Monsanto GMO wheat far from winning market okay
Reuters, 05.28.03, 5:37 PM ET
By Carey Gillam KANSAS CITY, Mo,
May 28 (Reuters) - A genetically modified wheat strain under development
by Monsanto Co. (nyse: MON - news - people) remains a significant
threat to the worldwide grain industry, and appears to be gaining
little acceptance in the market, U.S. industry players said this
week. On Tuesday Canada dealt a blow to Monsanto's progress toward
commercializing the product, when the Canadian Wheat Board asked
the company to withdraw its application for regulatory approval
to prevent "significant and predictable economic harm." In the United
States, biotech wheat could cripple wheat sales.
Foreign buyers have said they would be reluctant to buy from the
United States if so-called GMO wheat is grown here. Environmental
and consumer groups have recently increased their level of opposition
to GMO foods, raising consumer awareness. "The marketing issues
have not been sufficiently addressed. Prior to commercialization
of biotech wheat they need to be defined and acted upon," North
American Export Grain Association president Gary Martin told Reuters.
Recently, U.S.-based food companies have begun spreading the same
message, telling farm groups they will not allow the wheat to enter
their grain elevators, flour mills or bakeries.
Betsy Faga, president of the North American Millers' Association,
a trade group, said that "Greenpeace and other activists out there
on this issue...could change consumer attitudes on a dime." To soothe
market fears, St. Louis-based Monsanto has pledged it will not release
biotech wheat until it identifies willing buyers. Still, some say
they do not fully trust the company and have yet to see any aggressive
moves by Monsanto to develop customer approval. "Knowing what determines
acceptance is the biggest problem," said the Millers' Association's
Faga. "This is one of the most difficult issues to get our hands
around." Monsanto's herbicide-resistant wheat, grown in test plots
in North Dakota, Montana and elsewhere, has been modified to tolerate
glyphosate-based Roundup Ready weed killer, also made by Monsanto.
It is designed to improve efficiencies for farmers, yielding a
more profitable crop. But farmers have not clamored for the technology.
U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets U.S. wheat overseas, has repeatedly
warned U.S. farmers that sales will be lost if the wheat is released
into the commercial market.
Parts of Asia, Europe and elsewhere have already said they would
abandon U.S. wheat if the GMO product comes to market. Wheat is
the No. 1 exported grain in the world. "I think at this point Monsanto
is saying they want to have the scientific review take place, which
they hope will convince consumers and customers there aren't any
health problems," U.S. Wheat vice president Nelson Denlinger said.
Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service -- Ellen Hickey Director of
Research and Communications Pesticide Action Network North America
49 Powell Street, #500 San Francisco, CA 94102 phone (415) 981-6205
ext 321 fax (415) 981-1991