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2-Plants: U.S. wheat grower association calls for GE wheat approval



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TITLE:  Wheat groups ask USDA to shun biotech critics
SOURCE: Reuters
DATE:   Apr 28, 2003

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Wheat groups ask USDA to shun biotech critics

WASHINGTON - U.S. wheat industry leaders last week asked the U.S.
Department of Agriculture to press ahead with its review of Monsanto
Co.'s biotech wheat and deny a bid by opponents of genetically modified
wheat to block regulatory approval.

Led by the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the industry
delivered a letter Friday to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman asking
that the USDA adhere to a strictly scientific review of Monsanto's
application for "Roundup Ready" wheat.

Last month, a consortium of U.S. agricultural and environmental groups
opposed to the genetically modified wheat filed a legal petition seeking
a federal moratorium on the wheat.

The groups said there was widespread foreign opposition to buying biotech
wheat as well as various environmental concerns, and demanded that the
USDA withhold approval of Monsanto's Roundup Ready wheat variety until
the government assesses the complete environmental and economic impacts
of the product.

But in the industry letter Friday, U.S. Wheat Associates, an industry
export marketing agency, and the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee
(WETEC), joined with NAWG to assert that the biotech opponents did not
represent the interests of the wheat industry. Moreover, they said, it is
not USDA's role to examine issues outside of scientific concerns.

"We don't want a scientific process to become burdened," said NAWG CEO
Daren Coppock. "That needs to stay pure."

Coppock said the issues raised by the opponents as potential
environmental concerns were largely meritless.

"There is some substantial reaching going on there. The folks filing it
are trying to do everything they can to slow down biotechnology. The true
farmers have an approach ... of progress, cautious progress, but still
progress.

"We're not ready to go plant biotech wheat in the ground tomorrow, but we
want to continue to work on biotech issues to successfully launch biotech
wheat at the appropriate time," Coppock said.

Monsanto's efforts to seek regulatory approval for a launch of what would
be the world's first biotech wheat has generated controversy around the
world and studies by U.S. wheat export experts have shown that many large
foreign buyers of U.S. wheat will shun U.S. wheat supplies if Roundup
Ready wheat is introduced to the marketplace.

Farmers have said they fear they will lose export markets if the biotech
wheat is commercialized, but they think the product, and future biotech
offerings, could help them grow wheat more profitably.

The leaders of the wheat industry have been working closely with Monsanto
to overcome the marketplace concerns and Monsanto has pledged not to
start selling the biotech wheat until marketplace acceptance is assured.