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U.S. Wheat Industry Wants to Bring Monsanto & Syngenta's Gene-Altered Frankenwheat Back from the Grave

U.S. wheat groups working to bring back GM wheat
By Carey Gillam
Reuters , February 6, 2006

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - U.S. wheat groups must actively support the commercialization of genetically modified wheat if the industry is to reverse a decline in wheat acreage and profitability, industry leaders said on Sunday. "We desperately need a solution," said Art Brandli, a member of the Minnesota Wheat Council, speaking to members of the National Association of Wheat Growers at a grain industry conference in San Antonio. "We need higher yields and lower costs."

Syngenta AG is currently the lead agrosciences company pursuing a biotech wheat product. The company has been field testing a spring wheat that is resistant to fusarium disease. But it has been reluctant to push the product toward commercialization after intense market Opposition led rival Monsanto Co. , to shelve its proposed herbicide-resistant biotech wheat two years ago.

To try to accelerate Syngenta's research, wheat industry leaders meeting in San Antonio adopted a joint resolution pledging to support Syngenta's work and to "work proactively" to win over food companies and consumers, both within the United States and abroad.

U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets wheat for export, approved the joint resolution on Saturday, and is preparing marketing materials for a range of top foreign buyers. NAWG, which was expected to adopt the resolution on Tuesday, was working to garner the support of U.S. food companies.

"I think it is important that we have unity on biotechnology. We need to move the technology forward," said Darrell Hanavan, leader of the wheat industry's joint biotech committee.

Syngenta seed brand manager Rob Bruns said Syngenta needed demonstrated support if it was to undertake the costly mission of moving a genetically mod ified, fusarium-resistant wheat through the regulatory system to market.

Both Bruns and wheat leaders said they had more work to do, primarily lining up buyers, both foreign and domestic, who will accept biotech wheat, and setting up systems for segregating conventional wheat from transgenic supplies.

NAWG executive director Daren Coppock said his organization also is working closely with Canadian wheat groups to garner support for a simultaneous release in the United States and Canada.

The unity demonstrated in San Antonio was a dramatic shift from the pitched battle that has dogged the industry for years. The key fear in the past was that anti-biotech export customers would boycott U.S. wheat if a genetically modified variety was commercialized.

That fear remains. But the production challenges for wheat have grown to the point that Syngenta's disease-resistant wheat is worth the risk, according to wheat growers As well, Syngenta's wheat should have improved milling and baking qualities, which should heip boost its marketability, they said.

"There is a huge turnaround in attitudes on biotech wheat. We want to keep pushing this train down the track as fast as we can," said Brandli.

© Reuters 2006