Happenings in Germany

February 2012

Potato Farm
Potato field in Sweden. Photo by Skånska Matupplevelser on Flickr
German biotech giant, BASF, has announced its intention to halt development and commercialisation of all GM seeds targeted solely for cultivation in Europe.

The company's reason was:
“there is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe - from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians. Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market”.
BASF intends to:
 “concentrate on the attractive markets for plant biotechnology in North And South America and the growth markets in Asia”.



Its 'products exclusively for cultivation' in the European market' which are now to be abandoned include GM potatoes for industrial starch (Amflora, Amadea and Modena - see Box), and blight-resistant potatoes and wheat. However, still hedging its bets, regulatory approval processes already started will continue.


Note on Amflora potatoes

The 'lack of acceptance' of BASF's Amflora potatoes centred on the presence of an antibiotic resistance marker (ARM) gene for neomycin and kanamycin. The World Health Organisation has classified these antibiotics as “critically important”, but BASF has dismissed them as of “no or only minor therapeutic relevance”.

Approval of Amflora seems to have been rushed through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) GMO panel in 2010 to beat an incoming EU Directive banning ARM genes.

The favourable EFSA opinion for Amflora was the result of intensive lobbying by BASF, including apparently successful threats to relocate outside the EU!



To put the decision in perspective, giving up GM crops on its own home turf sends out a very negative message about the value of the product, but is not such a major issue for BASF. The company's main business is in chemicals, and the change will involve job losses of only 140 positions out of 840 staff involved in 'helping farmers' with 'improved' agricultural products, and out of a total workforce of around 109,000 employees.

BASF's move can also be seen as simply taking advantage of the easy profits to be reaped from the “practically non-existent regulatory system for GE crops in the US” (Greenpeace) and from vulnerable developing countries where there's little or no regulatory infrastructure in place to control GM agriculture.

The company's statement clearly contradicts attempts to portray European farmers as desperately wanting GM seeds for their fields. It also shows how EU polls, which consistently showed that 60-70% or more of the people are opposed to GM foods, can't be ignored forever.

Ignacio Chapela who attracted the full wrath of the biotech industry when he pointed out that gene pollution was actually happening in Mexico, gives this sobering reminder:
“As we celebrate the lifting of perhaps one third of the pressure upon Europe to give in to GMOs, let's not forget those places where they will continue to be used as the effective spear-head of corporate biological mining of other lands”.

OUR COMMENT


Europe has stood firm against the biotech juggernaut because it has “built up an informed and powerful citizens' movement that has made itself heard, even over the din of the monied GE lobby” (Ishii-Eitman).


Time to up the pressure on all levels of government: shift their attention onto other new plant-breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection of natural genes, and onto other models of food production, such as modern organic agriculture and agro-ecology, which are fast, safe and sustainable, and can feed the poor as well as the world.


GM is an artificial solution looking for a problem to solve: keep SHOUTING for investment in real solutions.

SOURCES
  • BASF to concentrate plant biotechnology activities on main markets in North and South America, BASF Press Release, 16.01.12
  • Raj Patel, Ignacio on BASF's Announcement to Move GMOs Out of Europe, Guest Blog by Ignacio Chapela http://rajpatel.org
  • Marcia Ishii-Etieman, German biotech giant flees Europe, Ground Truth, 23.01.12
  • Marco Contiero, Chemical giant BASF flees Europe - no bad potatoes here please! Greenpeace, 23.01.12
  • How EFSA and BASF paved the way for controversial GM corps in the EU, Corporate Europe Observatory Press Release, 8.11.11

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