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Monsanto ends Europe cereal line

Monsanto is searching for a buyer for its European cereal business.
Monsanto is searching for a buyer for its European cereal business.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Biotechnology giant Monsanto, the U.S. company that pioneered GM crops, has pulled the plug on its seed cereal business in Europe.

The move coincides with the release of the British government's much-anticipated 6 million ($9.6 million) report into the impact of genetically modified (GM) crop trials on the environment and wildlife.

Monsanto Northern Europe general manager Jeff Cox said the company is leaving the European cereal seed business because of a lack of growth in the hybrid wheat seed market.

Up to 80 high-skilled jobs could be lost when Monsanto closes its large-scale research program in Trumpington, Cambridge. Operations in France, Germany and the Czech Republic will also be affected, where the company has a further 45 employees.

Cox said other companies have expressed interest in buying the business and that he was optimistic there would be no job losses.

Anti-GM campaigners have been quick to applaud the move. Friends of the Earth spokesman Pete Riley told CNN he believed the decision was related to controversy over GM in Europe because he believed Monsanto had originally intended to eventually create GM cereals.

But Cox dismissed such a link, saying the departure from the Europe cereal business was based on declining revenues from cereal seed and the technical and commercial failure of non-GM hybrid wheat.

He said none of the hybrid products involved GM technology.

Monsanto said it would remain in the UK crop protection and oilseed rape business, which would move to a new base in Cambridge.

One of the reasons the company was closing its cereal business, was so it could focus on putting more research into GM development, he said.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom accused U.S. biotech companies this week of "trying to lie" and "force" unsuitable GM technology on Europe.

Meanwhile, a report by the British government on the effect of GM crops on the environment and wildlife, called Farm Scale Evaluations, appeared to contain conflicting results.

The tests, the biggest of their type so far, found that growing GM herbicide-tolerant beet and spring rape is worse for wildlife than conventional varieties because of the shortfall in weeds and insects.

But the results also showed that growing herbicide-tolerant GM maize was better for many groups of wildlife than conventional maize.

Researchers stressed Thursday that the differences they found in the three-year project were not a result of the way the crops were genetically modified.

They arose, researchers said, because the GM crops gave farmers taking part in the trial new options for weed control, allowing them to use different herbicides and apply them differently.

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