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7-Misc: GM food protesters hijacked AstraZeneca first annual meeting in UK



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TITLE:  Genetic tomatoes hijack AstraZeneca big day
SOURCE: Reuters
        by Jonathan Birt, European pharmaceuticals correspondent
DATE:   May 21, 1999

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


Genetic tomatoes hijack AstraZeneca big day

LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - Genetic food protesters hijacked
AstraZeneca Plc's first annual meeting and a rosy set of sales
figures on Friday, rushing the stage where the board of the new
Anglo-Swedish group was assembled. Earlier around 15
demonstrators from a group calling themselves Genetic Engineering
Network, some disguised as giant tomatoes, had invaded the ground
floor of the company's head office near London's Hyde Park. At
least one person was arrested. Several share-owning protesters
were manhandled out of the annual meeting at the Royal Lancaster
Hotel. Two attempted to seize a microphone from outgoing Zeneca
chairman Sydney Lipworth, while a third handcuffed herself to a
chair in the ballroom where the meeting was being held. The
incidents overshadowed what should have been a triumphant day for
AstraZeneca, which announced an 18 percent rise in pharmaceutical
turnover in the first quarter of the year, buoyed by a 24 percent
gain in sales of ulcer drug Losec, currently the best selling
medicine in the world. A shareholder meeting in front of 4,000
Swedish shareholders at the Stockholm Globe Arena on Wednesday
had passed without incident.

The new company -- by some measures the world's biggest drugs
combine and the third-largest agrochemicals group -- has found
itself thrust uncomfortably into the spotlight because of a
growing row over genetically modified foods in Britain and other
European countries. Zeneca pioneered the world's first
genetically-engineered tomatoes, which have been used in tomato
paste sold on an experimental basis in some UK supermarkets. It
is working on a number of other products, including potatoes
which will not sprout in storage and seeds resistant to certain
types of disease and herbicides.

Questioning at the meeting was dominated by ActionAid, which runs
a number of aid projects in the developing world, and the World
Development Movement (WDM). Both distanced themselves from
invasion of the platform and AstraZeneca's head office. The two
groups fear the move by companies like AstraZeneca, DuPont and
Monsanto to buy up seed companies will force poor farmers to buy
expensive seeds and chemicals from monopoly sellers. "Our concern
is that this genetic technology will be to the benefit of the
companies and not to the benefit fo the farmers -- quite the
reverse," Barry Coates of WDM told Reuters. "Companies are now
being forced not just to say they are ethical, but to show they
are as well. Zeneca hasn't quite got the hang of that."

"We are very open and willing to discuss anything with anyone,"
Michael Pragnell, chief executive of Zeneca Agrochemicals, told
shareholders. "There are real questions that need to be taken
seriously and need to be answered -- we believe this technology
does offer very significant long-term benefit to the consumer and
to the farmer."

Ironically, while drug sales rose sharply in the first three
months of the eyar, sales of agrochemcial products dropped three
percent, and the group said there was little sign of improvement
in the second quarter. Friday's incidents and sales figures may
sharpen some minds on the new AstraZeneca board about the wisdom
of staying in agrochemicals, which accounts for only 10 percent
of operating profit at the new group. The group's new Chief
Executive Tom McKillop, a pharmaceutical research man by trade,
and its powerful Swedish board members led by Chairman Percy
Barnevik are likley to have little emotional attachment to
Zeneca's agrochemicals wing, particularly if it starts to prove
troublesome.



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