BIOTECH GIANT Syngenta has announced it is to withdraw its plant science research from its Berkshire labs, bringing an end to large scale commercial GM research in the UK.

The move is being seen as a blow to plant science in the UK for both GM and conventional crops.

Syngenta said it was refocusing its research work at its three major labs – Jealotts Hill, Berks, Stein in Switzerland and its main biotech facility in North Carolina, USA.

The plant science research work is being moved to Syngenta Biotech Industry in N Carolina, said head of communications for Syngenta UK Andrew Coker.

“We remain committed as we have ever been to biotech. This is just to ensure we have the right people working in the right places.”

The Berkshire facility will shed 100 scientists and 30 support staff and will focus on the company‘s crop protection work with an extra £10 million of fresh investment.

Friends of the Earth called the move “another massive blow to the biotech industry”.

“This move by Syngenta shows that there is no future for GM technology in the UK or Europe,” said GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow.

Liberal Democrat shadow rural affairs secretary Andrew George said the loss of jobs was regrettable.

But conclusive evidence on the environmental effects of GMs is still some years away, he pointed out.

“The giant GM firms should have tailored their products to the market, rather than trying to tailor the market to suit their products,” he said.

But all plant science will suffer, warned Hertfordshire farmer and chairman of the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops Bob Fiddaman.

“All of the best microbiologists will be dissuaded from working in the UK,” he said.

“The effects will be just as severe outside GM as all UK-based genetic research will be hit.”

As far as GM itself is concerned, he said the technology will still progress at the same pace, and Syngenta‘s decision will have no impact on commercial GM crop production.

“But scientists would be less likely to work with British material,” he added.