Ingredients and chemicals giant BASF has announced it will pull the plug on its European operations in genetically modified plant development due to a lack of acceptance in the market.
The German chemical and biotechnology company said it would relocate the headquarters of its BASF Plant Science group from Limburgerhof in Germany, to Raleigh in the USA. The company added that it will be concentrating its plant biotechnology activities on its main markets in North and South America in the future.
The company added that its development and commercialisation of all GM products targeted solely at cultivation in the European market will be halted – these include four varieties of potato and one of wheat.
“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 Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, a member of the BASF board of executive directors, responsible for plant biotechnology.
“It does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market,” he said. “We will therefore concentrate on the attractive markets for plant biotechnology in North and South America and the growth markets in Asia.”
Acceptance for innovation?
BASF cited a lack of consumer and industry acceptance as the main reason for its decision to halt European operations in GM products. It added that the decision to relocate to the USA was taken because there is “less resistance” to the technology.
The announcement was celebrated by environmental campaign groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth: “This is another nail in the coffin for genetically modified foods in Europe,” said Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth.
Whilst Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said the announcement shows that “BASF admits Europeans don’t want GM crops.”
“Europeans are not alone in rejecting GM food,” he added. “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. Over 90% of GM food crops are grown in just four countries in the Americas.”
However, the move by BASF has also been also been seen a major blow for science and innovation in the European market. Professor Denis Murphy of the University of Glamorgan, UK, warned that Europe “is now in danger of becoming a scientific backwater and will be unable to assist developing countries the address food insecurity.”
“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,” argued Murphy – an expert in biotechnology.
BASF said it will adjust the portfolio and site footprint of its plant science to reflect the move. The chemical giant said the move to new headquarters for activities in the area of plant biotechnology at Raleigh in North Carolina will see the current HQ site in Limburgerhof, Germany retain 11 positions in some functions, such as regulatory experts for Europe.
The division employees 157 people in Limburgerhof, plus another 63 at facilities elsewhere in Europe. BASF said it would relocate 123 of those jobs to the North Carolina facility. The company plans to close its sites in Gatersleben, Germany, and in Svalöv, Sweden.
The announcement will mean a reduction of 140 jobs in BASF’s European operations. The company said it aims to offer the affected employees other positions within the BASF wherever possible.
“Our employees have done excellent work over the past years. We regret that we are losing these high-quality jobs in Germany and Sweden,” said Marcinowski.
What do you think of BASF's decision to pull out ofthe European GM market? Does the move add further stagnation to innovation in the EU? Get in touch with us by emailing: nathan.gray<at>wrbm.com or tweeting @nathanrgray