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Monsanto Continues to Back Off on Biotech Wheat

Monsanto: Biotech wheat revival unlikely</DIV
Wed Mar 16, 2005 By K.T. Arasu

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Biotech crop pioneer Monsanto Co. said on Wednesday it was unlikely any time soon [!] to resurrect its project to develop genetically modified wheat, which it suspended last May.

The company instead [time to change the subject!] would plow its resources into a conventionally bred variety of soybeans that will produce a cooking oil with a lower level of cholesterol-producing trans fatty acids.

"We saw what's going on with food and trans fats, and we saw that resource we are putting in wheat is not nearly as valuable as putting it into the food and oil side," Monsanto Executive Vice President Jerry Steiner told the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago.

Steiner said the soybeans will have low linolenic acid, reducing the need for partial hydrogenation of soybean oil. Hydrogenation is a chemical process that gives products a longer shelf life but creates trans fats. Medical experts believe trans fats are more harmful to the heart than other forms of fat that have been linked to heart disease, such as animal fats. Steiner said the soybeans would be grown on about 100,000 acres this spring in Iowa, adding that the crop could be planted on 5 million acres over the next four to five years -- about 7 percent of total U.S. soybean acreage.

The shifting of Monsanto's funds to the new variety of soybeans comes after the company shelved its project to develop a transgenic wheat amid a global outcry from consumers alarmed at the prospect of genetic engineering of a key food crop.

"Would we bring it back next year? It's highly unlikely," Steiner said of the genetically modified wheat.

Monsanto, based in St. Louis, Missouri, has successfully commercialized genetically modified corn and soybeans, which are widely grown in the United States.

Monsanto had been field-testing Roundup Ready wheat, which was genetically modified to tolerate applications of the company's Roundup herbicide, for six years and spent millions of dollars on the project.

Steiner said the company decided that pushing ahead with the project would have divided the wheat industry.

"The product has to make sense economically and we have to make best use of our resources," he added.

Even wheat industry leaders, who said biotechnology could lead to improved profitability for struggling wheat growers, warned that Roundup Ready wheat could devastate exports of all U.S. and Canadian wheat, as buyers in many countries refuse to accept genetically modified crops.

This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association <