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Wheat groups to render decision on transgenic wheat in July

(Monday, March 15, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Jerry Hagstrom, DTN:
WASHINGTON -- Three national wheat groups do not plan to make a formal statement on Monsanto's application to commercialize Roundup Ready Wheat until July, Darrell Hanavan, chairman of the groups' Joint Biotech Committee, told the U.S. Wheat Associates board Sunday.

Monsanto has been developing genetically-modified Roundup Ready wheat for several years. In January Monsanto asked all three U.S. wheat groups -- U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets grain, the National Association of Wheat Growers, which is a membership organization of farmers, and the Wheat Export and Trade Education Committee, which lobbies on trade issues, to issue a formal statement that they would "engage in a partnership to address customer acceptance" of genetically modified wheat.

The wheat groups said at their annual meeting in Atlanta in January that they would take up the issue at their March board meetings, which are taking place this week.

Hanavan told the U.S. Wheat Associates board that the Joint Biotech Committee, which includes representatives of all three groups, began drafting a response Saturday at a closed meeting in Washington. The draft response will be sent to all state wheat commissions and state organizations of wheat farmers by April 16. Those organizations are expected to respond to the letter so the boards of the three organizations could consider the letter in mid-July when the U.S. Wheat Associates and WETEC boards meet in Bismarck, N.D. Hanavan said the NAWG board would make the decision in July by conference call.

The Joint Biotech Committee met for five hours in closed session Saturday to listen to presentations from four companies that are developing biotech wheat: Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta, DuPont and Monsanto.

Michael Doane, a Monsanto representative, told the U.S. Wheat Associates board Sunday that Monsanto is "encouraged" by the discussions it has held with the three wheat groups since January. He also said that Monsanto has made "final submissions of regulatory data for production approval in the United States and Canada," made "a preliminary submission of data in Japan" and submitted data for import approval of Roundup Ready wheat in Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Mexico and South Africa. Monsanto also plans to ask other countries to approve the use of Roundup Ready grain in many food products, Doane said.

Egypt does not have a regulatory approval process, Doane said, but is importing Roundup Ready corn based on U.S. approvals. He indicated other developing countries might also use the U.S. approval process to make decisions on imports.

Meanwhile, a USDA Foreign Agriculture Service world survey of attitudes toward genetically modified wheat has shown that key customers such as Japan and South Korea might refuse to import non-biotech wheat from a country if it approved just one variety of biotech wheat, Reuters reported Friday. An FAS employee said Sunday the full study should be released to the press Monday.

In an apparent response to studies showing customer resistance, such as FAS's, Doane told the U.S. Wheat Associates board, "It's not likely major customers will indicate a preference for biotech wheat until regulatory approval is granted in their countries."

Monsanto believes Roundup Ready wheat "will serve as a pathfinder for additional traits addressing disease, stress quality or nutritional issues," Doane said. He added that Monsanto is prepared to begin a program "to apply our proprietary drought-tolerant technology to both winter and spring wheat classes of U.S. wheat."

It is still Monsanto's plan to introduce Roundup Ready wheat at the same time in the United States and Canada, Doane said, but he also acknowledged that Canada "continues to be challenging" as a place in which to gain approval for genetically modified wheat.

Asked by a board member if Monsanto would charge roughly the same price for Roundup Ready wheat seed in Canada and the United States, Doane said Monsanto had not yet made any decisions on pricing. American farmers have complained bitterly in the past that U.S. seed and pesticide and herbicide companies sell products cheaper in Canada than in the United States, creating unfair competition. The companies say they are charging the prices the market will bear.