6-Regulation: Montana (USA) legislators introduce GE wheat moratorium bill
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TITLE: Measures seek control of engineered wheat
SOURCE: Billings Gazette, USA, by Jim Gransbery
DATE: Jan 12, 2003
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
Measures seek control of engineered wheat
The Montana Legislature will be asked to prevent the introduction of
genetically modified (GM) wheat for commercial production until the state
can guarantee that critical Pacific Rim grain markets won't be lost.
A second bill would impose a hefty bond on those wishing to introduce the
The bills arise from the fear of some state producers that Montana's major
crop will find no buyers in Asia if shipments are found "contaminated" with
genetically modified wheat.
In a survey of Asian wheat buyers, millers and end users conducted by U.S.
Wheat Associates, the respondents overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of
buying genetically modified wheat. Even trace amounts of the genetically
altered product in a shipment would result in rejection, the survey showed.
USWA is the promotion, marketing arm of the U.S. wheat industry.
Every year, at least 60 percent of Montana's wheat crop is exported through
the Pacific Northwest to Asia. According to the Montana Department of
Agriculture, Japan, the Philippines, Korea and Taiwan buy 93 percent of the
state's exported wheat.
Cash receipts for all wheat sold in Montana ranged from $692 million in
1997 to $366 million in 2001, according to the Montana Agricultural
Statistics Service. Crops diminished by drought and lower market prices in
1999-2001 have pushed down the annual income from wheat.
"We need to slow down, and take a breath" before introducing GM wheat, said
Rep. Ralph Lenhart, D-Glendive. "Is Montana ready for it? The European
market is not ready, and neither is the Asian market.
"We've been developing this (Asian) market for 50 years, so why shove
something down their throat," Lenhart said.
Lenhart will carry a bill to place a moratorium on the introduction of GM
wheat. "I may place a time limit on the moratorium." he said.
Compared to cross-breeding
Genetic engineering or modification, as compared to hybridization or cross-
breeding, is the process of inserting genes from one kind of organism into
the genes of an unrelated organism.
In the case of Roundup Ready soybeans and corn, the seeds contain genetic
material that makes the plants resistant to the herbicide Roundup, thus
reducing costs to the farmer for weed control.
Among the fears expressed in the USWA survey were concerns about health and
environmental effects and that customers have not accepted biotech foods.
Monsanto, the agri-chemical company producer of Roundup, had indicated its
intention to make Roundup-resistant wheat available in Montana and other
wheat-producing states by 2005.
However, Monsanto representative Michael Doane said Roundup Ready wheat
would be introduced only when several commitments are met.
First of all, Doane said it would be introduced when the food, feed and
environmental safety of Round Ready wheat is demonstrated, resulting in
regulatory approvals in the United States and Canada and Japan.
But that is not all.
Doane said: "The customer must be identified who will buy it. Not every
customer will extend a preference for GM wheat."
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, will introduce a joint resolution that
follows up on Monsanto's promises.
"This is the minimal thing that should be done," said Tester, Senate
minority leader for the session. "Monsanto needs to keep its promise that
no GM wheat will be introduced until there is market acceptance in the
Also among the commitments from Monsanto is that appropriate grain handling
protocols and standardized sampling and detection methods must be developed
and implemented by the grain industry.
Fears that grain shipments of traditional wheat cannot be fully segregated
from GM varieties is the reason for the second bill.
Introducing a draft bill
A draft bill, yet to be introduced, would require any company holding a
patent for a genetically modified wheat to post a $20 million bond before
release for commercial production in Montana.
Rep. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, requested the bill draft, but she will
not carry the bill. It will be introduced in the Senate when the
prospective sponsor has completed reviewing it.
The bill provides that those who have lost a market because of
contamination of their non-GM wheat could file a claim against the bond.
The impending legislation has sparked a diversity of views on the wisdom
and need for it.
Dan Dutton, a Belfry farmer with a Ph.D. in chemistry, favors a moratorium
on GM wheat production until it can be demonstrated that it can be marketed
to other countries and can be segregated from traditional and organic wheat.
"A rush to market, this is arrogance," he said. "Our customers have said
unequivocally that they will not accept it.
"We take pride in the quality of those products made in Montana. We need to
take precautions that no farmer's rights or markets are lost."
But Lockie Edwards does not want farmers to lose opportunities either.
Edwards, the vice president of the Montana Grain Growers Association who
farms near Big Sandy, said, "We would not be supportive of a bill that
would discourage development of biotech products.
"Farmers did not get here by opposing progress," he said.
He warned that the policy on GM wheat should be a national one.
"Let's not get heavy-handed and pass piecemeal, state-by-state
legislation." Edwards said.
Jim Christianson, who heads up the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, said
wheat is being held to a different standard.
"The four major Japanese brewers use GM yeast," he said. "The No. 1 laundry
detergent there is GM.
Christianson said GM wheat is being used as a pawn for those who don't want
"It's trade gamesmanship," he said.
Bob Quinn is a certified organic farmer near Big Sandy who grows specialty
crops for the European market. He raises kamut, an ancient relative of
Quinn says he has a property right to be protected.
"My European customers are asking if I can guarantee the organic produce
will not be contaminated," he said. "We need some research on the extent of
contamination from pollen drift from GM wheat."
Doane said that Monsanto's research shows that wheat pollen drift is very
limited, being less than 1 percent at one-foot distance.
Quinn also raised the issue of the cost of testing the product. "Who is
bearing the cost? This is not just a problem for organic farmers."
He said the biotech industry should do everything possible to prevent
contamination by breeding sterility into the progeny of the GM seed and
have it color-coded for visual identification, which would eliminate
"This is not a health issue," he said. "It is an economic issue that will
be on our backs."
Richard Owen, executive vice president of the MGGA, said the issues are
national should be settled there.
"The are a lot of states that are nervous as hell about this," he said. "We
need to provide a uniform regulatory environment for it."
For the plant scientist, the issue is not politics, diplomacy or marketing,
but rather it is about producing food, said Luther Talbert, a spring wheat
breeder at Montana State University in Bozeman who favors development of GM
grains. He sees them as providing better profits for producers and more
environmentally friendly production systems.
Doane said that Roundup Ready wheat may provide yield increases between 11
percent and 14 percent.
"Twenty-five years ago, when I was in school, we were warned that the world
faced mass starvation," Talbert said. It has not happened, mainly because
of the Green Revolution, the development of high-yielding, drought
resistant strains of grain by Norman Borlaug, who received the Nobel Peace
Prize for his efforts.
"It does not seem right to me to take the major food crop of the world and
not do our best to improve it," Talbert said. "I would not be happy 25
years from now if we did that.
"Rationality has to win out in the long run," he said.
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