17 July 1998

Monsanto to buy PBIC

BIOTECHNOLOGY giant Monsanto is to buy Plant Breeding International Cambridge from Unilever for £320m.

PBIC, where conventional and biotech methods are run, operates breeding programmes for winter wheat, barley, oilseed rape and potatoes.

According to Hugh Grant of Monsanto, the deal will give the US-based life sciences firm a "kick-start" in the wheat business.

But despite the deal, Monsanto is not expecting to be selling biotech cereal crops for at least another five years, he adds.

PBIC will, however, soon introduce new, conventionally-bred hybrid wheat varieties, already available in France. These, says Mr Grant, will give UK farmers more choice and increase export opportunities. "A chance to catch up with their counterparts in France."

While Monsanto now has an involvement in most crops, it is, says Mr Grant, a "misconception" that the firm will be controlling these markets. "Worldwide, our share of the seeds business is less than 10%."

No job losses are expected, with PBIC employing 280 people at Cambridge and its other sites, which includes a potato facility in Scotland.

David Taylor of PBIC says: "We are not in the big league of spenders for plant breeding biotechnology – we needed a partner who was spending serious money." &#42