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2-Plants: Monsanto uses secret Montana location to test GE wheat

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TITLE:  Mystery wheat: Monsanto uses secret Montana location to
        demonstrate its genetically modified wheat
SOURCE: The Billings Gazette, USA, by Jim Gransbery
DATE:   Jul 20, 2003

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Mystery wheat: Monsanto uses secret Montana location to demonstrate its
genetically modified wheat

BOZEMAN - Monsanto Co., the creator of genetically modified (GM) food
plants resistant to its own widely used herbicide, understands that its
biotechnology efforts are not without controversy.

But the company has pegged its future on a move away from chemicals and
toward the use of biotechnology in a number of areas. They include
applications in agriculture, food nutrition, pharmaceuticals, industrial
processes, bio-remediation and bio-fuels.

The move comes with the acknowledgment that it must do a better job in
explaining to a skeptical public, and outright opponents, that its
efforts are safe and will result in positive benefits for farmers and
consumers as well as the company. Roundup Ready spring wheat

This effort at transparency, stewardship and providing data to regulatory
agencies was offered up Thursday for a few journalists who accepted an
invitation to a seminar and field trip focused on Roundup Ready spring wheat.

There was one caveat.

"We are taking some risk at revealing the test-plot location," said
Michael Doane, director of industry affairs for the St. Louis-based
corporation, who asked that the exact location not be revealed.

"It is for the cooperative researcher's safety, the facilities and the
crop," he said.

The test plot is in Gallatin County.

That is the extent of the information available to the general public
through the Freedom of Information Act, said Danny Gigax, Monsanto's
representative for wheat research partner relationships.

"I deal with Roundup Ready wheat only," he said.

Monsanto, through genetic engineering, has developed Roundup Ready
soybeans, corn and canola. It is now testing Roundup Ready spring wheat.
Roundup is Monsanto's broadleaf herbicide. Roundup Ready plants are
resistant to Roundup which allows farmers to spray it on those crops
without killing the grain plants at the same time.

Foreign importers, however, have indicated they will not buy GM wheat. In
Europe and Japan, consumers have rejected GM foods because of the
perception that they are not as safe as conventionally produced hybrid

Because Montana sells most of its wheat to the Asian Pacific Rim, some
farmers are opposed to any introduction of Roundup Ready wheat lest it
"contaminate" the state's commercial varieties and kill the state's
valuable export market. In any given year, Montana's wheat crop is valued
at $400 million to $900 million, with 60-70 percent of the crop going to
the Pacific Rim. Legislative attempts

In the past two legislative sessions, bills were introduced to restrict
or prevent the introduction of GM wheat in Montana. Similar legislation
has been introduced in North Dakota. All those attempts were rejected by

The Canadian Wheat Board, which controls all exports of Canadian grain,
also opposes the introduction. A recently released study commissioned by
the CWB concluded that "under current conditions the release of Roundup
Ready wheat in Western Canada would be environmentally unsafe."

Monsanto Canada rejected the conclusion as "It does not seem to
accurately reflect international mainstream, scientific opinion and peer-
reviewed data on the benefits of biotech crops," Canadian Press reported.

This year, the Montana Legislature accepted a joint resolution affirming
opposition to the introduction of GM wheat until Monsanto has fulfilled
its own six-point pledge, which it has made to all its potential users.

Along with the pledge, Doane said the company is committed to dialogue,
transparency, respect, sharing of some discoveries and benefits from its

"We issue an annual report on the pledge," he said. "The second is due in
a few months."

Doane said U.S. grower satisfaction with Roundup Ready soybeans, corn and
canola is high, but on a global scale acceptance is lagging.

Use of the seed reduces crop input costs, he said, and increases a return
to the farmer. Use of the seed has also reduced the application of 46
million pounds of pesticide a year. Yields have increased by 4 billion
units (measured in either bushels or pounds, depending on the seed).

Doane said the company recognizes and accepts the regulatory process
worldwide, which can differ in each country.

Monsanto has pledged that Roundup Ready wheat will not be introduced
commercially until its food, feed, and environmental safety is
demonstrated, resulting in regulatory approvals in the United States,
Canada and Japan.

"Japan has indicated its desire to impose science-based regulation," he
said. image

In all cases, the introduction will be based on "grower, manufacturer and
consumer benefit," Doane said.

"We have to prove the safety of the gene, the food, the animal feed and
the environment. That it is as safe as unmodified varieties and
(nutritionally) is substantially equivalent to commercial varieties.

"When to commercially grow Roundup Ready wheat is not the issue, but how
it is done." He said.

Doane said Monsanto has become a convenient proxy for issues in a larger
context such globalization and corporate control as an ideological concern

Another big concern is "contamination" or co-mingling with commercial
wheat varieties.

Preventing that is Gigax's full time job.

The protocols for planting test plots of Roundup Ready wheat are
specific, he said. Applications to plant must be made to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture 180-days in advance.

"There are less than 50 acres of Roundup Ready wheat plots in the United
States and between 30 and 40 acres in Canada," he said.

No volunteer wheat is allowed to survive as the plots are surveyed for
two years after harvest. One hundred-foot borders are maintained between
the plots and from any wheat that goes into commerce.

"Outcropping or pollen drift is less than .01 percent because the pollen
is relatively heavy," Gigax said.

All the grain is destroyed after harvest and the yield is determined, he
said. All the seed comes double bagged before planting and the bags are
burned. In addition, there is third-party auditing of the fields.

"None of the grain is allowed to go into commerce," Gigax said.

Doug Ryerson, Monsanto's field man out of Great Falls who conducted a
tour of the Gallatin County plot, said there are about dozen test plots
in the spring wheat growing areas of Montana. The cooperating growers are
anonymous, he said.

"We are trying to be responsible and not mess up the market," Ryerson said.

Ed Davis, the cropland weed researcher at Montana State University, said
his plot allowance is 2.5 acres, but only 1.2 are planted this year. This
is his third year of testing.

Most of the Roundup Ready wheat grows to flowering stage and is then
plowed under, he said.

"I am the accountable person for the integrity of the plot, so I do not
tour or publicize the site," he said.

His studies focus on the noxious weeds kochia and wild oats, two of the
most serious weeds in Montana wheat.

His test plots demonstrate the effectiveness of Roundup Ready plants
compared to conventional wheat.

The varieties being used by Davis come from Western Plant Breeders, a
private Bozeman company that specializes in breeding wheat and barley

Dale Clark and his partner Dan Biggerstaff have been introducing the
Roundup Ready gene into present conventional varieties.

"Our goal is to have a Roundup Ready variety that is adaptable to each
region of Montana where spring wheat is grown either on dryland or
irrigated cropland," Clark said.


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