* BASF Plant Science HQ to move to Raleigh, N. Carolina
* Farmers say Europe to lose biotech expertise
HAMBURG, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Germany's giant association of farming cooperatives said it regretted the decision by BASF to transfer its research into crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from Germany to the United States and other countries.
"The announcement by BASF to transfer its (German) domestic plant biotechnology research and development activities to the United States is disastrous for Europe as a location for agricultural industries," Manfred Nuessel, president of cooperatives association DRV, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The German chemical company said on Monday the headquarters of BASF Plant Science, its biotech unit, would be moved from Limburgerhof in Germany, to Raleigh, North Carolina.
BASF said its biotech research and development activities would be concentrated mainly in Raleigh and also in Ghent in Belgium and Berlin. Development and commercialization of all products targeted solely at cultivation in the European market will be halted, the company said.
"Because of this development, I believe it is essential that a political and social climate is created in which biotech companies are not forced to transfer their activities abroad," Nuessel said.
Constant protests by opponents of GMOs over the years, including repeated destruction of fields with GMO crops in Germany, have caused great uncertainty about the future of GMO crops, Nuessel added.
BASF had received European Union permission in 2010 for commercial cultivation of its GMO potato Amflora, which is used for industrial starch production, not food, and has been approved as safe for commercial production by the EU.
But in 2011, BASF said it planned to cultivate just two hectares of the GMO potato Amflora in Germany and 15 hectares in Sweden.
EU policy on GM crops has long been politically fraught, with a majority of consumers opposed to modified foods, but the bloc relies on imports of about 30 million tonnes of GM animal feed each year.
In October 2011, Europe's biotechnology industry warned the European Commission that agricultural imports vital to EU food security were increasingly being put at risk due to the slow pace of the bloc's approval system for GM crops.
Several countries, including France and Germany, are imposing bans on cultivating GM crops despite EU safety approval.