GENET archive


BUSINESS & RESEARCH: Monsanto plans conventional wheat research

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE:  Great Falls Tribune

AUTHOR:  Karl Puckett


DATE:    05.02.2014

SUMMARY: "Wheat-seed testing that Monsanto Co. is planning to conduct at test plots in northcentral Montana is conventional breeding research, not work involving controversial genetically modified organisms (GMO) or biotechnology, company officials said Thursday."

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Wheat-seed testing that Monsanto Co. is planning to conduct at test plots in northcentral Montana is conventional breeding research, not work involving controversial genetically modified organisms (GMO) or biotechnology, company officials said Thursday.

A Tribune story Wednesday that Monsanto was basing a wheat-breeding research center at Stuckey Road on the edge of Great Falls prompted almost 1,000 recommends on Facebook and some 125 comments, many highly critical of the company?s GMO research.

It also spawned a Facebook page called March Against Monsanto-Great Falls as well as inquiries to Cascade County officials on how a rezoning decision that will allow the facility could be protested.

?There?s absolutely nothing in this testing site that?s considered biotech,? said Ryan Holt, the Great Falls-based regional manager for the WestBred wheat brand.

Monsanto purchased WestBred, a wheat-seed brand with a research center in Bozeman, in 2009. The St. Louis-based agribusiness that manufactures agricultural and vegetable seeds, plant biotechnology traits and crop protection chemicals is one of many seed suppliers in Montana marketing private brands.

That Bozeman wheat-breeding research center is now being moved to Great Falls so research is closer to more acres of wheat in the Golden Triangle, said Jeff Koscelny, Monsanto?s U.S. commercial lead for wheat, who is based in St. Louis.

The Great Falls research site also will support a new regional Wheat Technology Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, he said.

A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. It?s spawned a debate in the United States about labeling foods with GMOs.

Work that will occur in the Great Falls area is traditional wheat breeding to come up with better varieties of wheat that produce better yield and products, not research on GMOs, Koscelny said.

The breeders will cross different types of seeds in an attempt to produce offspring with desired characteristics, such as better yield, or wheat that makes better bread, Koscelny said.

?Wheat?s been a crop that?s probably not enjoyed the amount of innovation that maybe other crops have,? Koscelny said.

The Idaho center and satellite on-the-ground research plots are part of a strategic change by the company to consolidate breeding efforts in one location in Twin Falls and creating regional testing sites, or research plots, in predominantly wheat-growing areas such as the Golden Triangle. Different seed varieties will be developed in Twin Falls, and then handed off to the regional test sites to be tested, he said.

?The researchers, per se, are in Twin Falls and the developers are really these testing sites,? Koscelny said.

At the Stuckey Road building, Monsanto will store equipment such as tractors, planters and harvesters, he said. Test plots will be set up at strategic locations in the Golden Triangle that will range from a half acre to 2 acres in size. Seeds varieties will be tested in various soils and environments throughout the region to determine if they can be taken forward to commercialization.

To come up with the best seed varieties, testing must occur in the growing conditions in which those seeds will be used, Koscelny said.

Cascade County commissioners gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a rezoning of property owned by Lee Janetski at 1511 Stuckey Road. Janetski is planning to lease the property to Monsanto.

Commissioner Joe Briggs said he received one email and two telephone calls from people asking how to protest the rezoning.

?It?s more than normal, but it?s not an overwhelming thing,? Briggs said.

A 30-day protest period will begin when the commissioner?s resolution indicating the intent to rezone the property is published as a legal notice in the newspaper. Only those residents who own property in the county can protest, Briggs said. At the conclusion of the protest period, the Commission will reopen the issue and either grant final approval to the zoning change or reject it, Briggs said.

Decisions on zoning are based on whether a land use is allowed in a certain type of zone, not whether commissioners favor a company, Briggs said. Any use that?s legal in Montana must be allowed in the county, he said.

?It doesn?t matter who?s going to use the lot,? Briggs said. ?That?s not part of zoning.?

The commissioner?s Tuesday vote came on the same day that protesters were arrested outside a Monsanto shareholder meeting in St. Louis. The protesters were rallying in favor of shareholder resolutions that would require the company to alter its approach to GMOs, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The U.S. government?s position is that genetically engineered crops are safe, resist disease better and can provide much-needed food in starving nations, according to WebMD.

The European Union?s position is the risk of genetically modified foods to health and the environment outweigh the benefits, and that only the multinational biotech companies will benefit, the website says.

News that Monsanto was planning to test wheat in Great Falls caught the attention of Mike Lewis of Great Falls, who says he opposes genetically altered foods.

He called the mayor of Great Falls, contacted Cascade County and the owner of the building.

?That was quite an eye opener for a lot of people,? he said. ?You mention the name Monsanto, and a lot of people go hysteric, and for good reason.?

?We absolutely respect every individual?s right to express his or her point of view,? Monsanto?s Koscelny said.

?It makes me proud every day to come into work and know I?m doing my part for wheat,? he added.

                                  PART 2

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


SOURCE:  The Republic



DATE:    05.02.2014

SUMMARY: "Monsanto Co. is offering assurances that the wheat-breeding research center it plans to open in Great Falls will involve conventional research and not genetically modified organisms."

