among anti-GM campaigners. The firm, the American pioneer of GM, confirmed yesterday that it is to close European cereal business headquarters at Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, which employs 125 people.

The decision follows the failure to introduce genetically modified hybrid wheat to Europe, and the company has decided to cut costs.

Monsanto bought the business from Unilever in 1998 at a time of high optimism for GM, when wheat was considered the big money spinner.

The company said yesterday that the growth in hybrid wheat had "failed to materialise".

Jeff Cox, Monsanto's general manager, said: "We've made great progress over the past few years in realigning the cereals business to make it more competitive in a much tougher European seed market.

"Our lack of success in hybrids means this is no longer a good strategic fit for Monsanto."

The company is reorganising its UK herbicide oil seed rape operations. Breeding stations in France, Germany and the Czech Republic will also be affected.

Monsanto announced its decision on the eve of today's publication of the results of the government's farm-scale evaluations of GM crops.

A mixed verdict on the technology is anticipated in what is being seen as a crucial part of the government's research into whether to allow commercial GM crops.

It also follows last month's confirmation of unease among the public when the widest formal public debate ever conducted in Britain found that an overwhelming percentage of people were uneasy, suspicious or hostile to GM crops.

More than 650 public meetings were held around the country and about 37,000 people responded to questionnaires, with 54% saying they never want to see GM crops grown in the UK.

Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said the firm was "pulling out after five years with no products to show and no test sites for Monsanto GM cereals in Britain this year."

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,1064024,00.html

Other Monsanto news:

October 16, 2003
Monsanto Overhauling Businesses

Monsanto, the world's leading agricultural biotechnology company, says it is abandoning efforts to produce pharmaceuticals in genetically engineered crops to focus on businesses that could pay off sooner.

The company, based in St. Louis, said that its decision was not related to the controversy that has surrounded such efforts. Rather, it said, the move was part of a broader overhaul announced yesterday that would result in layoffs of 7 to 9 percent of its work force, or as many as 1,200 people.

Scientists are experimenting with putting genes into plants that cause the plants to produce proteins for use as drugs, like growth hormone or various monoclonal antibodies. This approach, called pharming or biopharming, is not done commercially yet but may prove to be cheaper than the current method of producing such drugs in genetically modified animal cells grown in vats.

Pharming has attracted opposition not only from the environmental groups that usually oppose genetically modified foods, but from food companies, which worry that pharmaceutical-containing corn might wind up in corn flakes, forcing product recalls and undermining public confidence in the safety of the food supply.

Such concerns were stoked by a couple of incidents last year in which pharmaceutical-containing corn developed by ProdiGene, a small biotech company, intermingled with food crops, though the problem was discovered before any of the food was eaten. Regulations have since been tightened in a way that could make it more difficult to grow pharmaceutical-containing corn - the crop Monsanto was concentrating on - in the Corn Belt.

In a conference call with analysts yesterday, Hugh Grant, the chief executive, said that the decision was based on the "uncertainty of the longer-term reward from a highly capital-intensive business." He said the company was trimming research and development spending and focusing on projects that had a nearer-term payoff.

Bryan W. Hurley, a spokesman for Monsanto, said in a subsequent interview that the move was "purely a business decision" unrelated to the controversy. The company's plant-based pharmaceutical division, known as Monsanto Protein Technologies, employed about 70 people.

Monsanto remains committed to genetically modified crops, he said. The company is suffering from generic competition to its Roundup herbicide and is focusing more than ever on seeds and biotechnology.

The company said yesterday that it would trim its work force, largely in the agricultural chemical business. It also said that it would exit the European breeding and seed business for wheat and barley, though it will continue to develop genetically engineered wheat resistant to its Roundup herbicide.

It announced a loss for its fourth quarter of $188 million, or 72 cents a share, largely because of a settlement of a lawsuit tied to decades-old pollution in Alabama. Revenue rose 10 percent, to $1.31 billion.