Biotech sweetcorn maker pulls out of UK

Related tags Syngenta Genetic engineering European union

Syngenta, the last biotech company to retain a significant
genetically modified (GM) presence in the UK, has announced that it
is closing its laboratories due to the poor business outlook for
the technology, reports CORDIS.

According to the EU news service, the Swiss firm will move its UK research to the more 'favourable' regulatory and business climate of the US.

Facing the fury of anti-GM campaigners, last month the European Commission broke the de facto​ moratorium on GM foods and pushed through approval for a GM sweetcorn supplied by Syngenta to enter the food chain - the first approval of a GM foodstuff since 1998.

But the news that the firm is to up roots to the US is a clear indication that Europeans are far from accepting genetically modified foodstuffs.

Syngenta said it remained 'very firmly behind biotech technology' but the firm explained that it needed to do the research and development work in the marketplace 'where we can most effectively do business'.

Syngenta was the last company to have a significant biotech crop research capability left in the UK, following decisions by Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer CropScience to reduce operations.

The CORDIS​ report writes that the decision, first announced in the Times Higher Education Supplement, was described as a disaster for UK academic research by Michael Wilson, a professor of plant biology at Warwick University. Syngenta had been sponsoring much plant science research by universities.

According to the article, academics have warned that the departure of Syngenta, with the loss of 130 jobs - including 100 scientific posts - marks the end of GM research in Britain. They also warned that a brain drain might follow. Many plant scientists have already left the UK and it is felt Syngenta's move might trigger an additional exodus to more GM-friendly countries, such as Australia, Canada and the US.

Syngenta's research unit in the UK, which currently employs 900 people, will concentrate on research in agrochemicals, becoming a centre of excellence for fungicides and pesticides, backed by a €14.8 million investment programme. Syngenta's plant in Switzerland will concentrate on pesticides, while the US will become the centre for biotech crops research.

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