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Monsanto Co. is offering assurances that the wheat-breeding research center it plans to open in Great Falls will involve conventional research and not genetically modified organisms.

Jeff Koscelny is Monsanto's U.S. commercial lead for wheat. He tells the Great Falls Tribune ( ) that the work that will occur in the Great Falls area involves traditional wheat breeding to come up with better varieties that produce better yield and products.

Koscelny says the seed varieties will be developed at the company's Wheat Technology Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, by cross-breeding different types of seeds. The resulting seeds will be grown in test plots north of Great Falls to study how well the varieties grow in various soils and environments to see if they are commercially viable.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE:  Mother Jones

AUTHOR:  Tom Philpott


DATE:    05.02.2014

SUMMARY: "Is genetically modified seed giant Monsanto doing the unthinkable and moving away from genetically modified seeds?"

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Is genetically modified seed giant Monsanto doing the unthinkable and moving away from genetically modified seeds?

It sounds crazy, but hear me out. Let?s start with Monsanto's vegetable division, Seminis, which boasts it is the "largest developer and grower of vegetable seeds in the world." Monsanto acknowledges Seminis has no new GM vegetables in development. According to a recent Wired piece, Seminis has has reverted instead to "good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia."

Why? The article points to people's growing avoidance of genetically modified foods. So far, consumers have shown no appetite to gobble up GM vegetables. (But that doesn't mean people aren't eating GMOs: Nearly all GMOs currently on the market are big commodity crops like corn and soy, which, besides being used as livestock feed, are regularly used as ingredients in processed food?think high-fructose corn syrup and soy oil.)

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But the Wired piece also suggests a factor that doesn't get nearly enough attention: GM technology doesn't seem to be very good at generating complex traits like better flavor or more nutrients, the very attributes Monsanto was hoping to engineer into veggies. Here's Wired:

    Furthermore, genetically modifying consumer crops proved to be inefficient and expensive. [Monsanto exec David] Stark estimates that adding a new gene takes roughly 10 years and $100 million to go from a product concept to regulatory approval. And inserting genes one at a time doesn't necessarily produce the kinds of traits that rely on the inter­actions of several genes. Well before their veggie business went kaput, Monsanto knew it couldn't just genetically modify its way to better produce; it had to breed great vegetables to begin with. As Stark phrases a company mantra: "The best gene in the world doesn't fix dogshit germplasm." [Emphasis added.]

Okay, that's vegetables. What about Monsanto's core business, selling seeds for big industrial commodity crops like corn, soybeans, cotton, and alfalfa? Monsanto has come to dominate these markets with its Roundup Ready products, which are designed to withstand Monsanto's flagship herbicide, and, for corn and cotton, its "Bt" products, which are engineered to produce a toxin found in Bacillus thuringiensis, an insect-killing bacteria. Does the company have lots of novel GM products in mind for this vast, lucrative sector?

Monsanto's latest Annual R&D Pipeline Review, a document released earlier this month that showcases the company's research into new product lines, foretells all kinds of impressive-sounding stuff. But a surprising amount of the company's new research, even for its most lucrative crops like corn and soy, promise either new iterations of herbicide tolerance and Bt, or rely on classical breeding?not biotechnology.

The one major exception is a corn seed relying on a new kind of GMO: RNA interference (RNAi) technology, a recently discovered way to turn off certain genes, which Monsanto plans to engineer into crops to kill certain insects. According to Monsanto's pipeline review, RNAi corn remains in the early "proof of concept" phase. In a recent piece, the New York Times' Andrew Pollack reports that the technology is showing promise?Monsanto hopes to have it on the market "late this decade." But it's also generating controversy even in normally Monsanto-friendly regulatory circles because researchers have suggested it may kill beneficial insects like ladybugs along with targeted pests. Pollack points to this 2013 paper by Environmental Protection Agency scientists, which warned that the unfamiliar technology presented "unique challenges for ecological risk assessment that have not yet been encountered in assessments for traditional chemical pesticides."

So RNAi corn may be coming?and could bring public relations and regulatory complications for Monsanto, not to mention unpredictable ecological consequences for the rest of us. But how much other GMO-based stuff does Monsanto have up its sleeve? According to the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agency that oversees the rollout of new GM crops, not much. Of the 13 new GMOs APHIS is tracking, only 2 are from Monsanto: an alfalfa engineered to be more easily digestible as animal feed, and a soybean designed to withstand a harsh old herbicide called dicamba (a variation on the familiar Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerance theme).

Just two crops in the final stages of USDA deregulation, from the ballyhooed GMO seed giant? That makes me think of Monsanto's recent $1 billion purchase of Climate Corp., a company that proposes to use GPS-backed data analysis tools to help farmers make planting decisions, for a fee. The move reminds me of IBM's mid-2000s decision to transition out of the business that made it famous by ditching the personal computer and focusing on IT products and consulting.

I've called Monsanto's press office to ask about their plans, and I'll return to this topic if they get back to me. And in the meanwhile, to be sure, Monsanto still makes loads of money selling GMO seeds?along with their matching proprietary herbicide, and likely will for a long time. But the facts have me wondering if the company's quiet exit from genetically engineered vegetables and placement of a billion-dollar wager on data services signal that the GMO giant just might be hedging its bets on GM technology.