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2-Plants: Syngenta moves closer to launching GM wheat

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Syngenta moves closer to launching GM wheat
SOURCE: Food Navigator, France, by Lorraine Heller
DATE:   15 Mar 2006

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Syngenta moves closer to launching GM wheat

3/15/2006 - Leading agribusiness Syngenta could be set to introduce the
world's first genetically modified wheat seed by early next decade, a
move fully supported by American wheat industry organizations.

The Swiss company has already conducted several years of successful
trials on its wheat seed, which has been developed to resist the
increasingly troublesome disease fusarium.

Syngenta now says it needs to conduct more extensive field performance
evaluations and technical success in field trials, emphasizing that it is
still in early stages of development.

Indeed, the firm is still keeping quiet about its GM wheat, making no
public announcements and speaking tentatively when it comes to possible
commercialization dates.

"We have no timelines," said spokesperson Anne Burt. "It takes a long
time from initial development to final registration, but the earliest
possible date it could be ready is early next decade."

The company is currently talking to stakeholders to query market
acceptance of the genetically modified wheat.

"We will go where the market is," Burt told

Indeed, Syngenta has good reason to be cautious. With wheat forming a
major staple in the Western diet today, the introduction of a genetically
modified version is likely to cause significant controversy and opposition.

In fact, two years ago, rival company Monsanto did not follow through on
plans to introduce a GM wheat variety that was resistant to herbicide.

"Wheat is such an essential food product. Developing genetically modified
traits does attract the attention of activists who are opposed to
technology; and it is easy to critique because of the emotional values
connected to it," said Lisa Dry, communications director of the
Biotechnology Industry Organization's (BIO) food and agriculture
department. BIO represents companies in the field of biotechnology,
offering legal support to get FDA approval for new products.

But despite the opposition a GM wheat is sure to raise, US wheat industry
organizations have given their full backing to Syngenta.

Last month, US Wheat Associates (USW), the National Association of Wheat
Growers (NAWG) and the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee (WETEC)
passed resolutions of support for biotechnological research, which they
said "holds great promise for the future."

"USW/NAWG/WETEC support continued research and development of Syngenta's
fusarium tolerance transgenic trait in wheat and will work proactively
with stakeholders in the food system for the benefit of customers and
consumers worldwide, US wheat producers and the whole US wheat industry,"
they said.

The organizations also announced certain positions they have taken "in
preparation for the future commercialization of biotechnologically-
derived wheat," which they believe can occur with "minimum market disruption."

These include support of wheat growers to ensure that planting and
marketing choices are based on economic, agronomic, and market factors,
as well as backing wheat customers in their decisions to make purchases
on the basis of specific traits.

The wheat organizations also said they encourage the adoption of a
nationally and internationally accepted definition of biotechnologically-
derived products, as well as the international harmonization of
scientific standards and trade rules.

They oppose compulsory labeling of products containing GM wheat in both
the US and international markets if the biotechnologically-derived traits
"do not differ significantly from their conventional counterpart."
However, they said they support voluntary labeling, provided it is
consistent with US law and international trade agreements and is not

They also said they "support and will assist in the development by all
segments of the industry of an orderly marketing system to assure
delivery of non-transgenic wheat within reasonable tolerances to markets
that require it."

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Not growing GM wheat hurting farmers, economist says
SOURCE: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
DATE:   17 Mar 2006

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Not growing GM wheat hurting farmers, economist says

An agricultural economist from the University of California says it was a
big mistake not to license genetically modified wheat in North America.

Colin Carter, who has written extensively about GM crops and agriculture,
says that decision is costing western Canadian farmers $200 million a year.

It was two years ago that the chemical company Monsanto decided not to
commercialize its "Roundup-ready" wheat because of widespread opposition
from farmers.

Roundup is Monsanto's best-known herbicide. Proponents say that by using
genetically manipulated crops that can't be killed by Roundup and other
herbicides, farmers can spray for weeds more effectively and cheaply.

Much of the canola grown on the Prairies is the genetically modified,
herbicide-resistant variety. However, there has been strong opposition to
GM wheat.

That opposition was largely based on reports from the Canadian Wheat
Board that 80 per cent of its customers did not want GM wheat.

Carter says he has travelled the world and talked to many of those same
customers and he believes the opposition to GM wheat is more like 20 per
cent. Even if some buyers said they did not want GM wheat, they may not
have meant it, he said.

However, Canadian Wheat Board chair Ken Ritter disagrees.

