Brussels, 05 Jul 2004
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.
The firm will move its UK research to the more favourable regulatory and business climate of the US.
Syngenta, which is the largest agribusiness in world, said it remained 'very firmly behind biotech technology'. 'However', explained spokesperson Andrew Coker, 'we need 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.
This decision, first announced in the Times Higher Education supplement, is 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.
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. According to experts, 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.
Professor Wilson told the Times Higher Education supplement: 'Anyone who isn't about to retire will leave the country. We are all feeling: 'What the hell is the point'.'
Professor Anthony Trewavas of Edinburgh University agreed, calling the decision a nail in the coffin of the plant science community 'We are noticing a reduction in students wanting to do molecular courses. They don't see a career in it anymore. All they hear is antagonism and anxiety,' he said.
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 10 million GBP (14.8 million euro) investment programme. Syngenta's plant in Switzerland will concentrate on pesticides, while the US will become the centre for biotech crops research.