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Norway & Other Nations Warn U.S. Not to Grow GE Wheat

Farm News from Cropchoice
An alternative news service for American farmers

Norwegian importers concerned about genetically modified wheat, Monsanto
works to reassure buyers of quality product and segregation system

Links to some of the other CropChoice news and commentary can be found
after this piece.

by Robert Schubert

CropChoice news

Note: A bit more detail about markets that do not want RR wheat was added
on Thursday, April 29. -- RS

(Tuesday, April 27, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Norwegian grain importers
are in Minneapolis this week to make their case against the prospect of
genetically engineered wheat, and what they'll do if it's grown.

"We are not talking about what might happen," said Helge Remberg,
marketing director for Unikorn, Norway's major grain importing company.
"We're talking about what will happen the moment" the sale and planting of
genetically engineered wheat is allowed. Norway, like other wheat buying
countries, would not just refuse gene-modified wheat. It would shun all
U.S. wheat rather than run the risk of unwanted grain ending up in a
shipment of conventional wheat.

The Unikorn delegation chose Minneapolis because it's home to the
Minneapolis Grain Exchange, where spring wheat and wheat futures are

RoundUp Ready wheat

Monsanto has engineered a gene into a variety of hard red spring wheat --
high in protein and often used in bread -- that makes it resistant to
glyphosate, a herbicide the St. Louis company makes and markets under the
tradename RoundUp. The result is RoundUp Ready wheat, which would allow
farmers to spray RoundUp to kill many types of weeds without harming the
wheat. The biotechnology and chemical corporation has been field testing
the wheat in the United States and Canada. It has applications pending
with the Canadian, Japanese, U.S. and other governments for approval of
commercial planting and sales.

"We are pursuing regulatory approval in various markets to make sure the
food, feed and environmental safety of RoundUp Ready wheat is
demonstrated," said Chris Horner, a Monsanto spokesman.

That's the first in a series of six milestones the company has established
for itself on the road to commercial introduction of its product.
Regulatory approvals and marketing arrangements must be in place in major
export markets, according to the Winter 2004 edition of Monsanto's
"Roundup Ready Wheat Stewardship Bulletin." To make that happen the
company has "...initiated dialogue with wheat buyers in export markets
including the European Union and Japan to increase acceptance of biotech

Norway is by no means a major wheat importer. Spring wheat, much of it
from North America, will make up about 60,000 of the 100,000 metric tons
of mill quality wheat the country anticipates importing in the almost
completed 2003/2004 marketing year.

As of April 15, by comparison, the European Union had imported almost 1.8
million metric tons from the United States, 1.16 million of which was hard
red spring wheat, according to U.S. Wheat Associates, the marketing arm of
the American wheat exporting industry.

But Norway's inclinations against genetically engineered wheat -- and
biotech food in general -- are shared by European countries, including
Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom, Remberg said.

Norway was early on the scene with concern over the issue. It introduced
the Gene Technology Act in 1993, which regulates the import of all living
genetically modified products, including soy, corn, wheat and other crops
for both livestock feed and human food. Authorities require certificates
stating that imports contain less than 0.01 percent modified content,
according to Unikorn. That makes its law stricter than the labeling and
traceability protocol the European Union recently enacted.

Both laws would seem to bode ill for Monsanto's wheat. "Generally, we
don't have any bias one way or the other" on the issue of biotech wheat
itself, but the customer does matter, said a representative of the U.S.
grain trade, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Customers in Europe,
none, want GMO wheat."

In fact, approximately 80 percent of world buyers, including Japan, South
Korea and other markets in Asia and the Middle East, do not want RoundUp
Ready wheat, according to sources in the grain trade.

"We prefer the quality of North American spring wheat, but if GM wheat is
grown there, we would have to switch to other suppliers such as Australia,
Kazakhstan or Ukraine," said Remberg with Unikorn. The company --
operating in a 49 percent -51 percent state to local farmer cooperative
ownership structure -- accounts for about 80 percent of Norwegian grain
sales for the milling industry. Norway could also look to itself, having
produced some 300,000 metric tons of wheat suitable for milling this year,
and elsewhere in Europe.

Monsanto's segregation plan

Given its concern over countries that want non-genetically modified wheat,
Monsanto dedicates a significant portion of its milestone program to
working with its partners and representatives in the wheat industry to
establish a system to segregate RoundUp Ready wheat, said Horner, company

It's fourth milestone focuses on developing and implementing protocols and
sampling and detection methods. "Research indicated that separating
biotech and non-biotech supplies is possible with reasonable
thresholds...We are continuing discussions with grain handlers to
establish protocols to handle RoundUp Ready wheat grain."

But the company also is working to identify buyers who want wheat with
biotech traits: "We identified and met with numerous domestic wheat users
who currently are not sourcing away from other biotech crop ingredients.
We are exploring the potential for value-added benefits due to variety
selection and variety-specific origination."

The grain trader mentioned earlier is skeptical of this plan. Building
such a segregation system would be "tremendously difficult logistically,"
he said. "We would have to go to farmers and buy their acreage and make
sure the wheat stays separate" throughout the planting, growing,
harvesting, processing and distribution process.

Back in the United States, some see the potential loss of the European
wheat market harming the entire wheat industry, especially farmers.

"The [grain] coops are very worried that the moment the USA grows GMO
wheat, they'll have to close a lot of their local elevators because
business will plunge," said Nicolaas Konijnendijk, who works with a number
of European grain importers through his Agro Consulting and Trading
company. Wheat of all classes and varieties that was formally exported
would have nowhere to go. Much of it likely would end up being used to
feed livestock. That in turn would put downward pressure on the prices
farmers receive from agribusiness for the corn and other traditionally
livestock feed grains they grow.

Konijnendijk thinks that Canada ultimately will decide against RoundUp
Ready wheat. The Canadian Wheat Board, which sells the country's wheat
abroad, and the National Farmers Union are vehemently opposed, he said.
Given the quality of its wheat and a relatively small population, the
country is inclined to export.

What if genetically modified wheat were grown in all the major wheat
growing nations?

"If we couldn't find completely free non-GMO sources, we might be forced
to change the Gene Technology Act in Norway," Remberg said.

That prospect irritates Konijnendijk: "This is not fair anymore when the
public is not willing to eat it [genetically modified food], but has no
choice. We have a right to the food we want."

Related news items:

Consumer is king in Japan...
Egyptian wheat buyers touch on biotech issue during first leg of U.S.
Korean miller: 'Consumer is king'...
Organic farmer says USDA must investigate economic effects of biotech
wheat before approving it...
Farmer funds promoting genetically engineered wheat?

Other news and commentary items on CropChoice so far this week:

Vermont governor signs nation's first GMO labeling law...
GMO crops - Who is responsible for the consequences of pollen drift?
Farmer bothered by Montana Grain Growers Assoc. press release on
genetically modified wheat...