"In the marketing business the customer is always right. When they tell
us they don't want it, we believe it," he said.

Carter argues that Prairie farmers could be growing GM wheat without any
adverse effects. In fact, he said, they would be $200 million richer.

"It's partly based on increased yield that they would enjoy because of
better weed control and lower costs of production because of lower use of
chemicals - and increased sales," Carter said.

Ritter also disagreed with Carter's assertion that there are untapped
markets for GM wheat in developing countries.

"We have to focus and concentrate on the high-quality, high-paying
customers or else Western Canada will not be competitive in the wheat
business," Ritter said.

Canadian farmers may have no choice but to go the GM route once China
starts growing GM wheat, Carter said.

                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Biotech wheat would benefit U.S. farmers
SOURCE: South West Farm Press, USA, by Ron Smith
DATE:   20 Mar 2006

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Biotech wheat would benefit U.S. farmers

In North America, 73 biotech crops are approved. That includes 56 in the
United States, 53 in Canada and three in Mexico.

The price for not developing genetically modified wheat varieties means
the continued decline of the U.S. wheat industry and loss of millions of
dollars of potential income to farmers.
"The wheat industry needs this tool to control disease, increase yields
and improve nutrition," says Forrest Chumley, Kansas State University.

It's not like no one is looking into biotechnology, a term Chumley
prefers over genetically modified, for wheat. "Field testing is under way
in Mexico and some work is going on in Australia. Unfortunately, the
United States is not involved," Chumley said during a research and
development discussion at the recent North American Grain Congress in San
Antonio, Texas.

He said field tests show "promising levels of drought tolerance. We hope
to sequence the wheat genome," he said. "But developing (biotech wheat)
requires an international effort for success. We have to have a viable
market for the product."

That market may be slow in coming, he said, but is on its way.

"We are encouraged. U.S. wheat organizations are providing information
for consumers about biotech wheat. Consumers fear the new and the unknown."

Education, he said, is crucial. If consumers get adequate information,
acceptance will come more readily. "Markets will come but we are not
there yet."

In the meantime, he points out what U.S. wheat farmers are losing. Genome
research attracts a lot of dollars. "About $150 million goes to maize.
Cotton, soybeans and potatoes each get about $13 million."

He said wheat remains a "low value commodity" in the minds of many.
"Acreage has been steadily declining since 1980. Wheat has a complex
system for molecular genetics and a small research community. We see a
lack of pull from the industry and we have to ask who will use the end

The payoff could be significant, however. Chumley points out that wheat
yields have been flat compared to corn. "In 1970, corn yield averaged 60
bushels per acre. In 2004 yield had jumped to 150 bushels per acre. Wheat
has lost ground to corn and soybeans."

Continued decline in yield and acreage, he said, threatens the U.S. wheat
export market.

Concerns over health and nutrition also weaken domestic consumption.

Allowing those slides to continue may mean fewer scientists coming into
the wheat industry. "That represents lost opportunities," Chumley said.

He said the world is ready for biotechnology. "Biotech crops are widely
embraced. In 21 countries farmers plant 8.5 million acres of biotech
crops. The largest increase is in Brazil." India also has increased
biotech acreage.

In North America, 73 biotech crops are approved. That includes 56 in the
United States, 53 in Canada and three in Mexico.

Economic benefits are significant, Chumley said. "We've seen a net return
from 1996 to 2004 of $27 billion from biotech crops. None of that went to
wheat farmers. Pesticide use was reduced by 172,500 metric tons." But not
for wheat producers.

He said the United States added 4 billion pounds of additional food and
fiber because of biotech crops in 2001.

Since 1987, APHIS reports indicate 12,173 field tests for biotech crops.
Of that number, 5, 537 were for corn, 45 percent of the total. Wheat
trials, at 396, represent only 3.2 percent. The oldest biotech study for
wheat began in 1994 in Montana for glyphosate tolerance. "Not much
progress has been made," Chumley said.

Ongoing studies in Kansas, Oklahoma and Minnesota include resistance or
tolerance to fungus, virus and herbicides as well as work with protein
gluten. "Most work is with herbicide tolerance," Chumley said.

"Value-added (protein quality, anti-oxidants, gluten strength and
cellulose ethanol) traits are important," he said.

Chumley said his father, a mechanic after serving in World War II, always
emphasized the importance of using the right tool for the job at hand.

"Biotechnology is a versatile tool for agricultural production," he said.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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