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7-Business: GM companies battle to salvage reputation in Scotland

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TITLE:  GM companies battle to salvage reputation
SOURCE: The Scotsman, UK, by Fordyce Maxwell
DATE:   Jan 25, 2003

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GM companies battle to salvage reputation

REPRESENTATIVES of the big-six companies involved with genetically
modified crops were on a charm offensive in Scotland this week, meeting
MSPs, scientists and journalists.

Paul Rylott, of Bayer CropScience and the chairman of the recently-formed
Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), did not put it quite like that.

He told journalists that the industry - as in his company, BASF, Dow,
DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta - had recognised 18 months ago that the
battle for GM was being lost.

Actual battlefields in Scotland include the Black Isle, Daviot in
Aberdeenshire and Newport on Tay, where the controversial GM crop trials
are taking place.

There was also the wider battle of public opinion and a mainly-hostile media.

Rylott said that the big-six had formed ABC to "address misconceptions",
meet the public and answer questions.

Contact with the public had been an eye-opener, he said, even though most
research shows that price is the over-riding factor for food, not whether
it is GM or organic.

But the effect of anti-GM campaigning and media hostility was apparent.
Asked to name their own concerns about food, GM came near the bottom of
any consumer list. But if they were given a list to put in order, GM came
near the top.

Rylott said that ABC had been formed to "put a public face to the biotech
industry" and to dispel some of the myths.

He said: "We do not claim that biotechnology is the answer to all
farming's problems. It's another tool in the box.

"It should not be distinct from any other tool - farmers should have the
choice of GM, organic or conventional. They, and we, do not have that
choice now."

He and his colleagues believe, in spite of continued strenuous opposition
to crop trials and criticism of the Executive and the UK government for
allowing them, that GM crops and food will eventually be accepted.

Dr Colin Merritt, a technical development manager with Monsanto, told
journalists: "In ten years time, we will look back and say, 'that was a
strange phase we went through.'"

GM crops, he agreed, are not the answer to world farming's problems. But
they have a part to play, he argued, and "fear of the unknown melts away
when farmers get a crop in the field".

About 50 per cent of world soya and more than 30 per cent of world cotton
is now GM, as well as much of the oilseed rape. The US, Canada, China and
India all grow large, and increasing, areas of GM crops.

But resistance to the technology continues in the European Union, with
several other member states as anti as the UK.

Julian Little, of Bayer CropScience, said that the argument had changed:
from whether GM technology is a good thing to what happens when the crop
is grown commercially. He said: "It's not now about whether it's safe in
itself, but how you manage it. That's a major shift."

But he admitted that at some stage the big-six had to start getting a
return from Europe for their investment in GM, or switch attention
completely to developing countries. He said: "It is possible that we
could pull out of Europe."