Putting a price on biotech
In the second of our series
Robert Harris asks AgrEvo
how it sees the sector
developing in the UK
PREPARE for the biotech revolution. The technology is here to stay and its going to have a big impact.
AgrEvo, a leading player in genetic modification, remains bullish about prospects despite the industrys recent bad publicity.
Recent pushes of imported soya beans and maize by some companies into a less-than-keen European market, at a time when food scares, spurred by the BSE crisis, were at an all-time high, did the industry no favours. But the company believes public fears can be allayed, and maintains earlier forecasts of rapid global uptake.
Pierre-Louis Dupont, AgrEvos European head of marketing, sticks to company predictions made valuing its herbicide sales in tolerant crops, sold under the Liberty Link banner, at over £350m by the end of the decade.
The introduction of other traits like insect tolerance, disease resistance and better quality could more than double that figure to £1-1.3bn within 10 years, compared with just under £4bn from conventional crop chemistry, he predicts.
The company needs that sort of return. It currently invests 11.6% of its £1.4bn turnover into research. And two years ago it paid £354m for a 75% share in Plant Genetic Systems, a Dutch-based biotechnology company.
Europe must accept genetically modified organisms, Mr Dupont maintains. "World demand for food is rising as income in third world countries increases. The US and Canada are ready to use the new technology to help them produce more and increase their exports."
Europe must do the same, since the chances of catching up may be slim. "We are developing these products on a global scale. If Europe doesnt accept GMOs, you will see AgrEvo focusing its research elsewhere in the world."
Herbicide resistant spring oilseed rape from AgrEvo will be commercially available in spring 1999 and other crops will soon follow. Non-hybrid winter GM rapes are expected in autumn 1999. Liberty Link sugar beet will arrive in 2000, with silage maize following soon after. The company launched a grain maize variety in North America last year which suits southern European climates.
• Next week we take a closer look at AgrEvos plans for introducing GM crops to the UK. *