Food for Thought: BASF Plant Sciences Moving to the US

NGOs such as Greenpeace and BUND as well as Green politicians such as Rhineland-Palatinate State Minister Ulrike Hoefken, responsible for the environment, agriculture, food, viniculture and forests, hailed the recent decision by German chemical company BASF to move its plant science activities from Limburgerhof, Rhineland-Palatinate/Germany, to Raleigh, North Carolina.

BASF said the decision was made because of “lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe”, adding it did “not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.” As a result, development and commercialization of all products targeted solely at cultivation in the European market will be halted.

In response to this decision, Minister Hoefken said that “the research by BASF has not been constrained by any means”, adding the decision was caused by lack of success of genetically engineered products in cultivation and marketing. She also stated, “agrogenetic engineering is not able to comply with statutory provisions. Agrogenetic engineering is no worthwhile future technology.”

Hoefken, however, did not say that politicians have bestowed great care in the past to make regulatory provisions as impractical as possible for companies developing genetically engineered plants.  As examples, companies and farmers planting genetically engineered crops are liable for compensation if conventional crops (or honey) in the vicinity are “contaminated” with genes by the genetically engineered variants. There is no threshold level defined so that based on today’s PCR capabilities it is very easy to find them, and the “contaminated” harvest is treated and destroyed as if polluted with plutonium. In addition, fields tilled with genetically engineered plants have to be disclosed in a public registry – an invitation for self-proclaimed “field liberators” which vandalize the fields in a well-organized manner on a regular basis, flogging security guards and destroying plants and machinery. A list of these destructions compiled by the Federation of German Plant Breeders (BPI) can be found here. Politics has done nothing to stop this practice.

While BASF will slash 140 positions in Europe, it will keep and strengthen its research facilities at metanomics in Berlin/Germany and CropDesign in Ghent/Belgium. “Although the conditions for cultivation of genetically modified crops in Europe are unfavorable, there are world-class research institutes and universities in both Berlin and Ghent,” said Dr. Peter Eckes, President of BASF Plant Science. “We have excellent scientists and facilities there and at our research sites in North America.” BASF therefore will continue its research at these locations. metanomics profiles metabolites, e.g. for gene discovery, mechanism-of-action studies, biomarker discovery and other applications. Metabolite profiling for healthcare customers in industry and academia are offered by BASF Group company metanomics health, also based in Berlin.

Already in 2004, Bayer and Syngenta had stopped their activities to test genetically modified plants in Germany. The only company still pursuing such tests in Germany is KWS Saat AG .