Monsanto floats U.S.-only GM wheat release

by Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Monsanto is discussing with the American wheat industry whether it should be held to its promise not to release genetically modified wheat in the United States unless it can simultaneously market it in Canada, wheat industry officials said last week.

Monsanto told top officials from U.S. wheat growing and marketing organizations that it was facing stiff opposition to its GM wheat 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 had pledged to the wheat industry more than a year ago.

U.S. wheat growers do not want Monsanto’s genetically modified spring wheat variety unless it is released in Canada as well.

They fear foreign buyers opposed to GM wheat products would shift their purchases to Canada, the United States’ top competitor for hard red spring wheat sales.

Monsanto spokesperson Michael Doane would not discuss details of the meeting with the U.S. wheat industry. He 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 floating 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 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.

The Canadian Wheat Board has said export buyers would reject Canadian wheat if Ottawa grants approval to Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat.

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

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, others want to take advantage of technology that might lower production costs and increase profits.

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