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Monsanto sees timetable near 2005 for bioengineered wheat

(Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Gordon Davidson, Bakingbusiness.com, 02/11/03: PALM BEACH, FLA. — Roundup Ready spring wheat varieties will not be introduced until all elements of an elaborate set of milestones have been achieved, Michael Doane, director of global industry affairs for Monsanto Co., told the winter meeting of the Independent Bakers Association last week in Palm Beach.

In acknowledging that the milestones set for introducing Roundup Ready wheat have implications for when the wheat gets released, Mr. Doane added, "We are moving forward as rapidly as we can to be successful on all of these issues. We understand that it may take more time than we would prefer, but the successful introduction of the first biotech traits is more important than putting a product on the market before it is ready."

When asked for an estimate of when Monsanto may introduce Roundup Ready wheat, Mr. Doane said, "We are several years away. We're probably close to 2005."

Monsanto, which plans a simultaneous introduction of Roundup Ready spring wheat in the United States and Canada, made final regulatory submissions to government agencies in those countries early this year. It also will make similar filings in Japan and the European Union this year, Mr. Doane said.

In reviewing the steps set out by Monsanto for introduction of Roundup Ready wheat, Mr. Doane said, "Our corporate pledge is that we will have U.S., Canadian and Japanese food and feed approvals prior to bringing any product forward. We also recognize there are more markets than that served through U.S. and Canadian wheat supplies. We are going to seek appropriate regulatory trade approvals, thresholds or marketing agreements with the major world markets for wheat and wheat products."

Monsanto also is working with industry to establish appropriate grain handling protocols and standardized sampling and detection methods. This approach will provide a choice for customers who prefer conventional or bioengineered grain, he said.

On the quality issue, Mr. Doane said, "As I speak with the millers and the bakers on a regular basis, this is a very important commitment to make sure that we are not bringing forward varieties that have the Roundup Ready trait that do not mill or bake to industry specifications. We understand that there are a lot of standards in place, a lot of systems in place to bring varieties forward, and we plan to be a part of that.

"Finally, and most importantly, buyers will be identified who will use wheat ingredients with biotech traits. We are not intending to sell seed to farmers for wheat that doesn't have a home in the industry. We don't think that's good business practice for ourselves, for our primary customers, the growers, or for you."

Stating that the benefits of biotechnology extend beyond production agriculture, Mr. Doane said the development of oilseed varieties offering reduced saturated fat content benefits end-product manufacturers as well as consumers. Wheat varieties could benefit from ongoing work in drouth tolerance, as well as in modified starch and protein content, he added.

"It is largely unknown how much energy and work is going on to develop traits through biotech methods in wheat," Mr. Doane said, noting public and private work around the world, including the Americas, Europe, India, China, Egypt, Australia and Argentina. "It's truly a global research initiative that's going on in wheat. We have a joint effort going on right now with the University of Hamburg to address the allergenicity of wheat. We are very optimistic that over time that if we apply the right methods and the right science we can improve the allergenicity profile of wheat for many people. We know that is a major issue for this industry."

Mr. Doane cited North Dakota spring wheat growers as an example of farmers in need of bioengineered wheat.

"The bottom line is that, whenever possible, growers are shifting away from wheat because they don't have the technology, the economics are not there, so they are looking for ways to improve their bottom line," he said. "We think Roundup Ready wheat offers a solution."

Field tests indicate an 11% to 14% increase in yields with Roundup Ready wheat, Mr. Doane said.

"We think this will improve the quality of the product available to you," he said, adding that advanced crop analytic methods hold the promise of improved quality in wheat. "We know there is a lot of variability in the product that comes into your market. We are working with a few people to understand if there are ways we can address that variability by selling seeds to growers that first of all meet your specs, but then taking the next step in understanding how it works in your operation.

"So if you are looking for a consistent high quality supply of spring wheat, we want to talk to you; we want to see if there are opportunities that we can develop together."

In addressing the extent of Roundup Ready wheat plantings in the future, Mr. Doane said, "Near term, if you look at total wheat acres in the United States and Canada, the bulk of those acres, the vast majority, will remain conventional.

"Mid-term, we think we are still talking about small acreages relative to the entire supply of wheat. Longer term, we don't think this is a trait that sits on every acre of wheat production in the United States and Canada. This gives us reason to believe that there will be choice for all of you. If you are looking for a non-biotech wheat, there should be available supply. If you want to get involved in working with us on both the value proposition this presents to you personally and supported by biotechnology longer term, I think there is opportunity as well."