E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


GM wheat seen getting mixed reception in Asia

(Tuesday, June 17, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Reuters: SYDNEY - The world's first commercially produced biotech wheat, looming in North America, is likely to by-pass some big Asian import markets but could create a battleground in others, producers and traders said yesterday.

Genetically modified (GM) wheat, one of the biggest and most complex bioengineering plays, could be just a year away with life sciences giant Monsanto Co (MON.N) well advanced in seeking regulatory approval in the United States and Canada.

However, Monsanto told Reuters yesterday it would not launch the product in Australia, the world's second-largest wheat exporter after the United States. Australian wheat leads in most Asian markets, against fierce U.S. competition.

Asian markets also showed deep splits between developed nations such as Japan, which will shun GM wheat, and developing markets such as Indonesia, which will buy on price.

"Our focus for biotech wheat development is the North American market," Monsanto Australia spokesman Mark Buckingham told Reuters. "We don't have any plans to grow it in Australia."

A spokesman for Australia's monopoly wheat exporter AWB Ltd (AWB.AX) also told Reuters that the first commercial GM wheat crop in Australia was at least seven years away.

"Overwhelmingly our customers have indicated they want a product that is GM-free," AWB spokesman Peter McBride said.


Australia exports 16 million tonnes of wheat in a normal year, with Indonesia, Japan and Korea among its main markets.

Japanese millers would not import GM wheat, the Japan Food Agency said. The United States supplies about half of the six million tonnes of wheat a year imported by Japan, with Canada and Australia supplying the rest.

In contrast, Indonesia's biggest flour mill, Bogasari Flour Mills, which buys more than half of its three million tonnes of imported wheat a year from Australia, said of GM wheat: "Why not?"

"In developing countries...the cost-benefit equation for GM products (should remain) favourable (to) offset any kind of opposition," Bogasari senior vice-president Philip Purnama said.

A trading manager with a global grain trader said developed Asian countries might reject GM wheat, but developing markets would buy on price.

"Most Asian countries will be mainly looking at the cheapest price. Origin is not going to be that big an issue," he said.

Monsanto's biotech wheat will produce yield gains, resist herbicides and also minimise weed seed with the grain.

AWB's McBride would not comment on whether Australia might be out-gunned by productivity gains in the United States and Canada.

Monsanto would apply to food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand for the right to import foods which contain the GM wheat, Buckingham said.