GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Novartis Frantic Over Corn Controversy



    PARIS, Feb 19 (Reuter) - Novartis Seeds, a unit of Swiss pharmaceuticals
group Novartis AG <NOVZn.S>, said on Wednesday it would step up public
information on the benefits of gene-crop technology in the hope that France
would change its mind and allow farmers to grow genetically-altered maize. 

    But company officials said they doubted the French government would
reverse its decision this year. 

    The maize was developed by Ciba-Geigy, now part of the Novartis group, to
resist the corn borer pest. 

    "We will pursue communications efforts and 1997 will be crucial to
convince of the benefits of that technology," Andre Goig, director general
for Novartis Seeds in Europe, told a news conference. 

    France has authorised the import and marketing of genetically-modified
maize but refused last week to allow its cultivation. 

    France said it wanted to move step-by-step on an issue that has sparked
protests from environmentalists and consumer groups. 

    France's decision drew furious reactions from farmers and prompted a top
scientist who led research for the government to resign. 

    Goig said Novartis Seeds regretted the French decision as it put French
farmers at a competitive disadvantage. 

    The maize has already been approved for planting by the United States and
Canada. 

    He said gene-maize technology helped farmers cut production costs as it
reduced the costs of buying insecticides and improved yields by at least five
to 10 percent. 

    Goig said gene-maize was safe for health and the environment, adding
respected scientists worldwide had backed the technology. 

    Communication efforts would include further field experiments in France
and the release of a book showing the benefits and safety of gene-maize
production. 

    -- Paris newsroom +331 4221 5432   

14:23 02-19-97