2-Plants: U.S. industry urges slow approach to GM wheat
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TITLE: U.S. industry urges slow approach to GM wheat
SOURCE: The Western Producer, Canada, by Adrian Ewins
DATE: Feb 13, 2003
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U.S. industry urges slow approach to GM wheat
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The U.S. wheat industry is speaking with one voice on
genetically modified wheat.
Farmers, millers, bakers and exporters attending the annual U.S. wheat
industry's annual conference in late January made it clear they don't
want GM wheat unless their customers do.
Even then, they said they want nothing to do with it until a dependable
testing and segregation system is developed.
"Our recommendation is to go slowly," said Len Hefflich, director of
technical services for George Weston Bakeries of New York. "The market is
not ready for GM wheat."
While the opposition to GM wheat is often characterized as coming mainly
from overseas, speakers made it clear that North American consumers are
also wary about the technology.
Hefflich cited a survey conducted last summer by the American Bakers
Association, in which 40 percent of shoppers expressed concern about
buying food containing GM ingredients. Half of them were "strongly
concerned" and a small percentage said they wouldn't buy any products
containing GM wheat.
"Is our industry willing to risk five to 40 percent of our sales of
regular business to embrace GM wheat? The answer is no," said Hefflich.
Biotech wheat was a major topic of discussion at this year's wheat
Speakers representing the corn, soybean and sugar beet industries
presented the wheat growers with cautionary tales based on their not-
always-happy experiences trying to introduce GM food into the market.
A commonly expressed theme was frustration at what many consider to be
emotional and unscientific resistance to GM food among consumers.
"Science has proven time and time again that biotech is safe," said Tim
Hume, president of the National Corn Growers Association.
But he said a combination of factors has undermined the technology,
including the spread of misinformation, poor communications with
consumers about the potential benefits of biotech, political conflicts
between the United States and the European Union and two high-profile
regulatory infractions that saw varieties of genetically modified corn
contaminate non-GM crops and food.
U.S. wheat farmers are of two minds on the subject, said Darrell Hanavan,
chair of the National Association of Wheat Growers' biotechnology committee.
They're aware of the potential agronomic benefits, but they're also aware
that there's no point growing something customers don't want.
"Farmers want the technology, but they also want the market acceptance,"
he said in an interview.
As long as some buyers reject GM wheat, systems must be in place to
assure them they won't accidentally get any.
"We have to be able to satisfy our customers and the only way we know how
to achieve that is through a segregation system," Hanavan said.
A wheat industry advisory committee has been set up to work through the
myriad of issues surrounding biotech wheat, including such things as
defining "market acceptance," setting up a framework for an identity
preservation system, establishing tolerance levels and working out
The committee includes Monsanto, the company whose genetically modified
Roundup Ready wheat has been at the centre of the biotech wheat debate.
Michael Doane, Monsanto's director of global industry affairs, wasn't
surprised that biotech wheat was the focus of so much attention at the
conference, but he also said momentum is building in favour of GM wheat,
as farmers realize its possible benefits, such as improved milling and
baking quality, increased nutritional value and reduced allergenicity.
As well, Monsanto has published a list of "milestones" it says must be
achieved before RoundUp Ready wheat is made available to farmers: full
regulatory approval in the U.S., Canada and Japan; regulatory approval
and marketing agreements in major export markets; standardized handling
and testing systems; and acceptance by buyers.
Hanavan also said it's important that there be simultaneous commercial
release of Roundup Ready wheat in Canada and the U.S., adding the U.S.
wheat industry committee has met with the Canadian Wheat Board to co-
ordinate their approach.