Opposition to GE wheat growing, says Canadian Wheat Board

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, March 21, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Reuters, 03/19/04: World wheat buyers are increasingly opposed to genetically engineered (GE) wheat, says the Canadian Wheat Board, one of the world's largest wheat sellers.

The CWB, which has a monopoly on wheat and barley exports from Canada's main Prairie growing region, said buyers of 87 percent of its wheat in the 2002-03 marketing year required guarantees that the wheat was not genetically engineered. That's up from 82 percent two years ago, the board said in a statement.

The CWB's 10 highest volume markets all required the guarantee, including Japan, Mexico, Britain, Italy, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as domestic millers, the board said.

Genetically engineered wheat is not yet grown in Canada, but regulators are examining a variety from Monsanto Co for food, feed and environmental safety.

Food safety bodies and other regulatory authorities around the world have been asked to approve the sale of products containing GE wheat, apparently in an effort to re-assure growers there will be markets open to their product if they grow the GE cultivar.

Monsanto has applied to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to allow its GE wheat to be introduced into the New Zealand food chain. Similar applications have been made in Canada, Australia and the United States.

Critics have raised concerns over its environmental impact and the difficulty of segregating GE from conventional wheat varieties. Wheat has special significance as a staple in the New Zealand diet. It is not just present in foods such as breads, cereals and pastas, but in a wide range of processed foods as a thickener. FSANZ has already approved 21 other GE crops for human consumption with a further five assessments pending.

Monsanto has promised farmers it will not sell them the wheat seed until it can keep it separate from non-GE wheat and demonstrate it has willing buyers for the product. North American growers of GE corn, GE soy and GE canola suffered price falls or constraints on sales in some markets which resisted imports of those earlier crops.

A Canadian government paper produced by its Department of Agriculture and Food, said last year that production of GE canola was adversely affecting the value of non-GE canola in some markets, and the EU was effectively closed to all Canadian GE canola.

Since 1998, Canada's annual sales of canola to Europe had dropped from $C230 million ($NZ290.62 million) to $C1.9 million a year.

Now the CWB has asked the Canadian government to analyse the impact the wheat would have on markets before it approves the variety - a step not currently required by law.

In New Zealand, Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has said Monsanto's proposal for GE wheat to be used in New Zealand foods was the most dangerous attempt yet to force GE food on to New Zealanders as, unlike other crops, GE wheat had not yet been grown commercially.

That meant there was even less information on GE wheat than on other GE foods, she said. She also said scientific information on the Roundup-tolerant wheat - which some critics of the technology saw as important to formal objections to its sale - was being held in Wellington, with a single copy able to be viewed in Wellington for a $25 fee.

New Zealanders have until March 31 to make submissions to FSANZ on the issue.

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