Monsanto chops GM wheat plans

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, May 11, 2004 (ENS): Biotech giant Monsanto announced Monday that it is realigning its research and development investments and halting all further efforts to introduce genetically modified (GM) wheat.

Monsanto has been developing a GM strain of hard red spring wheat called Roundup Ready. The strain has been modified to tolerate application of a Monsanto herbicide known as Roundup.

But the strain has drawn widespread opposition by U.S. and Canadian farmers as well as a vocal group of public interest groups who oppose GM crops.

Many agricultural interests are concerned that some countries have indicated they would not allow imports of the GM wheat and fear its introduction could cause economic hardship for all North American wheat farmers.

Monsanto began the technical development stage of Roundup Ready wheat in 1997.

The company said it is deferring efforts to introduce the seed until other wheat biotechnology traits are introduced and will discontinue breeding and field level research of Roundup Ready wheat.

Company officials say the decision was reached after a comprehensive review of Monsanto's research investment portfolio and extensive consultation with customers in the wheat industry.

"We recognize the business opportunities with Roundup Ready spring wheat are less attractive relative to Monsanto's other commercial priorities," said Carl Casale, executive vice president of Monsanto.

"This decision allows us to defer commercial development of Roundup Ready wheat, in order to align with the potential commercialization of other biotechnology traits in wheat, estimated to be four to eight years in the future," Casale said.

The company noted a 25 percent decline in the U.S. and Canadian spring wheat market since 1997 as one factor in its decision.

"This technology adds value for only a segment of spring wheat growers, resulting in a lack of widespread wheat industry alignment, unlike the alignment we see in other crops where biotechnology is broadly applied," said Casale. "These factors underscore the difficulty of bringing new technologies to the wheat market at this time."

The company will be working with regulators around the world to take appropriate next steps with regard to regulatory submissions. Richard Caplan of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says the announcement is good news, but he urged Monsanto - and U.S. regulators - to pledge never to introduce GM wheat.

"No one wants or needs this product, and the United States should not introduce unnecessary risk to human health, the environment, or our export markets by accepting its introduction," Caplan said.

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