FRANKFURT—Environmental groups have managed to delay the construction here of a test plant to process genetically engineered human insulin. The argument over the facility, proposed by the giant chemical and pharmaceutical company Hoechst, has focused attention on the absence of binding legal regulations for biotechnology production facilities.

Hoechst Chairman Wolfgang Hilger has called the latest setback “terrifying” and “ridiculous.” Last October Hoechst received permission for the second stage of a $40 million production project in which proinsulin would be extracted from biomass produced in the first stage. Insulin would be produced in a third stage. But before this victory celebra tions at Hoechst headquarters were over, the state administrator’s office reversed itself and ordered a delay after several hundred citizens formally protested the decision. Officials decided that a 20-page document submitted by the same environmental group that earlier delayed a Hoechst herbicide plant merited further study, and sought help from...

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