Bayer CropScience is parting company with the bosses of its GM programmes throughout Europe, in a move which is bound to be seen as an acknowledgement that it sees little future for the technology in Europe.
Among those made redundant is Dr Paul Rylott, Bayer's UK head of bioscience, who has become the public face of the GM industry in Britain. The news comes just as the Government is about to approve the planting of GM maize, produced by the company in Britain - marking Dr Rylott's greatest triumph. He will leave within the next month and has yet to find new employment.
A spokesman in the UK confirmed that all the heads of bioscience in European countries are to go.
Last October, Monsanto, the world's largest GM seed company, announced that it was closing its European cereal headquarters in Cambridgeshire, with the loss of 80 jobs, and pulling out of its cereal seed business on the Continent.
The decision was hailed as a victory by environmentalists, and seen as the company "throwing in the towel" in the face of entrenched public hostility to the technology. Ministers privately believe that Bayer's move demonstrates a similar lack of confidence in the prospects for growing GM crops.
Cabinet Committee minutes reveal that Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, told her fellow ministers that the Government expected "little market demand" for its maize, and therefore "little cultivation, in the short term".
Bayer formally insists that it believes there is "still a very good market in the UK", and insists that the redundancies do not reflect its view of the prospects for GM crops, echoing similar denials from Monsanto last autumn.
Yet Julian Little, a spokes- man for the company, admitted the maize was never going to make a lot of money. He said he expected just a tenth of Britain's 250,000 acres of maize to become GM, and environmentalists dismiss even this as a great overestimate.Reuse content