Although Monsanto has been commonly perceived as the leader in biotechnology product development, and is the company credited the most around the world for its genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops, other multinational mega-companies have been involved in biotech research and development for just as long.
Whereas Monsanto has always been viewed as the enemy by many anti-biotech activists, other companies have been doing international biotech research and completing seed company acquisitions with much less attention paid to them. The amount of biotech research by other multinationals has really accelerated in the last few years.
Just because a crop protection division of a large multinational is located in Europe, where biotech products have a hard time being approved for import or cultivation, has not inhibited the financial investment in biotech research and development.
“Bayer is based in Germany, and Europe does not accept most GM crops; however, we are very significantly involved in development of new traits and new seed technologies,” said Mark Wrucke, Bayer CropScience, regional manager, development and market support.
“Globally, our bioscience business is based in Ghent, Belgium,” Wrucke noted. Bayer CropScience has also based biotechnology research in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and Argentina, he said.
“We have established our new Biotech Innovation Center at Morrisville, N.C. We have over 100 scientists employed there working on nothing but traits, new seeds, isolating genes and new bioscience technologies,” Wrucke said.
As a crop protection company, Bayer CropScience touts having the largest research budget in the industry. Wrucke said the 2011 budget is set for more than $1 billion in research with $750 million for crop protection and the remainder “focused on bioscience/biotechnology, which is a huge increase in funding for us, but we are very much dedicated to the biotechnology business.”
PRIDE IN BIOTECH HERITAGE
Syngenta, with world headquarters in Switzerland, is another prime example of a European-based company focused on biotechnolgy. Predecessor companies to the current Syngenta were involved in biotechnology research and product development more than 25 years ago.
Syngenta’s new Agrisure Viptera insecticidal seed trait can trace its roots to agrobacterium transformation work Mary-Dell Chilton began in those early years, and she is still working for Syngenta.
But instead of one person with some lab support, today Syngenta has 400 people working on biotechnology projects in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, and it will soon have 200 workers at a new center in Beijing, China, opened in 2008, plus support researchers in Singapore, France, Chile and the Midwest (Slater, Iowa) working on molecular marker technology.
“We are the first foreign multinational company in China putting in an agricultural biotech laboratory doing research with its own personnel,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, Syngenta, head, biotechnology research and development.
Syngenta reportedly spends about $1 billion annually in research and development for crop protection, biotechnology and seed development. “We don’t see ourselves as either a biotech or chemistry company,” van Lookeren Campagne said. “In the long-term view, we believe integrated solutions for our customers are going to be where Syngenta makes a difference.”
Dow AgroSciences is a company that has been concentrating on acquiring small research companies and seed franchises worldwide.
“We feel we have a real nice balance between what is going on in the U.S. and with good growth in our corn and oilseed business in South America, including Brazil, Argentina and affiliated countries," said Brian Barker, Dow AgroSciences, global business leader for corn, sorghum and alfalfa seeds. "We are building a nice platform in Europe pretty much spanning Europe from western, central and eastern Europe and also going into the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States or former Soviet Republic) countries with corn, canola and sunflowers. And we are looking at some other opportunities like Asia to expand into as well."
Barker was quick to note that biotechnology alone is not the only solution to seed products for improved yields. He explained that new products from “high-tech breeding capabilities” that are essentially biotechnology based, which allow gene markers and haploid breeding efficiency, will accomplish more seed sales globally.
“We will have transgenic traits that we can leverage into a lot of geographies — traits like the Dow AgroSciences herbicide- tolerant trait technology, Herculex insect protection, SmartStax above and below ground insect control plus herbicide resistance and other new products,” Barker said.
“We think a balanced approach of having native tech-nologies, transgenics and agri-chemical solutions to bring the whole package of offerings together is vital for our formula for success,” he said.
LOCAL RESEARCH APPROACH
Pioneer, a DuPont company, is increasing its biotechnology product offerings, as noted by Tracy Linbo, Pioneer Hi-Bred, senior manager, biotechnology affairs and regulatory lead. “We definitely are increasing the number of countries that we are going into from a research and selling standpoint,” she explained about the global approach of Pioneer.
Global success for Pioneer seed products will continue to be achieved by “local research” in order to be sure the seed developed is the right fit. “We continue to increase the dollars that we invest into biotechnology research, and we are trying to invest in research as locally as possible to make sure that we are achieving crop production as efficiently and sustainably as possible,” Linbo said.
Pioneer has been a leader in seed sales and is using biotechnology research and development to maintain a leadership position. “We strongly believe that biotechnology is critical to achieve the goals of feeding the population ahead of us. We believe it is going to be pretty difficult to feed all those people without biotechnology.” Linbo referenced a world population estimated to be about 9 billion by 2050.
Syngenta’s van Lookeren Campagne said that biotechnology is not going to be “the panacea to solve the problem (of feeding 9 billion people), but it is definitely going to contribute significantly to innovation to meet that goal.”
MESSAGES CATCHING ON
“There are two messages that seem to be playing well in favor of biotechnology acceptance around the world. One is the ability for it to play a role in a country’s food security and the other for it to play a substantial role in production sustainability,” said Jack Bernens, Syngenta Seed, head of technology acceptance.
Barker noted that biotechnology will continue to gain acceptance globally because of the value it has already shown and its potential.
“Just like with anything, there is a period of harmonization as the technology is adopted, and that has to take place with biotechnology. Over time, as we show the benefits and performance, acceptance will happen in all the key areas of the globe.”
Each of the companies mentioned China’s widespread approval of biotechnology as being on the cusp of taking off. The government has approved two biotech seed events — one for corn and the other for rice — but they have not been released for cultivation.
The seed industry has noted the adoption of biotechnology wheat as being a probable accomplishment by 2020. Bayer CropScience pointed to registration of biotechnology wheat as a major goal.