US biotech giant Monsanto has announced that it intends to exit from its European cereal seed business, in a move that has been welcomed by Europe's anti-GM campaigners.

Monsanto said it would close down its European headquarters situated near Cambridge in the UK, as well as breeding stations in France, Germany and the Czech Republic.

The company said the move "results from a strategic decision by Monsanto's corporate management to realign the company's core businesses in order to focus on those projects that will best capitalise on its market and technological strengths."

Monsanto said growth expected to come from the introduction of hybrid wheat seeds, one of the principal reasons it purchased the business in 1998, has failed to materialise.

The company announced that it will begin immediately seeking a buyer for all or parts of its cereal seed business.

Pete Riley, from environmental group Friends of the Earth, said the move was good news for the European population. He said Monsanto had failed in its attempt to introduce GM wheat and barley into Europe, reported BBC News Online.

Monsanto, however, denied that its decision had anything to do with GM crops.

"They've got it absolutely wrong," Jeff Cox, Monsanto UK general manager, was quoted by the BBC as saying. "We do not have GM cereals in Europe," he added.

Monsanto will remain in the UK as a streamlined crop protection and oilseed rape business, Cox said.

Meanwhile US-based Monsanto reported a fourth-quarter net loss of US$188m, or 72 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $27m, or 10 cents a share, a year earlier.