Genetically modified wheat still a market risk

AMES, Iowa, November 17, 2004 (ENS): Six months after Monsanto announced the withdrawal of its genetically modified (GM) wheat before it hit the market, commercial introduction of GM wheat still risks the loss of up to half of U.S. wheat export markets and a large drop in price, according to an Iowa grain market economist.

Widespread opposition from farm organizations, environmental groups and consumers forced Monsanto to terminate its research and promotion of genetically modified (GM) wheat six months ago. In a news release dated May 10, 2004, Monsanto announced it "will discontinue breeding and field level research of Roundup Ready wheat." Roundup is Monsanto's herbicide product, and the wheat was engineered for tolerance to Roundup.

"No new policy changes or trends have significantly lowered the market risk of introducing genetically modified wheat," said Dr. Robert Wisner, University Professor of Economics at Iowa State University. "Consumer resistance remains strong in Europe and Asia, and consumers remain the driving force in countries where food labeling allows choice."

Dr. Wisner’s conclusions are in an update released today of his October 2003 report, Market Risks of Genetically Modified Wheat, prepared for Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), a regional network representing farmers and ranchers in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon.

A survey by EuroBarometer published in March 2003 found that most Europeans do not support GM foods or crops, although the European Union has just lifted its five year de facto moratorium on genetically modified crops.

Food safety is the main concern of foreign consumers, said Wayne Fisher, a wheat grower near Dickinson, North Dakota, and WORC spokesperson. "They don’t trust genetically modified crops because there is no independent testing by third parties or the U.S. government. We need mandatory, independent testing."

Fisher said farmers are in jeopardy because food policy has not kept up with the new environmental, legal, and economic developments arising from GM crops.

"The companies developing genetically modified seed have shielded themselves from risk, placing all liability on farmers if something goes wrong," Fisher said.

Montana wheat grower Helen Waller called for a time-out on GM crops. "The biotech industry needs to slow down, and policy makers need to catch up," Waller said.

"We’ve seen a drop in the U.S. share of soybean exports to the European Union since commercialization of GM soybeans and a loss of the EU corn market, said Waller. "We can’t afford to jeopardize our wheat export markets. We need legislative solutions to protect our wheat farmers."

Waller and Fisher called on the Montana and North Dakota legislatures to address liability issues in the 2005 sessions.

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