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Is the market ready for GM wheat? The people of North Dakota should decide, not Monsanto

(Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Steve Pollestad, Grand Forks Herald, 10/21/02: HALLIDAY, N.D. - In his interview with Agweek's Mikkel Pates (Beyond Roundup, Sept. 9, page 32) Greg Daws makes it seem like the issue is a moratorium on genetically modified wheat research. It isn't. The issue is a moratorium on GM wheat commercialization - quite a different matter.

Remember that no one asked the 2001 North Dakota Legislature to outlaw the testing of GM wheat. In fact, it was Monsanto that brought up the research issue - threatening to pull the plug on research funding if the Legislature placed a two-year moratorium on GM wheat research.

During that legislative session and in the next interim, Daws and Monsanto have warned lawmakers not to “send Monsanto the wrong signal” about GM wheat. I guess the signal they want to send is the white flag of surrender. “Do anything you want to us, Monsanto, only please don't leave.”

Right to set rules

Rather than fall into that kind of sick dependency, shouldn't North Dakota have the right to set some rules for Monsanto to live by?

Chief among these rules should be that North Dakota, not Monsanto, gets to decide when Roundup Ready wheat is commercially viable and should be released. That was the idea behind the moratorium effort in 2001.

Since the last legislative session, Monsanto has sent some mixed signals on commercialization of GM wheat. It continues to lay all the regulatory groundwork for getting it approved, even while it says it only will release it if it's accepted in the marketplace.

Trusting Monsanto to decide when there's enough acceptance out there would be a foolish mistake. Financially troubled Monsanto has everything to gain and nothing to lose by releasing GM wheat. It remains unclear what North Dakota farmers have to gain, but they clearly have huge markets to lose.

Maybe a time-limited moratorium is not the best solution, but our legislators must find a way to put the market readiness decision in the hands of people who are accountable to the citizens of North Dakota.

Or, we could let Monsanto decide. And maybe we also could get Enron to run our utilities and Arthur Andersen to keep the books.

Editor's Note: Pollestad is from Halliday, N.D.