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Monsanto's biotech wheat plans pushing forward

(Tuesday, June 17, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Carey Gillam, Reuters, 06/13/03: KANSAS CITY, Mo.- Monsanto Co.'s controversial efforts to commercialize the world's first biotech wheat will expand to include regulatory submissions to the European Union, Australia and South Africa by the end of the year, a company official said Friday.

The company also is working to line up a number of small- to medium-size milling and baking companies in North America that will agree to buy biotech wheat. And it has been gathering input on quality needs and roll-out concerns from U.S. food companies, including McDonald's Corp.

"We're having a lot of conversations with a lot of people about how to do this the right way," John Redd, global director of Monsanto's wheat business, said in an interview.

Monsanto is in the final stages of seeking regulatory approval in the United States and Canada. The approvals could come at any time and should provide a springboard for Monsanto to seek clearances in other countries as well, said Redd.

Monsanto also will by the end of this year file for import approval in Japan. A submission is also planned for Europe by the end of this year. And filings are planned for South Africa and Australia.

Monsanto's moves has many in the U.S. and elsewhere fearful a release of biotech wheat could be made as early as 2004, which they said would be disastrous for domestic and export markets because customers say they will not buy food made with biotech wheat.

St. Louis-based Monsanto has said it will not begin selling the wheat seed to farmers until it can guarantee customer acceptance, but many question what that means.

"That is a question we keep asking and I don't feel like we've had an answer," said Betsy Faga, president of the North American Millers' Association.

In the past, Monsanto has said it would attain a "critical mass" of millers, bakers and food manufacturers before it would release biotech wheat.

On Friday, Redd said the company would start releasing biotech wheat on a small scale.

"It probably won't be top bakers and millers at first. We're going to basically produce to meet the demand," he said. "But we do have to have millers and bakers who will agree to take the product and we will segregate for those customers."

Redd, who said it would take 3 to 5 years to ramp up full- scale production, would not give a timeline for the release of its "Roundup Ready" wheat because of its resistance to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. But he said commercialization of Roundup Ready was an important first step for future biotech wheat offerings that could help farmers become more profitable and ensure a continued supply of quality wheat to food companies.

"Wheat, if it is going to become competitive, needs new technologies," Redd added.