PARIS - Responding to a claim by Greenpeace that it would stop supplying the food industry with ingredients containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Swiss pharmaceutical and agro-food group Novartis, one of Europe's largest producers of genetically modified seeds, insisted that there had been no change in its corporate strategy regarding the development and production of GMOs.

A spokesman from Novartis' corporate headquarters in Basel told BioWorld International that the company's consumer health division had in fact dropped GMOs in 1999. "It phased out the last product over a year ago and the whole chain is now completely GM-free,'' he said. "It is impossible to market GMOs because the supermarkets have forced us to drop them. Our policy could be reversed at any time the supermarkets change theirs.''

Greenpeace accused Novartis of adopting a "schizophrenic'' stance since it is continuing to supply transgenic crops to farmers and remains committed to continuing its genetics-based research and development in both the human health and agro-food areas. However, the president of Novartis France, Bernard Mesuri, insisted that there was nothing illogical in its strategy.

''We are a highly diversified company and try to give each group of customers what they want,'' he told BioWorld International. The decision to drop supplying GM ingredients had been taken at the request of the company's customers, who in turn reflected consumers' concerns, but there had been no change in its basic strategy. It still believed that the future of agriculture lay in genetically modified seeds and that its vocation was to continue its research "along the path of progress.''

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