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2-Plants: U.S. National Association of Wheat Growers sounds trumpet for GMO

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Wheat leader sounds trumpet for GMO
SOURCE: Capital Press, USA, by Scott Yates
DATE:   18 Aug 2005

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Wheat leader sounds trumpet for GMO

SPOKANE - Sherman Reese, president of the National Association of Wheat
Growers, has called for the commercialization of a biotech wheat "as soon
as possible."

In a message on the NAWG website, Reese, an Oregon farmer, said he
understands that in export-oriented states like his, "These are fighting
words." That's because overseas buyers in countries as diverse as Italy
and Japan have previously said they will cease buying U.S. wheat if a
biotech variety is even released, let alone exported.

The issue is one among many that has generated heat between NAWG and U.S.
Wheat Associates, the export arm of the American wheat grower. Five years
ago, during debate over Monsanto's impending release of Roundup Ready
wheat, the head of U.S. Wheat's Japan office suggested if biotech wheat
were forced upon that country, millers would shift their source of supply
to competitors.

"GM wheat, if imported, will become a highly sensational and emotional
issue in this country and eventually may lead to a total boycott of U.S.
agricultural products. ... Any negative image on wheat foods will be
profound and incomparable with corn and soybeans, which are just sub-
ingredients of various processed products."

From the South Asia region office came the comment: "Without a complete
rejection of GMO wheats from the market or partial rejection through a
system of segregation, the U.S. industry is offering (on a silver
platter) one more marketing advantage to the competition."

Monsanto settled the impending problem when it announced in May 2004 that
it was putting Roundup Ready wheat on the shelf. In the meantime, Reese
said, he believes the issue has been redefined. In an interview from his
farm, the 49-year-old NAWG president said that given the trend line, "The
question is not whether we are going to sell biotech wheat, but whether
we are going to sell any wheat at all."

He said wheat acreage has been declining as corn acreage and soybean
acreage have been increasing in the United States. Since 1995, planted
wheat acreage in the U.S. has declined 16 percent. Some of that missing
wheat acreage has gone into the Conservation Reserve Program, but a
growing slice is being lost to genetically engineered corn and soybean

Since 1995, corn and soybean acreage has increased 15.6 percent. Reese
expects the transition will only accelerate as drought-resistant biotech
crops are brought on line.

"I don't think we can continue to do what we are doing and expect
success," he said. "Those of us who have come to this position have done
so through a lot of study. We have to adapt, and the sooner the better."


In a recent meeting with Monsanto officials, Reese was shown a map of
where the company believes its drought-resistant corn cultivars can
become established. The area stretched all the way to the Rocky Mountains
and north into the Dakotas, he said.

Reese has not always been an advocate of biotech wheat. From a state that
exports more than 85 percent of its production, he was also cautious of
losing overseas markets.

But as president of the national wheat organization, he has developed a
different perspective.

"Not all of us came to the same understanding at the same time," he said.

U.S. Wheat Associates has yet to reach a similar conclusion. Its board of
directors is operating under a "Principles of Commercialization" document
saying that regulatory approval for food, feed and environmental release
must first be secured in the United States and major world wheat markets
before a genetically modified wheat variety is released.

Alan Tracy, president of USW, said no segregation program currently
exists, and even if there were, a GM release would void the current
Federal Grain Inspection Service statement relied on by importers to
document that their cargoes are GM-free.

"The inability to use the FGIS statement would be disruptive to U.S.
wheat exports in the current environment. We are not currently at a point
where we can afford to sacrifice overseas sales," he said.

So is the threat of losing market share real? Reese said he doesn't think
it's likely to be as disruptive as some believe. With the United States
serving as the No. 1 wheat exporter in the world, he questions whether
importing countries can turn their backs, especially if it can be proven
there is no harm in directly consuming biotech crops.

"Japan already consumes a lot of biotech in other foods, including soy
sauce, so it is disingenuous to say they are not going to buy any wheat
at all," he said.

Furthermore, Reese said, it may be preferable to make the shift toward GM
wheat before U.S. farm policy evolves to more of a environmental program
and less of a farm-support one.

"Maybe it makes sense to do it now, when we have a support structure in
place," he said.

Looking at expanding wheat production in nontraditional areas of the
world, including Eastern Europe and India, Reese said, one avenue
available to overcome these countries' lower cost of production is technology.

"Over time, it will adjust, but in the short term, we have to find a way
to compete, and this may be one way," he said.

Reese said he doesn't expect to find unanimity in the industry. He said
there is a fairly major split between those who support biotechnology and
those who don't. But every time there has been an agricultural
advancement, there have been nay-sayers.

The fact that consumers have been eating biotech crops for 10 years in
the United States without so much as one incident of harm to a human "is
an enviable track record," he said.


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