Biotechnology giant Monsanto has announced plans to start testing genetically modified (GM) wheat, in spite of prior failures to gain acceptance for the technology.
GM food crops already on the market include corn, soy and sugar beets. Monsanto attempted to introduce GM wheat in the early part of the decade, but abandoned the effort in 2004 when international buyers threatened to boycott U.S. wheat, prompting U.S. wheat growers to reject the technology.
In the face of record high wheat prices sparked by climate-related crop failures, Monsanto has launched plans to develop GM wheat strains that are more drought- and stress-resistant and produce higher yields, according to company executive Claire CaJacob. Rival companies Syngenta and BASF have also announced plans to engineer GM wheat varieties.
"I wouldn't say we're jumping in with two feet," CaJacob said. "But I wouldn't say we're tentative. We have traits that make more sense. It's the right time."
Monsanto researchers are still testing genes and have yet to try engineering any new wheat varieties. The company hopes to start field tests within a year or two, CaJacob says, and it may be 10 years before it can commercialize GM wheat.
The company is also developing pricing schemes and deciding whether to allow farmers to save GM wheat seeds, CaJacob says. To date, Monsanto has forbidden farmers from saving the seeds of GM crops, a practice that has drawn worldwide condemnation.