Bayer tries to sugar the pill / Take action on GM rice
2.Does rice really need to be genetically modified by Bayer?
3.Bayer CropScience to consolidate European Plant Biotechnology Research in Ghent
COMMENT from Greenpeace International: Bayer, the German chemical giant is hoping to get EU approval for the import of their GE rice variety LL62. Most countries have shied away from allowing risky experimentation with rice - the world's most important staple crop and at present, no GE rice is grown commercially anywhere in the world. Bayer has genetically manipulated rice to withstand higher doses of a toxic pesticide called glufosinate, which is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environment that it will soon be banned from Europe.
In the coming weeks, the European Union will also decide whether or not this GE rice can enter EU countries, appear on supermarket shelves and end up on our dinner plates. If the European Union approves the import of Bayer GE rice, farmers in the US and elsewhere may soon start planting the manipulated crop. Keeping rice GE-free is not just about consumer choice or the environment - it's a lot bigger than that. It's a matter of global food security, human rights and survival.
We hope that governments around the world will follow the examples of countries like Germany and France and ban all risky GMOs.
See item 2 for how to take action or go to:
1.Big Pharma tries to sugar the pill
David Gow in Leverkusen
The Guardian, 22 April 2009
The pharmaceuticals industry needs to rebuild its image with a public sceptical of science and genetically modified crops, and at Bayer they are trying to do just that
Big Pharma is in the throes of convulsive change. A spate of multibillion mergers and acquisitions in the past few months is transforming the landscape, with this week's $3.6bn (GBP2.5bn) takeover of Stiefel by GlaxoSmithKline the latest and certainly not the last.
It's a truism among analysts that this huge restructuring is driven, primarily, by a dearth of new blockbusting drugs in the pipeline of the biggest pharma groups, which are being forced to buy up innovation via smart start-ups and/or generic drugs companies.
But on the day GSK made its latest foray under its new chief Andrew Whitty, Wolfgang Plischke, board member for innovation, technology and environment at Bayer, pointed to a deeper set of trends. Over lunch in the German group's HQ overlooking a Japanese water garden, we discussed a growing public distaste for, nay dislike of, science and a "war for scarce talent" as young people turned their backs on it.
"I don't expect there'll be a change in public opinion in the next five to 10 years," he said.
But echoing the famous aphorism of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will" Plischke, an ultra-lean 57-year-old biologist keen on endurance sports, is convinced the industry and science can overcome their poor reputation and image.
Bayer, forever associated with aspirin, is in common with all companies buffeted or bulldozered by the recession reinventing itself. Its material science division, worth 30% of annual group turnover of around â‚¬32bn (£28bn) a year, has been harmed by plummeting demand in the car and construction sectors as will be evidenced in first-quarter figures due on 29 April.
The business is branching out into "eco-commercial" buildings such as a new admin centre near Delhi in India, which will take much of its power and air-conditioning from a huge array of solar panels on its roof.
"The government has just committed more than â‚¬3bn to a second phase of its car scrappage scheme," said Bayer spokesman Michael Preuss. "But nobody is talking about insulating our homes, which could produce far greater energy savings and CO2 cuts."
More controversially, the German group is expanding its crop sciences division, which accounts for about 20% of group sales with 7% of that slice coming from genetically modified seeds and plants.
This month, Berlin banned the use of GM pest-resistant corn (maize) strains made by Monsanto. Plischke is troubled by the precedent-setting decision but takes comfort from the fact that it isn't a blanket ban on all GM seeds and crops. "It has no scientific basis," he said.
Bayer is investing â‚¬650m this year on research and development for the division, of which a third goes to environmental impacts, part of an increased overall â‚¬2.9bn research budget. Bayer has set its store by a "second green revolution" after the agricultural advances of more than 30 years ago.
Aware of continuing public hostility, marshalled by environmental NGOs and arguments about the long-term safety of the food chain allegedly threatened by genetically modified organisms, Plischke still insists that the real issue is the growing threat to food security posed by climate change, growth in the global population to 7.5 billion by 2020, scarcity of agricultural land and urbanisation.
