GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 11th  March 2004

PPL collapses - Is Monsanto Next?

The breakdown in negotiations to prop up PPL Therapeutics has lead to a total share collapse - and likely bankruptcy of the company behind New Zealand's longest-running GE trial. PPL's demise could be the first in a series of company failures that could hit New Zealand 's biotech industry. 

Even major global players like Monsanto looking shaky after years of restructuring, spinning-off and legal battles over damage caused by Monsanto, or its subsidiaries.

"This could be the future of biotech worldwide, as decades pass and it still fails to provide the miracles it promised to financial backers," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free New Zealand in food and environment. �It is sheer foolhardiness and arrogance on behalf of the government to force the public to pay for it and allow GE to contaminate New Zealand's seed stocks and environment when the market, certainly for GE food, has collapsed.�

" PPL's collapse shows that funds need to be demanded up-front from biotech firms to cover compensation for damage that they are trying to avoid liability for," says Mr Carapiet. Recent reports of contamination in US are so serious that even companies the size of Monsanto could be demolished when the legal chickens come home to roost. 

Monsanto has recently applied to sell GE wheat in New Zealand and Australia in what could be a last-ditch attempt to recoup massive investment, in a product that the international markets have totally rejected.

Since our government cut funding to the scientific fraternity around 15 years ago, liaisons have been forged between overseas interests and our research establishments who now have only partial funding from the public purse.

Companies like PPL have joined forces with AgResearch to develop cloned GE cattle with human genes. But independent scientists have called for more ethical alternative research to be given priority, and warn that mixing of human genes into farm animals is asking for trouble. " Even the Royal Commission advised against using food-type animals and plants for so-called 'pharming'," says Mr Carapiet.

Recently George Monbiot writing for the UK Guardian newspaper stated that far more money comes from government to cover the costs of GE experiments. In the UK, for example, it funds 26 projects on GM crops and just one on organic farming. Monbiot says "If scientists want a source of funding that's unlikely to be jeopardised by public concern, they should lobby for this ratio to be reversed".

The proportions of funding spent on GE as opposed to organic are similar here in New Zealand. There is a lost opportunity from government pushing money into GE rather than alternative scientific research that will not harm vital ecosystems. GE Free NZ will continue to ask the government to halt GE trials and releases as the only viable approach to preventing irreversible harm to public health and the NZ food supply. 

Jon Carapiet - 09 815 3370

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Liquidation For Dolly The Sheep Firm?
10/03/2004 07:42 AM - Reuters

PPL Therapeutics, the Scottish biotechnology company that helped clone Dolly the sheep, has seen its share price tumble after saying it was almost certain to go into voluntary liquidation.

PPL said non-executive directors had failed to win the support of a key shareholder for a proposed scheme to buy back shares that would have de-listed the company and placed it under the ownership of executive directors. "It is therefore almost certain that the group will be put into a members' voluntary liquidation," PPL said in a statement.

By 2 pm, shares in PPL had fallen nearly 10 percent to 4.5 pence, making it one of the biggest losers on the London market. PPL said in June its German partner had frozen plans to develop a lung drug and it was then dealt a further blow in September when UK hedge fund Metage Capital, a major investor, refused to back plans for its remaining project, an anti-bleeding surgical glue, a source close to the matter said on Tuesday.

Metage Capital is the company's largest shareholder with a holding of around 20 percent, the source added. Metage Capital declined to comment on Tuesday. The board will now consider a resolution that the company is put into liquidation at an AGM, the date of which is expected to be set within weeks if not days. Besides achieving fame as the first firm to clone an animal, PPL also cloned pigs capable of providing organs for humans.

Dolly the sheep died at the age of six and is now a stuffed exhibit in an Edinburgh museum.

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