New Mexico, January 28, 2003 -- CropChoice news:
U.S. wheat industry meetings this week will be
dominated by fierce debate over genetically modified
wheat produced by Monsanto Co., a biotech crop
The annual gathering of industry
groups, including the National Association of
Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates, the growers'
marketing arm, opened in Albuquerque on Sunday.
Monsanto completed final regulatory
submissions last month in the United States and
Canada for what would be the world's first transgenic
wheat, and now the company is primed to add "Roundup
Ready" wheat to its stable of biotech crop
Some wheat farmers may be warming
to the prospect of a new tool to help them grow
more robust and profitable wheat, engineered to
withstand Monsanto's popular glyphosate-based
But widespread evidence of opposition
to GMO wheat from overseas buyers, particularly
in Europe, still makes it unclear when -- or if
-- GMO wheat will make it to market.
"It is not a given,"
said NAWG chief executive Darren Coppock. "Our
intent and the goal is to introduce it, but right
now...customer acceptance is a big obstacle."
Genetically modified wheat dominates
the schedule at this year's meeting.
The first general session, scheduled
for Wednesday, is dedicated to the debate on genetically
modified products. One panel discussion, "Lessons
Learned on the Way to Commercializing a Biotech
Product," includes leaders of the U.S. corn
and soybean growers' groups, whose members have
been growing genetically modified crops for several
years. That panel is followed by "Assuring
Customer Acceptance," led by the chairman
of the groups' Joint Biotechnology Committee.
More than corn or soybeans,
which are mostly used for livestock feeds, wheat
goes straight to consumer products -- and to consumer
fears. Anti-GMO groups in recent years have prompted
many costly food product recalls based on consumer
doubts about including GMO ingredients in foods.
Partners and Promises
Monsanto has spent the last
few years pitching the benefits of its Roundup-resistant
wheat, which is designed to allow farmers to control
weeds by spraying the herbicide directly over
entire fields, killing weeds without harming the
Roundup Ready varieties of corn
and soybeans became popular with farmers in the
mid-1990s, and the company did not anticipate
the outcry surrounding its GMO wheat research.
But U.S. states that grow spring
wheat, the first type of wheat for which Monsanto
has created a genetically modified version, threatened
moratoriums, and farmers fretted that even if
they did not grow GMO wheat themselves, customers
opposed to biotech would shun them for fear of
getting contaminated grain.
To ease grower fears, Monsanto
has pledged that it will not introduce GMO wheat
until the industry is ready. The company promised
to wait for regulatory approval in the United
States, Canada and Japan as well as agreements
for major export markets and for grain handling
"We think that there are
a series of milestones that if we can achieve,
we'll set up a responsible and successful introduction
of biotech wheat," Michael Doane, Monsanto's
head of wheat industry affairs, told Reuters.
Monsanto's apparent willingness
to go slow has helped it win some support among
farmers. In North Dakota, which grows nearly half
of the United States hard red spring wheat crop,
the state farm bureau in November said it was
moving away from earlier stringent opposition
to GMO wheat, adopting a policy to "support
a cautious approach" instead.
Many farmers will be watching
this week's meetings.
"There isn't a wheat producer
out there who isn't affected by this," said
Neal Fisher, North Dakota Wheat Commission administrator.
"We know there are a lot of challenges ahead
for us. Certainly, the debate goes on."