"There'll only be 0.2 hectares per head available compared with 0.5 hectares only 10 or 20 years ago," he said. "There's a crying need to improve the quality of agriculture, increase yields and invest in agricultural research. We need to develop new stress-resistant plant varieties and crop protection, plants which can grow on poor, salty soil and the like. This is just the beginning of a new era."
This new era is being trialled in a research centre in nearby Monheim, where stress tests are carried out on tomato and cucumber seedlings, wheat and rice. Bayer's motto is: science for life. But Plischke admits it's an uphill struggle to convince the public.
"The trouble is that we're trying to have a concentrated debate on scientific issues but the public debate isn't about content but values. It's really hard to discuss issues without a shared set of objectives.
"We're keen to enable younger people, the upcoming people in our society, to have the ability to understand and debate scientific issues. And, thanks to the government, the interest of young people is starting to grow again."
The company holds a series of seminars for 12 to 18-year-olds in "Baylabs", trying to overcome their initial boredom, and claims success in opening young minds to the complexities of the GM debate.
One of Plischke's main tasks is to retain and restock Bayer's 12,000-strong research staff, including growing numbers based in the Asia Pacific region he also directs. Scientific excellence is vital, he says, to maintaining Germany's industrial base ("You lost yours in Britain," he said) and government reforms have buttressed this, forging closer links between industry and academia. As much as 70% of the R&D budget is spent in Germany.
He takes issue with the analysts' view that Big Pharma is losing its innovative edge despite this investment in research and product, arguing that up top 40 new drugs are released each year now as was the case 10 or 20 years ago.
"What's changed is the money spent and the regulatory environment. It can cost up to $1bn to develop and launch new products, compared with $300m in the 1990s, and two-thirds of that cost is on expanded clinical trials. We have to test on, say, 2,000 patients compared with 200. It can cost up to $15,000 per patient, a horrendously large amount of money."
And, he added, there were limits to the way productivity and efficiency could be raised, despite EU talks on a low-dose approach to toxicology trials, increasing the substance "library" tenfold and efforts to shorten the time before a new product is used on humans. But he admitted many pharma groups had done little or no innovation, preferring to buy in from outside. But, he said: "Our ratio of discovery to spend is one of the highest in the industry."
Pharma is a risky business including actual or potential litigation on safety as well as the continuing threat of public hostility or indifference. Europe, once the world's pharmacy, produced seven of 10 new medicines only a decade ago; now it's three, even though the EU accounts for 35% of global output and its three biggest firms count among the top five in the world.
Bayer's healthcare division, still accounting for half its turnover and working on new drugs to combat liver cancer, is mid-sized and often linked to takeover rumours (the latest has Swiss-based Novartis as the predator). "I guess the industry is not delivering in the public's eyes," said Plischke soberly. "We have to do more to get our message across."
2.Does rice really need to be genetically modified?
Greenpeace UK, 16 April 2009.
[image caption: The Philippine rice terraces, a UNESCO Living Cultural Heritage site, has been declared a genetically-modified organism (GMO) free zone]
In the world of food staples, rice has a pretty iconic status. Over half of the global population eat it every day. It has been grown around the world for over 10,000 years. It's cultivated in 113 countries. If rice was a pop group, it would be the Beatles.
As well as being a fairly versatile accompanyment to many more interesting foods, rice is also a key ingredient in a wide variety of processed foods, ranging from baby food to more obvious things like rice noodles.
Of course, it's precisely that iconic status that makes rice a target for the 'If it ain't broke, let's break it' enthusiasm of the Genetic Engineering corporates. Because if you could cook up a version of rice that was patented to your company, you'd be raking it in.
The German chemical giant Bayer is trying to so just that - it wants to sell a herbicide resistant variety of GE rice to countries for commercial planting. The theory is that it will make it easier to blitz crops with the herbicide glufosinate without killing them. But that just means two things - first, that pesticide use is going to go waaaaay up, and second, that 'conventional rice' - (also known as 'rice') - is at risk of being contaminated by GE strains. Funnily enough, Bayer also manufacture glufosinate, so they'd get to work both ends of the deal quite nicely.
