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Monsanto GMO wheat far from winning market okay

(Thursday, May 29, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Carey Gillam, Reuters, 05/28/03: KANSAS CITY, Mo, - A genetically modified wheat strain under development by Monsanto Co. remains a significant threat to the worldwide grain industry, and appears to be gaining little acceptance in the market, U.S. industry players said this week.

On Tuesday Canada dealt a blow to Monsanto's progress toward commercializing the product, when the Canadian Wheat Board asked the company to withdraw its application for regulatory approval to prevent "significant and predictable economic harm."

In the United States, biotech wheat could cripple wheat sales. Foreign buyers have said they would be reluctant to buy from the United States if so-called GMO wheat is grown here. Environmental and consumer groups have recently increased their level of opposition to GMO foods, raising consumer awareness.

"The marketing issues have not been sufficiently addressed. Prior to commercialization of biotech wheat they need to be defined and acted upon," North American Export Grain Association president Gary Martin told Reuters.

Recently, U.S.-based food companies have begun spreading the same message, telling farm groups they will not allow the wheat to enter their grain elevators, flour mills or bakeries.

Betsy Faga, president of the North American Millers' Association, a trade group, said that "Greenpeace and other activists out there on this issue...could change consumer attitudes on a dime."

To soothe market fears, St. Louis-based Monsanto has pledged it will not release biotech wheat until it identifies willing buyers.

Still, some say they do not fully trust the company and have yet to see any aggressive moves by Monsanto to develop customer approval.

"Knowing what determines acceptance is the biggest problem," said the Millers' Association's Faga. "This is one of the most difficult issues to get our hands around."

Monsanto's herbicide-resistant wheat, grown in test plots in North Dakota, Montana and elsewhere, has been modified to tolerate glyphosate-based Roundup Ready weed killer, also made by Monsanto. It is designed to improve efficiencies for farmers, yielding a more profitable crop.

But farmers have not clamored for the technology. U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets U.S. wheat overseas, has repeatedly warned U.S. farmers that sales will be lost if the wheat is released into the commercial market.

Parts of Asia, Europe and elsewhere have already said they would abandon U.S. wheat if the GMO product comes to market. Wheat is the No. 1 exported grain in the world.

"I think at this point Monsanto is saying they want to have the scientific review take place, which they hope will convince consumers and customers there aren't any health problems," U.S. Wheat vice president Nelson Denlinger said.