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Genetically Engineered Wheat Article

Monsanto undeterred as biotech wheat debate persists

Reuters, 05.27.03, 4:30 PM ET

By Carey Gillam KANSAS CITY, Mo.,

May 27 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co. (nyse: MON - news - people) said Tuesday it will continue to seek regulatory approvals for the world's first genetically modified wheat despite allegations that the controversial product could devastate Canadian wheat exports. Monsanto believes its bid to win deregulation of its Roundup Ready wheat in Canada and the United States has "tremendous support," said Monsanto spokesman Michael Doane.

The regulatory review process should answer questions and concerns about the product's safety and efficacy, Doane said. "People want to know it is safe. We're going to stay on course and continue to look for those regulatory approvals," Doane said. Doane's comments followed Tuesday's plea by the Canadian Wheat Board for Monsanto to withdraw its application to test herbicide resistant wheat in Canada. The CWB is one of Canada's largest exporters and is controlled by western Canadian farmers. The CWB said the "Roundup Ready" wheat would have a "devastating economic impact" on Canadian farmers because foreign buyers opposed to genetically altered foods would shun Canadian supplies.

The CWB's concerns echoed similar fears in the United States, most recently underscored in March when a consortium of U.S. agricultural and environmental groups filed a legal petition seeking a federal moratorium on Monsanto's Roundup Ready wheat. But the regulatory review is still under way. Some think Monsanto might have regulatory approval in time to market its biotech wheat in 2004. But customer acceptance remains a significant hurdle. That was underscored earlier this month when the Korea Flour Mills Industrial Association (KOFMIA), a major U.S. wheat customer, said it would boycott American supplies if U.S. regulators approve biotech wheat varieties.

North American Millers' Association vice president Jim Bair said Tuesday that concerns are so high about market disruption that Monsanto should slow down the regulatory approval process to focus on customer acceptance. "In this case the market acceptance is clearly lagging behind regulatory approval. We think those two things need to happen in tandem," said Bair. "Trying to force it onto the market .. is merely a recipe for chaos." Other U.S. wheat industry leaders said that Monsanto should continue to pursue regulatory approvals so it could release the wheat variety in Canada and the United States simultaneously, preventing either country from gaining an advantage in the wheat export market. "Monsanto has assured us that they will do this as a joint effort," said North Dakota Grain Growers executive director Lance Hagan. "It would be economic suicide for them to go back on that." U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets U.S. wheat to foreign countries, also said customer acceptance remained an obstacle to a successful launch of Monsanto's wheat. "U.S. Wheat continues to strongly urge Monsanto and other technology providers to ensure customer acceptance prior to commercialization," said U.S. Wheat spokeswoman Dawn Forsythe. (Additional reporting by Randy Fabi in Washington.)

 
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