GENET archive


2-Plants: New promotion campaign for GE wheat

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Golden opportunity: Excessive regulation is getting in the way of
        expanded markets for Canadian wheat through genetic modification
SOURCE: Financial Post, Canada, by Colin A. Carter, Derek Berwald and Al Lyons
DATE:   15 Feb 2006

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University of Toronto - In the news
Colin Cater, Derek Berwald and Al Loyns are authors of The Economics of
Genetically Modified Wheat, published today by the University of Toronto
Centre for Public Management. Their research was supported, in part, by a
grant from Monsanto Canada, a manufacturer of biotech wheat.

Golden opportunity: Excessive regulation is getting in the way of
expanded markets for Canadian wheat through genetic modification

Ever since the federal government took control of wheat marketing in
Canada in order to serve the mother country, it has proudly promoted
high-quality wheat as its brand. Stringent and expensive regulations have
been used to implement the "high-quality" strategy in grading, testing
and the release of new wheat varieties.

Unfortunately, the process of maintaining the "Cadillac-quality"
philosophy has persisted, despite lack of evidence that it has been
profitable for farmers. This mindset in Ottawa is 50 years out of date
and costly to wheat growers. The reason is simple: Poor countries, which
now buy most of the wheat traded internationally, are unwilling to pay
Cadillac prices and are happy with lower-quality wheat. As a result,
Canada's share of the world market for wheat has declined over the past
two decades.

Due to excessive regulation, Canadian wheat farmers are now missing
another opportunity -- biotech wheat. Biotechnology can transfer genes
into wheat from other living organisms, to change how the plants perform.
In numerous countries, scientists are busy introducing genes into plants
that will give them resistance to herbicides, insects, disease, drought
and salt in the soil. Bioengineering crop research is also aimed at
improving the nutritional quality of food, such as providing healthier
vegetable oils. Compared with traditional plant breeding, biotechnology
can produce new varieties of plants more quickly and efficiently, and it
can introduce desirable traits into plants that could not be established
through conventional plant breeding techniques.

However, controversy surrounds the commercial production and marketing of
bioengineered crops and the foods made from these crops. Supporters of
this relatively new technology point to evidence that genetic
modification of plants reduces the use of chemicals in agriculture, with
direct environmental benefits. Farmers gain from reduced chemical costs,
and often the biotech crops are higher yielding because of fewer pest and
weed problems. This is not all speculation. The commercialization of
biotech canola has been a huge success story in Canadian agriculture and
has had a positive environmental impact. In fact, Canada is recognized as
one of the world's leading adopters of crop biotechnology in canola, a
crop not controlled by Ottawa.

Despite 10 years of positive experience with biotech crops (corn,
soybeans, canola and cotton), detractors continue to claim that genetic
modification is unnatural and carries unknown risks that could be
hazardous to human health and the environment. This spurs opposition, led
by the federal government's Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), to the
introduction of biotech wheat in Canada.

The CWB and others base their concerns over loss of markets and negative
agronomic impacts. They argue, for example, that biotech wheat in the
system could not be kept separate from our traditional high-quality
wheat. Most of the Canadian food-processing industry is also opposed to
biotech wheat. These firms don't see biotech wheat's introduction leading
to a significant boost in their returns because wheat typically
represents a small share of input costs for processed food products. The
food processors are afraid of losing market share if environmental
activist groups decide to stage a boycott of food products containing
biotech wheat.

The success of any such boycott is doubtful because a very large
percentage of processed foods sold in Canada today contain some biotech
ingredients. In addition, most people regularly consume pharmaceuticals
that are biotech products and don't ask questions -- a biotech bird flu
vaccine has just been announced and will undoubtedly be well received.
Why are some consumer products produced with biotechnology viewed
differently than others? And who, really, makes the decisions?

Unfortunately wheat farmers have had little or no say in this process.
Wheat is a struggling industry in Western Canada and growers are shifting
away from wheat due to its low profitability and its over-regulation. Our
economic study of biotech wheat found that the benefits exceed the costs
for biotech wheat on the Canadian prairies. We documented biotech
canola's 80% adoption rate across the prairies because of its many
desirable attributes and few negatives. Both biotech and non-biotech
soybeans are successfully grown in Canada and segregated in the marketing
chain without problems.

Unfortunately, as with other technological advances in the prairie grain
industry, the regulators intervened to thwart biotech wheat on the basis
of limited and incomplete research. We have applied economic analysis to
several dimensions of measuring the economic impacts of biotech wheat and
found that this new technology could have very favorable implications for
producers, the prairie economy and for Canada as a whole.

Biotech wheat offers some potential to turn around the wheat industry on
the Canadian prairies. Rather than exploring ways that this new
technology could improve grower returns, the Canadian Wheat Board and
others categorically rejected its introduction in Canada, due to a fear
of lost markets.

Biotech wheat will surely be adopted in Asia or Latin America, lowering
production costs there and exposing Canadian wheat farmers to even
harsher competition. Canada's farmers need not suffer this fate. Now is
the time to put biotech back on the drawing boards in Canada.

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  More voices joining chorus for GMO wheat
SOURCE: Capital Press Agriculture Weekly, USA, by Scott A. Yates
        posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   17 Feb 2006

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More voices joining chorus for GMO wheat

They may not have been singing in perfect harmony, but for the first time
since the issue of biotechnology surfaced, U.S. wheat interests all
appear to be reading from the same sheet of music.

The change in tune was made clear at a meeting of the industry's Joint
Biotech Committee Feb. 5. Made up of representatives from the National
Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates and the Wheat Export
Trade and Education Committee, the group's meetings are frequently
acrimonious, with growers association representatives urging quick
adoption of the technology and USW officials advising caution.

