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Monsanto raises idea of U.S.-only GMO wheat release

(Wednesday, March 17, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Carey Gillam, Reuters, 03/16/04: KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Monsanto Co. is discussing with the U.S. wheat industry whether it should be held to its promise not to release biotech wheat in the United States unless it can simultaneously market it in Canada, wheat industry officials said Tuesday.

Monsanto told top officials from wheat growers and wheat marketing organizations over the weekend that it was facing stiff opposition to its biotech wheat product in Canada.

In a written presentation prepared for the meeting, the company raised the possibility of "alternative strategies" to the simultaneous U.S.-Canadian release it has pledged to the wheat industry for more than a year.

U.S. wheat growers do not want Monsanto's biotech wheat -- a spring wheat variety that would be the world's first genetically modified wheat -- introduced only in this country. They fear foreign buyers opposed to biotech food products would shift their purchases to Canada, the United States' top competitor for hard red spring wheat sales.

Monsanto spokesman Michael Doane would not discuss details of the weekend meeting, and stressed that the company remained focused on releasing the controversial new wheat after approvals were granted in both countries.

"Today we stay with our commitments," he said.

But wheat industry leaders confirmed Monsanto was putting on the table the option of going ahead without Canadian approval as regulatory clearances any time soon in Canada appeared uncertain.

"The reason people are starting to talk about this scenario is it looks like it might run into serious opposition in Canada," said National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Daren Coppock.

"We have not flat out told them we will not discuss alternatives, but it is our extremely strong preference we remain on that track," he said.

U.S. Wheat Associates, which handles global marketing issues for the U.S. wheat industry, said a U.S.-only release would give the Canadians a distinct advantage.

"If we introduce and the Canadians do not that would make it easier for countries to continue to insist on buying from a country that is GM-free and it would give Canada a distinct marketing advantage," said U.S. Wheat President Alan Tracy.

Marketers like the Canadian Wheat Board have said export buyers would reject Canadian wheat if Ottawa grants approval to Monsanto's genetically modified wheat.

Canadian regulators do not currently consider market impact in approving new crops, but the federal agriculture department there is considering whether or not to widen its view.

Monsanto's plans to introduce its biotech wheat, which is resistant to the company's Roundup herbicide, have sparked debate across the industry. While many farmers fear they would lose sales to buyers unwilling to take biotech crops, they want to take advantage of, and encourage future development of, technology that could help them reap more bountiful harvests.

The issue gained urgency after Monsanto in January told industry leaders they must fully embrace the project and help gain market acceptance or Monsanto may abandon research into other wheat technologies.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/markets/newswire/2004/03/16/rtr1301018.html