In July 2004 'the surprise emergence in France of a group of radical rural campaigners claiming to be in favour of open-field [GM] experiments' was reported in the press. The 'radical rural campaigners', who came to blows with French protesters seeking to clear a field of GM crops, was led by Pierre Pagesse. (Rival groups in GM controversy clash in French maize field)
Pagesse is a presidium member of COGECA - the Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union - an umbrella organisation for farmers' cooperatives and one half of a powerful European Union farm coalition. COGECA actively supports the development of 'plant biotechnology' in the EU. It has also lobbied for higher thresholds for GM contamination of seeds in the EU; against extending the EU's traceability and labelling system to meat, eggs and dairy products from animals fed with GM feeds; and against applying the traceability and labelling system in cases where GM DNA or proteins cannot be detected in ingredients derived from GM crops. (GM labelling rules tightened)
Pagesse is also the president of Limagrain. Limagrain is a farmers' cooperative with farmers as both shareholders and stakeholders, but by 2000 Limagrain had also become the world's 4th biggest seed company, with only DuPont (Pioneer), Monsanto and Syngenta outselling it. Like those agrochemical giants, Limagrain has invested heavily in GM crop R&D and has undertaken GM field trials.
In 1994 Limagrain took over the seed production assets of the French agrochemical giant Rhone-Poulenc, through an exchange of shares, which led to the creation of Limagrain Genetics International - 83% owned by Limagrain and 17% by Rhone-Poulenc. The two companies also developed common research programmes for developing GM crops within a joint venture.
Pagesse is also the managing director of the French firm Biogemma, the biotechnology research arm of Limagrain. It was created in July 1997. In April 1998 RhoBio, a subsidiary common to Biogemma and Rhone-Poulenc was formed. RhoBio went on to become a joint venture with Aventis Crop Science and then Bayer CropScience.
According to a report on Limagrain's innovation strategy, 'At the same time that it created Biogemma, Limagrain also made the strategic decision to concentrate on biotechnology and agro-industrial activities, and to dedicate all its resources towards this goal.' (emphasis added)
The report also notes:
'biotechnology is one of the central themes for the company; and mastering biotechnology is seen as necessary if the group is to keep its identity and independence... resources, such as the company's capacity for research and development, are [therefore] earmarked for biotechnology.'
The report identifies as a key challenge to this strategy: 'the acceptability of GMOs'. It also notes that 'ironically' investment in genomics 'may provide a way to avoid transgenic methods altogether delivering it from the current controversy'. Under the leadership of Pierre Pagesse, however, rather than controversy being sidestepped, it has been embraced.