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Organic Consumers Association

A Farmer Speaks: No to GMO Wheat

Editor's note: Several weeks ago, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) issued a press release proclaiming that 75 percent of its member farmers support the rollout of genetically modified wheat seeds. According to NAWG, wheat farmers are clamoring to follow their corn and soy counterparts toward a biotech-dominated future. Todd Leake, a wheat farmer and NAWG member, has a different viewpoint.

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Since the Nixon Administration, farmers have been told that their survival was dependent on the ability to compete in the global marketplace. Wheat producers have been particularly mindful of the need to grow a product that meets broadest possible consumer and market expectations. As a result, fifty percent of the wheat produced in this country is destined for buyers in foreign markets, and these buyers have very specific requirements for the wheat they purchase.

Over the last 50 years we have worked diligently to develop and enhance our relationship with international buyers, who are routinely surveyed to determine which specific characteristics and traits they desire. We work with agronomists and plant breeders to develop hybrids that meet our customers' expectations; in doing so, we have developed a mature and stable market for the wheat produced by U.S. farmers.

However, this is an increasingly shifting marketplace. Our competitors in other countries have developed the capacity to grow wheat for the export market, and buyers now have the luxury of being very selective. They are now spoiled for choice.

When Monsanto first petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture for deregulation of their Roundup Ready wheat, we feared consumer backlash based on the loss of European and Asian markets that corn growers experienced when genetically engineered (GE) corn varieties were commercialized in 1996. Our fears were substantiated through a Canadian Wheat Board buyer survey conducted in 2003, which determined that 83% of foreign buyers would not accept genetically engineered wheat and would seek alternate sources if either the United States or Canada commercialized a GE wheat variety. Building on that survey, Dr. Robert Wisner, a respected Iowa State agricultural economist, concluded that wheat producers would see a drop of as much as 35% in farmgate prices if GE wheat were commercialized.

Nothing has changed in the global marketplace for wheat, but a recent National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) survey would have the world believe that wheat growers themselves overwhelmingly support adoption of genetically engineered wheat. 

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