Quite apart from the fact that glufosinate is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environment that it will soon be banned in Europe, rice traders and producers worldwide have up until this point avoided GE rice, because of high economic risks. The global rice industry lost some 1.2 billion dollars in 2006, when another GE rice variety from Bayer contaminated global food supplies.
Our colleagues at Greenpeace International are hosting a petition calling on governments to protect consumers, farmers, crops and fields from potential contamination by GE rice.
There are some links with more information here, or you can sign the petition [at]
Find out about GE crops in more detail
Read more about Bayer's GE rice
Hands off our rice!
3.Bayer CropScience to consolidate European Plant Biotechnology Research in Ghent
WEBWIRE, April 03, 2009
Realignment of biotech research activities:
Focus to lie on stress tolerance, increasing yields and optimized quality traits in plants in future
Monheim Bayer CropScience AG intends to consolidate its European research activities in the field of plant biotechnology at its Innovation Center in Ghent, Belgium and further extend its activities in the main research fields of stress tolerance and increasing yields. The BioScience (Seed & Traits) division’s share of Bayer CropScience’s total research and development expenditure is planned to increase from 20 percent at present to 25 percent in 2012. In the course of consolidating the main research fields at BioScience, Bayer CropScience has decided to no longer pursue its research into nutrition specialty ingredients at its site in Potsdam, Germany in future.
Bayer CropScience intends to realign its plant biotechnology research and development activities to more clearly identify new agronomic properties and qualitative plant traits, in order to better address major trends in global agriculture such as increasing demand for food, feed, fibers and renewable raw materials. The fields of stress tolerance and increased yields are crucial elements for the company’s future market success. Bayer CropScience also wants to further develop its quality plant trait research activities, thus building on its successful business platform in cotton, canola, rice and vegetable seeds. The research program in these four key crops covers key quality traits such as the development of new canola profiles, improved tomato processing characteristics and improved fiber quality on the basis of new cotton varieties.
In the course of realigning its plant biotechnology research activities, Bayer CropScience has decided to no longer pursue its activities in nutrition specialty ingredients, which is one of the main assignments of the research institute in Potsdam. The company will make every effort to offer all employees at the Potsdam site new assignments at the Innovation Center in Ghent and at Bayer CropScience’s other research sites.
The Seeds & Traits business the business with seeds and crops that have been genetically modified to optimize their properties is of growing importance for the company. With the aid of plant biotechnology and modern breeding methods the company is able to introduce improvements into crop plants which have the potential to increase the quantity and quality of foodstuffs, feeds and fibers for the benefit of farmers, consumers, industry and the environment. Bayer CropScience plans to invest some EUR 750 million in the development of new solutions in its Seeds & Traits business from 2008 to 2012. In addition to the planned consolidation of the European biotech research activities in Ghent, the company also intends to further extend its research and development capacities in North America, the world’s most important market for commercial use of plant biotechnology.
About Bayer CropScience
Bayer is a global enterprise with core competencies in the fields of health care, nutrition and high-tech materials. Bayer CropScience AG, a subsidiary of Bayer AG with annual sales of about EUR 6.4 billion (2008), is one of the world’s leading innovative crop science companies in the areas of crop protection, non-agricultural pest control, seeds and plant biotechnology. The company offers an outstanding range of products and extensive service backup for modern, sustainable agriculture and for non-agricultural applications. Bayer CropScience has a global workforce of more than 18,000 and is represented in more than 120 countries. This and further news is available at: www.newsroom.bayercropscience.com.
Find more information at www.bayercropscience.com.
This release may contain forward-looking statements based on current assumptions and forecasts made by Bayer Group or subgroup management. Various known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the actual future results, financial situation, development or performance of the company and the estimates given here. These factors include those discussed in Bayer’s public reports which are available on the Bayer website at www.bayer.com. The company assumes no liability whatsoever to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.