As recently as a year ago, Greg Daws, a wheat grower member of the
committee from North Dakota, couldn't contain his anger over the USW's
go-slow approach to biotechnology. He charged the two groups were so far
apart that even a joint committee wouldn't work.

At the latest meeting, however, Daws didn't speak. Afterward, he said a
change in personnel on the committee made an important difference in
bringing a more-rational attitude to the biotech debate - that, and a
realization that without the technology's adoption, fewer wheat acres
would be planted, which would impact the USW's bottom line.

"Money talks," he said.

Vince Peterson, the USW's vice president of overseas operations, made it
clear he did not want to be viewed as an obstructionist. Peterson is the
latest of four different staff members to head up the USW's biotech
committee contingent in the past six years.

During a presentation to the Joint Biotech Committee, he explained how
the USW is attempting to soften up resistance to adoption of the
technology around the world. Among other things, buyers are being
discouraged from maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for adventitious or
accidental commingling of minute quantities of GMO wheat in non-GMO
cargoes. Without achievable tolerances, customers are being warned, they
could cut off a major supplier and wind up backing themselves into a corner.

That sort of language was unheard of five years ago when several overseas
surveys indicated customers would refuse to buy any wheat from the United
States if a GMO trait was even approved, let alone grown commercially. A
"customer is always right" mentality dominated the USW's actions.

Wheat growers, however, have said the downward trend in U.S. wheat acres
was fueled by biotech advances in corn and soybeans. They argue the only
way to compete is through adoption of the technology that allows
scientists to "engineer" a plant's genetic code.

USW's change in attitude can partly be traced to the fact that Roundup-
ready wheat, poised to be the first biotech trait in wheat released to
growers, was mothballed by Monsanto in May 2004. The technology, which
would have allowed farmers to apply glyphosate over a growing crop to
kill weeds, did not provide any advantage to grain companies or consumers.

A biotech trait from Syngenta, which provides resistance to fusarium head
blight or scab, is next in line for approval. Because vomitoxin
associated with fusarium head blight is important to food companies as
well as consumers, Peterson said, it is a much better lead-off.

"Fusarium tolerance is a trait we have a much better opportunity to work
with overseas countries' concerns about food safety. They all have
vomitoxin specifications. If we can say something is healthier, this is
much easier to work with than Roundup-ready wheat was," he said.

For Peterson, the only thing better than having a defensible biotech
trait introduced in the United States would be if another country comes
out with a GMO trait of its own and "beats us to the punch." Many other
countries are working on GMO wheat, including Egypt, China and India.

But Al Skogins, who represents NAWG on the joint panel, disagreed. He
said U.S. competitiveness is dependent on farmers' ability to adapt the
latest technology. Starting out in the lead makes it much easier to hang on.

"It is a race. I would like to be the first to have (a biotech trait) as
soon as we have enough consumer acceptance," he said.

                                 PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Canadian Wheat Board agrees that further research on GM Wheat useful
SOURCE: Resource News International, by Phil Franz-Warkentin, via Comtex
        posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   17 Feb 2006

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Canadian Wheat Board agrees that further research on GM Wheat useful

WINNIPEG - A number of US wheat groups recently came out in favour of
using biotechnology to breed new wheat varieties. While genetically
modified (GM) wheat is still a concern for many of its customers, the
Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) agreed that further research would be useful.

"Biotechnology research holds great promise for the future, and the US
wheat industry recognizes these advancements," said a joint statement put
out by the The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the US Wheat
Associates (UWA) and the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee (WETEC)
in early February. A separate resolution also endorsed continued research
and development into a fusarium resistant trait by Syngenta.

In recent years Monsanto had also worked on a GM wheat variety resistant
to the company's Roundup Herbicide. However, those plans were eventually
scrapped due in part to the general outcry against the variety.

"Our position is that we're not opposed to biotechnology, although we had
specific concerns with Roundup Ready wheat," said CWB spokesperson
Maureen Fitzhenry. She said that before any GM wheat is introduced, it
should be ensured that it presents a positive cost/benefit for farmers,
which was not the case with Roundup Ready wheat.

"lt's a fair assumption that fusarium resistant wheat would have a cost
benefit for farmers," said Fitzhenry. "That being said, it all boils down
to what will be acceptable to the customer and what segregation may or
may not be necessary... lt's not an easy cut and dry thing."

Currently, the Canadian government only looks into safety issues when
deciding to approve a new variety. Fitzhenry thought a cost/benefit
analysis would be a beneficial tool, as the economic implications of
introducing a wheat variety not acceptable to most of Canada's customers
would be large.

"Resistance to CM wheat was strong, and is still strong," said Fitzhenry.
About 82% of Canada's wheat customers said they would not accept the
Roundup Ready GM wheat variety when Monsanto was still working on it.
"Would they say the same thing about a GM wheat variety that's fusarium
resistant? At this point in time - quite likely," said Fitzhenry.

That being said, she added that any research into fusarium resistant
wheat would be useful.

"The bottom line is that new varieties have to have benefits for farmers
that outweigh the costs," said Fitzhenry. "With Roundup Ready, that
wasn't the Gase, but with fusarium resistant 1 think you would see a
different cost benefit equation."

David Rolfe president of the Manitoba farmer group the Keystone
Agricultural Producers (KAP) noted that his organization opposed the
introduction of Roundup Ready wheat, "however, we certainly did not
oppose biotechnology." He agreed with Fitzhenry that market acceptance is
key for any new wheat varieties, and would be supportive if the benefits
to farmers outweigh the costs.

Rolfe also pointed out that a BASF's herbicide tolerant Clearfield wheat
has already come onto the market relatively unnoticed. While the variety
is not considered genetically modified, as no foreign DNA was inserted
during development, it does perform a similar function as was intended by
Roundup Ready wheat.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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