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New Survey Indicates Strong Grain Elevator Concern Over GE Wheat

(Tuesday, April 8, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- The following is a news release from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Contacts: R. Dennis Olson, Senior Associate, 612-870-3412
Ben Lilliston, Communications Coordinator, 301-270-4787

Ninety-eight percent of North Dakota grain elevator operators responding to a survey said they were either very concerned (82%) or somewhat concerned (16%) about the proposed introduction of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) "Roundup Ready" wheat. Additionally, 78% of the operators supported an expanded public review of GE wheat compared to what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has previously required for approval of GE crops, the survey found.

The Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy sent the survey to 317 North Dakota grain elevators. Fifty-two elevators responded. The survey targeted North Dakota because it is the number-one state in Hard Red Spring Wheat production, and spring wheat is the first GE wheat variety slated for commercial release. The Institute is surveying elevators in other major wheat producing states, and will release those results as they are compiled.

"The world wide consumer must have confidence with the credibility of the U.S. farmer and government dealers, which will have no control should Monsanto be in control of wheat releases," said one elevator operator. "Where is the demand for Roundup Ready wheat? Not one consumer group wants it!"

"Release [of genetically engineered wheat] before customer acceptance could be death to the US spring wheat market," said another North Dakota elevator operator. "It’s impossible to have a segregation system with zero tolerance."

"This survey reflects serious concern among North Dakota wheat elevator operators about the potential adverse economic impacts of GE wheat," said Dennis Olson, Senior Associate at the Institute. "It also shows strong support for a more comprehensive public review of GE wheat introduction than USDA has previously required for other crops."

In other survey results, the elevators ranked loss of export markets as their greatest concern related to GE wheat commercialization. This was followed by the feasibility of creating a workable segregation system; consumer rejection in importing countries; liability risks to their businesses; and consumer rejection in the U.S. All elevators said their customers were concerned about GE wheat deregulation, with 77 percent characterizing their customers’ concern over GE wheat to be either very high (54%) or high (23%). The complete survey with graphics can be viewed at: www.iatp. org .

Monsanto petitioned USDA’s Animal Health & Inspection Service for approval of its GE wheat variety on December 19, 2002. Based on USDA’s reviews of previous GE crops, Monsanto’s petition could be legally approved by the 2004 spring planting season. Major wheat importing countries prohibit or require labeling of GE crops. Some have said that they will not buy any U.S. wheat if GE wheat is approved, because there is currently no segregation system in place to prevent genetic contamination of conventional wheat. Monsanto’s GE wheat petition has sparked an intense debate within the wheat industry over the wisdom of commercializing GE wheat because of the potential loss of export markets, liability risks, anti-trust implications and other issues.

In February, wheat growers filed a petition with USDA arguing that the agency is legally required to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to approving Monsanto’s GE wheat petition. An EIS would require a thorough analysis of the socio-economic impacts of GE wheat introduction, and more time for public comment. "Those wanting a more comprehensive review of GE wheat will have to demand it of the USDA, which has been reluctant to conduct such reviews with other GE crops," Olson said.

A recent economic study by Dr. Robert Wisner of Iowa State University projected that the price of spring wheat could drop by about one-third if a genetically engineered (GM) variety is introduced commercially in the next two to six years. Wisner noted that other wheat-exporting countries have ample non-GM wheat supplies for concerned buyers. Wisner’s study can be viewed at: www.worc. org .

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.