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General Mills Admits U.S. Consumers 'Are Not Ready' for Genetically Engineered Wheat

Kansas City, (Reuters) - The U.S. food industry is still not ready to embrace biotech wheat because of consumer wariness of genetic tinkering -- even though wheat acres are declining, a General Mills Inc. (GIS.N: Quote, Profile , Research) executive said on Monday.

"We're going to continue to lose acres," Ron Olson, General Mills' vice president of grain operations, told Reuters in an interview.

"But the food industry is going to pay whatever it takes (for wheat)," he said before giving a presentation to the National Grain and Feed country elevator conference in Kansas City.

Olson said spring wheat imports from Canada would likely continue to grow because of U.S. acreage declines.

Still, Olson said years of work by biotech companies like St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. (MON.N: Quote, Profile , Research) and the Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta (SYNN.VX: Quote, Profile , Research) to make wheat production more attractive to farmers was facing too much consumer wariness for food companies to embrace the efforts.

"The food market is not ready for that," he said. "Our stock would get killed."

Monsanto shelved its development of herbicide-tolerant wheat in 2004. Syngenta has quietly been pursuing a genetically modified, disease-resistant spring wheat, but said earlier this year that it would not proceed with its biotech wheat project without the support of major food companies.

Olson said biotech agronomic traits like Syngenta's need to come second to traits that enhance nutrition or offer some other consumer appeal in order to overcome market opposition.

Currently there are no transgenic wheat varieties planted commercially anywhere in the world. But U.S. wheat farmers have been increasingly vocal in asking for technological advancements to help them grow wheat more profitably.