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Monsanto says biotech wheat approvals on track

(Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Carey Gillam, Reuters: ATLANTA - Monsanto Co. said on Monday its genetically modified wheat seed should soon receive its first regulatory approvals from the U.S. government, and that will help it promote the biotech crop to regulatory agencies in other countries.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is assessing the safety of Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant wheat for human and animal consumption, is expected to approve the product "in the near future," said Monsanto wheat industry affairs director Michael Doane.

"That will be the first regulatory assurance on safety," Doane said. "That is important. We will use that for demonstration of safety to submit to other countries."

Monsanto's biotech wheat would be the world's first genetically modified crop to be used primarily for human food.

The St. Louis, Missouri-based company said it is still awaiting a key approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture after recently responding to questions raised by the agency.

Monsanto officials were attending the annual U.S. wheat industry convention in Atlanta, Georgia, giving wheat growers a progress report on biotech wheat and seeking their help in gaining its acceptance in the market.

The company has said 2004 will be a critical year in winning favor for the controversial product. It plans a biotech wheat newsletter for growers which will be mailed in the United States and Canada in early February.

Through industry groups and surveys, U.S. wheat growers have generally shown enthusiasm for Monsanto's technology. The bioengineered spring wheat variety now under development is designed to help farmers control weeds and reap higher yields.

But growers are concerned about the potential loss of sales to overseas customers. Several major importers avoid buying genetically modified foods, and they have warned that they would buy elsewhere if biotech wheat is approved in the United States.

Wheat groups are wrestling with the issue of just how much they should help Monsanto promote Roundup Ready wheat. Monsanto has asked for a "full partnership" with grower organizations to market the product.

"All the parties ... are trying to get the benefits of biotechnology without having a calamity," said South Dakota wheat farmer Bill Ferguson, who is a member of the industry's biotech committee and a board member for U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets U.S. wheat worldwide.