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COLUMN: Bayer pressing on with biotechnology

MONHEIM, Germany -- Crop protection manufacturers only think they have a difficult time obtaining product registrations in the United States. They should try getting a new compound or new food product cleared for introduction in the European Union.

Product registration and commercialization is becoming more complex all over the world, says the chairman of the board of management of Bayer CropScience AG, the German-based company that has extensive business interests in the United States and other parts of the world.

"The crop science industry is currently and will remain one of the most regulated industries in the world," said Jochen Wulff at a press conference in Monheim, attended by media representatives from 22 countries.

Wulff said Bayer CropScience invests 700 million Euro ($756 million) in research and development for innovative products and improved agricultural technologies, including new classes of insecticides such as Envidor and plant materials like Liberty Link cotton.

"Decisions are based on science, but we have to strike the right balance between our targets of profitability to justify the investment and fulfilling social and environmental responsibilities," he said. "This balance is threatened as interest groups tend to focus on single objectives."

One result is that more so-called "secondary regulations" are being imposed on the industry. "The influence of pressure groups on the food industry, for example, has prompted a number of food producers to set their own quality standards. Over 1,000 such restrictions already exist in Europe alone.

"The danger is sound regulations with high safety margins are undermined as a result of individual political agendas. The additional benefits to the consumers in terms of food safety are questionable."

Wulff says there is a "clear necessity for all stakeholders to return to their responsibilities. We cannot afford to waste resources by allowing ideology and politics to play a dominant role. We have to focus our efforts and energy on the key issues that will drive progress and innovation."

The food industry, including farmers and crop protection companies, must have science-based registration procedures and a predictable environment for new products. "We are convinced that all stakeholders will have to cooperate closely in this process to find mutually beneficial and acceptable solutions," he said.

In another part of the conference, an official said Bayer would continue to push the development of biotechnology products.

"We know the current controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms. We know the current trade conflict between the USA and Europe. We know the low level of acceptance of these technologies in Europe," said Bayer board member Bernward Garthoff. "But we are convinced that the field of plant biotechnology offers unique and excellent opportunities to address the ever-increasing demands for food, feed and fiber products foreseen in the next decades."

That's the kind of statement you would expect from a company with an already significant investment in biotechnology. But it's all the more promising when you realize that it was made in a location in one of the most politically liberal areas of Germany.

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