January 26, 2004



Monsanto Calls For Industry Support In GM Wheat


Leading biotech developer Monsanto Co. may abandon its genetically modified wheat research program if wheat industry leaders in the United States do not help the company gain market acceptance.


"If full farmer support is not pledged, "that could be construed as shifting our focus to other crops," said Monsanto's director of wheat industry affairs, Michael Doane.


"As we look at our business initiatives and our scarce resources ... we need to understand the level of farmer support," Doane said.


He made his comments at a meeting with top wheat industry players at the industry's annual convention in Atlanta.


The request by Monsanto was also spelled out in a letter given to officials of the farmer-controlled National Association of Wheat Growers, and to U.S. Wheat Associates, which handles international marketing for U.S. wheat.


The letter asks that for "public acknowledgment of your full support for the timely de-regulation and commercialization of Roundup Ready wheat;" "strong alignment" in support from "state and allied constituents;" and asks that farm leaders develop and execute a strategic plan to "satisfactorily address public acceptance issues" in the U.S. and abroad.


Public acceptance for biotech wheat has been a hot-button issue as Monsanto has moved forward with regulatory applications for what would be the world's first genetically modified crop primarily used for human food.


U.S. Wheat Associates officials have repeatedly warned that many top foreign buyers of U.S. wheat have threatened to stop buying from the United States if a biotech wheat is brought to market.


Opposition is particularly strong in the European Union, which bought more than $220 million of U.S. wheat in 2002.


Domestic millers and other American users of U.S. wheat have also expressed reservations about buying Monsanto's biotech wheat, which has been genetically altered to resist applications of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.


"I understand where Monsanto is coming from. ... At some point you have to decide whether or not you consider funding research," said Lance Hagen, executive director of North Dakota Grain Growers Association. "But they have to understand where growers are coming from, too."


Duane Grant, a member of a wheat industry biotech committee that has been monitoring Monsanto's plans, said there were concerns that had to be addressed before the industry could fully partner with Monsanto.


"I'm not comfortable saying I'm ready to go arm in arm with Monsanto," Grant said. "We have to be careful not to let our policies get dictated around a specific product."

Doane said the company was not asking growers to do anything more than it had asked of soybean and corn growers when it introduced biotech products to those producers.


"We have a pipeline that is very full right now and a lot of those applications are in crops other than wheat," Doane said. "We need a timely response."

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