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Genetically Modified Wheat Still Shunned

Robert Wisner of Iowa State University in Ames, offering an annual update of his 2003 study "Market Risks of Genetically Modified Wheat," said introducing genetically modified wheat won't turn around the trend of declining wheat acres in the United States, as some proponents suggest.

Wisner, updating the study on behalf of the Western Organization and its seven state groups - including the Dakota Resource Council - found that introducing genetically modified wheat still would risk the loss of a quarter of U.S. hard red spring and wheat durum export markets and would cut prices about one-third, as earlier reports have concluded. "Nothing new," said Todd Leake of Emerado, N.D., a commercial farmer and chairman of the DRC's Food Safety Task Force, which deals with genetically modified wheat issues.

Plans shelved

The issue was heavily in the news until 2004, when Monsanto announced it would shelve its Roundup Ready plans until markets and farmers would accept it. Syngenta and others are continuing to develop genetically modified wheat that would protect a crop from Fusarium head blight, or scab.

Wisner concluded that the market makes no distinction between genetically modified crops for scab resistance vs. herbicide resistance.

Leake, who grew 1,200 acres of wheat in 2006, called scab "yesterday's problem," noting the success of North Dakota State University's Alsen wheat variety with its "excellent Fusarium resistance." He said success of conventional techniques is something proponents of genetic modification "publicly ignore."

"Fusarium head blight is not an important enough issue anymore to warrant the market risks of a GMO wheat introduction," he said, noting it would drop U.S. wheat prices to about $2 a bushel, which is the rough price for Canadian feed wheat.

WTO and ag issues

Leake said the fact that World Trade Organization talks are faltering on ag issues is an indication that the European Union is less likely to drop its restrictions on GMO crops.

Leake said the report's message is made even stronger by a separate event. Japan suspended imports of U.S. rice and the European Union imposed mandatory testing of all imported rice after the Bayer Corp. announced that traces of Liberty Link rice, a genetically modified rice, had been detected in commercial supplies.

"This is a warning," Leke said. "If we had contamination of a GMO in wheat, from everything they've said, they wouldn't import the wheat. Even if Japanese or European food agencies would relinquish a bit, that doesn't mean the milling industry is going to buy it. The paradigm hasn't changed."

Leake said the study runs counter to claims that if wheat can be genetically modified for weed protection, disease protection or for other consumer traits, the crop will be more able to compete against soybeans and corn for acres.

Wisner concludes that wheat acreage is declining because of more favorable U.S. farm support policies and because of expanding demand for ethanol and biodiesel.

 Published on Sunday, September 10, 2006. Last modified on 9/10/2006 at 1:28 am

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