17 January 2012

Consequences of Innovation and Aversion to Innovation

The Financial Times reports that BASF is moving its plant sciences research team from Europe to the United States, with consequences for employment:
BASF, the German chemical giant, is to pull out of genetically modified plant development in Europe and relocate it to the US, where political and consumer resistance to GM crops is not so entrenched.

The headquarters of BASF Plant Science will move from Limburgerhof in south-west Germany to Raleigh, North Carolina, and two smaller sites in Germany and Sweden will close. The company will transfer some GM crop development to the US but stop work on crops targeted at the European market – four varieties of potato and one of wheat.

The decision, which involves the net loss of 140 highly skilled jobs in Europe, also signals the end of GM crop development for European farmers. Bayer, BASF’s German competitor, is working on GM cotton and rice in Ghent, Belgium – but not for European markets.
The move, according to BASF, is the consequence of aversion to genetically modified crops in Europe. Setting aside whether such aversion is appropriate or justified, it exists and has consequences, just as the aversion to stem cell research by the administration of George W. Bush during the last decade prompted relocation of researchers in that field.

Innovation means change, and change is not always welcomed amongst the public and their represenative. But the perversity of the innovation economy is such that resisting innovation does not mean that things will stay the same. Innovation has consequences and so too does aversion to innovation.