GM crops chief suspended in job row

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The chief executive of FuturaGene, the genetically modified crops group, was suspended yesterday after refusing to accept a demotion.

Non-executives at a highly charged board meeting suggested Bruno Ruggiero, the Italian biologist who founded FuturaGene in 2001, should move to a new post of chief scientific officer because of concerns raised about corporate governance.

Dr Ruggiero refused to agree to the move, and the company announced instead he "has been suspended with immediate effect pending an internal review".

FuturaGene has developed modified tomatoes and rice which, by boosting the expression of certain genes, can be made to better withstand environmental stress, including extreme temperatures, drought and build-ups of salt in the soil. Its shares fell 11 per cent on investor concerns about what the review might uncover, but the company's advisers insisted there was no suggestion of financial or scientific impropriety.

"Bruno is an entrepreneur who has run the company entrepreneurially," one source said. "It is an internal communications issue. The non-executives are uncomfortable with the information flows they were receiving."

The company gave no guidance on how long the investigation may continue, but warned that the Thanksgiving holiday would delay its start. Its shares fell 11.5p to 92.5p.

FuturaGene shares have halved since the start of the year, as investors await technology licensing deals that could bring in cash to mitigate its start-up losses. University trials of its super-crops have been positive, the company has said, but it is likely to be five years until produce is cleared for human use.