US agrochemicals group Syngenta is exploring a new initiative - 'pro-environment' vegetables that are cultivated with the minimum of pesticides.

This might seem an unusual move for one of the world's leading producers of pesticides, but Syngenta expects it to help boost profits. Although fewer pesticides are used on the vegetables, the sprays used are more modern, higher margin products, reports the Financial Times.

The vegetables are already being piloted in the South Korean stores of French retail behemoth Carrefour. This is seen as a good market for the test launch, as South Koreans are avid consumers of fresh vegetables and food perceived as 'natural'. During the tests, the limited supply available has regularly run out as demand has outstripped supply.

Syngenta is hoping to tap the keen demand for organic or environmentally friendly produce, as its new line of vegetables are produced with limited use of pesticides. This may entice consumers unable to afford or find certified organic produce. "[The new vegetables] show we can compete with organic food on a solid scientific basis," said Syngenta CEO Michael Prangnell.

Moreover, Carrefour pays Syngenta a royalty for overseeing the producers to ensure they use the appropriate pesticides, providing Syngenta with another revenue stream.

Analysts are quoted as saying that it is essential that Syngenta (formed last year by the merger of the agrochemical units of AstraZeneca and Novartis) is to maintain growth. The crop protection market is on the decline, and Syngenta and its rivals are urgently seeking new says to raise revenue. Calls by EU regulators to withdraw as many as 400 pesticides from the market on health and environmental safety grounds has put additional pressure on companies in the pesticide sector.

EU and Latin American opposition to genetically modified foods has prompted Syngenta to seek growth in other areas alongside its interest in the GM sector. One of the developments it reported last year was a 'single serve' seedless watermelon, launched under the Four Corners brand.

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