GM giant culls top jobs in Europe
GEOFFREY LEAN & TIM WEBB / The Independent (UK) 29feb04
Bayer CropScience is parting company with the bosses of its GM programmes throughout Europe, in a move which is bound to be seen as an acknowledgement that it sees little future for the technology in Europe.
Among those made redundant is Dr Paul Rylott, Bayer's UK head of bioscience, who has become the public face of the GM industry in Britain. The news comes just as the Government is about to approve the planting of GM maize, produced by the company in Britain - marking Dr Rylott's greatest triumph. He will leave within the next month and has yet to find new employment.
A spokesman in the UK confirmed that all the heads of bioscience in European countries are to go.
Last October, Monsanto [More on Monsanto], the world's largest GM seed company, announced that it was closing its European cereal headquarters in Cambridgeshire, with the loss of 80 jobs, and pulling out of its cereal seed business on the Continent.
The decision was hailed as a victory by environmentalists, and seen as the company "throwing in the towel" in the face of entrenched public hostility to the technology. Ministers privately believe that Bayer's move demonstrates a similar lack of confidence in the prospects for growing GM crops.
Cabinet Committee minutes reveal that Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, told her fellow ministers that the Government expected "little market demand" for its maize, and therefore "little cultivation, in the short term".
Bayer formally insists that it believes there is "still a very good market in the UK", and insists that the redundancies do not reflect its view of the prospects for GM crops, echoing similar denials from Monsanto last autumn.
Yet Julian Little, a spokesman for the company, admitted the maize was never going to make a lot of money. He said he expected just a tenth of Britain's 250,000 acres of maize to become GM, and environmentalists dismiss even this as a great overestimate.
Dr Paul Rylott - a GM Watch profile
Dr Paul Rylott is Chairman of the lobby group Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) , which was founded in 2002 by Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, Dow and Bayer CropScience.
Paul Rylott is also Bayer CropScience's 'Head of BioScience UK'. He was formerly UK Seed Manager for Aventis CropScience, prior to its sale to Bayer. He's also an Industry representative on SCIMAC (Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops).
Paul Rylott is married to Judith Rylott (formerly Jordan) who also works for Bayer. She was formerly Head of Product Development for Aventis CropScience.
In June 2003 Paul Rylott was reported to be seeking the dismissal of the UK's Environment Minister, Michael Meacher. According to the Sunday Telegraph, 'Michael Meacher's position as environment minister was at risk last night after he was accused by a leading member of the powerful pro-GM lobby of boycotting the field trials for the controversial plants... Dr Rylott told The Telegraph that he found this disappointing.' The paper added that, 'Mr Meacher has survived earlier threats but, following the fresh criticisms, he could lose his job in Tony Blair's reshuffle, expected this week.' ('Knives out' for Meacher in row over GM crops) In the reshuffle that followed Michael Meacher was sacked.
When in September 2003 the results of the UK's official public debate on GM were announced, Paul Rylott used an ABC press release to criticise the way in which it had been conducted (GM Nation? - 'Public meetings do not equal public debate'). The press release claimed that more than 32,500 of the 37,000 feedback forms received during the debate had been 'orchestrated' by campaigning groups and that consequently the debate, which showed a high level of concern about GM crops, did not fairly reflect the public's views.
Yet Rylott himself was a member of the steering board which organised the debate. He was also a party to the steering board's report on the debate which specifically ruled out this kind of orchestration having occurred. The report concluded, 'We are confident that this report gives a reliable account of the broad opinions of those who participated in each section of the debate, and that it fairly reflects the broad priority given by the public to different issues, attitudes and arguments.' Rylott issued no statement of dissension from the report's conclusions.
This is not the first time that Paul and Judith Rylott's claims have been at variance with the facts. When Judith Rylott appeared as a witness for the prosecution of 28 supporters of Greenpeace for uprooting GM crops, she was asked whether a fifty meter buffer zone between GM and conventional crops was really sufficient to prevent cross-contamination. She replied that pollution in those circumstances was as likely as getting pregnant from a toilet seat.
Paul Rylott was equally confident about this issue when interviewed for a TV broadcast shortly after the conclusion of the case (Matter of Fact , BBC2 Eastern Region, 12 October 2000). In answer to a question about whether there was 'any danger of cross-pollination' from his company's GM crop trials, Rylott said, ' OK, we know that cross-pollination will occur but we've got thirty years of experience to say we know how far pollen will travel. And therefore what we've done is we'll grow a GM crop at a distance away from a non-GM crop, so the people that want non-GM can buy non-GM, and the people that want GM can buy GM. The two will not get mixed up. Everybody will have the right to choose.'
However , according to the National Pollen Research Unit viable maize pollen can travel at least 800 meters, ie 16 times further than the distance beyond which Judith Rylott claimed under oath that the probability of cross-contamination was effectively zero. (R. Treu and J. Emberlin, Pollen dispersal? Evidence from Publications , (2000) a report for the Soil Association by the National Pollen Research Unit).
Paul Rylott's categorical assurances that 'the two will not get mixed up' and 'everybody will have the right to choose', is also somewhat at odds with the experience of farmers, food companies and consumers in the US who that same year had to contend with the multi-million-dollar fallout from the Aventis StarLink GM maize disaster.
This involved the unauthorized appearance in the human food chain of a potentially allergenic GM maize, only approved for animal feed. This lead to hundreds of food item recalls. Federal officials said Aventis were solely to blame for the failure to keep StarLink from being eaten by humans. (Dow Jones Newswires, Federal Officials Blame Aventis For Biotech Corn Found in Food , October 27, 2000 ) Paul Rylott was working for Aventis at the time of the TV interview.
In the same interview Rylott said, 'I mean I have to take my hat off to them [Greenpeace...see sidebar], they are incredibly well organised and if we were that well organised life would be a lot easier, but unfortunately we're not. We're just a company, I guess.... I guess, what we're also saying is we're only a small team.'
A year before Rylott's statement, Des D'Souza, Rylott's then boss at AgrEvo told a public meeting in Norfolk, 'We have eight thousand employees around the world, 900 in the UK, and we have a turnover of one billion pounds and yes, we're in it for the money.' (Lyng, Norfolk, 10 July 1999) This was prior to the company's merger with French agrochmemical giant Rhone-Poulenc, which created the still larger corporate entity, Aventis.
Many thanks for sending this file to GM Watch www.gmwatch.org