Company halves biotech workforce, closes test sites in Hawaii, India, and Puerto Rico, cuts GMO portfolio
Below is news of a major pull-back from GM crops by BASF. The company is halving its biotech workforce, pulling out of major GM projects, and closing test sites in Hawaii, India, and Puerto Rico.
Reading between the lines, it seems as if BASF may have realized that it has been betting on a losing horse and running into a wall with the GM approach.
Harald Schwager, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF, responsible for Bioscience Research, is quoted as saying, “We will discontinue projects with extremely high technical challenges, which would require significant time and financial investment. Discovery and early development projects in yield and stress, including corn and soybean will be streamlined, rice yield as well as corn fungal resistance projects will be discontinued."
We could not have put it better ourselves. Engineering of yield, stress and fungal resistance traits have been a notorious failure. Nothing came out of these projects, despite huge funding, that couldn't be achieved with breeding – faster, better, cheaper and more sustainably. These are all complex genetic traits, which GM techniques cannot deliver.
This is what some of us have been saying all along. First, because genetic engineering is built on an outdated and flawed dogma of gene functioning. Second, because genetic engineers have never managed to engineer complex gene networks, which is what drives the really meaningful traits like adaptation to local conditions and stresses – whether drought, heat, low nutrient soils, or diseases.
BASF appears to recognise that it has wasted a huge amount of money with no returns and that there likely will not be any such returns because GM does not work as it thought it would.
Interestingly, BASF does NOT blame its massive pullout from GM on public opposition to the technology, as it did when it pulled the starch-altered GM potato Amflora from the market a few years ago after fighting for its approval for cultivation for 13 years in Europe. The new move comes without mentioning any of this and also does not blame ‘over-stringent’ EU regulations – another theme of media stories about the Amflora withdrawal. That is noteworthy.
BASF also does not mention another piece of GMO hype – gene editing and the miraculous powers assigned to it by GMO proponents – which will suffer from exactly the same shortcomings as old-style GM.
All in all, this move seems highly significant. BASF seems to be facing up to the reality and failure of this hyped technology to deliver – although of course it would never explicitly say this.
BASF to refocus plant biotechnology research
BASF, 25 Feb 2016
* Research portfolio to concentrate on projects with highest business and technical realization potential
* Plant biotechnology research and development footprint to be streamlined in North America and Europe
As part of its regular portfolio review, BASF is refocusing its plant biotechnology research portfolio and will restructure its Plant Science operations. The company will adjust the site footprint of its plant biotechnology research and development network in North America and Europe and intends to reduce approximately 350 positions, thereof 140 positions in North America and 180 in Europe. Currently approximately 700 employees work in plant biotechnology R&D.
Research and field sites in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; Ames, Iowa; Berlin and Limburgerhof, Germany; Ghent, Belgium; and Brazil will be kept but are planned to be reduced in size. The field testing sites in Kekaha, Hawaii, as well as the sites in India and Puerto Rico will be closed. The restructuring is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.
“We are confident that by refocusing our plant biotechnology portfolio, we will enable BASF to bring the most promising research projects to success. We will discontinue projects with extremely high technical challenges, which would require significant time and financial investment,” said Dr. Harald Schwager, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF, responsible for Bioscience Research.
The plant biotechnology research portfolio will focus on high potential projects in herbicide tolerance and fungal resistant soybean. The project on polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in canola seeds will also be continued. The yield and stress collaboration agreement regarding corn and soybean with Monsanto is not affected. Discovery and early development projects in yield and stress, including corn and soybean will be streamlined, rice yield as well as corn fungal resistance projects will be discontinued.