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Monsanto readying Genetically Altered Wheat for Unsure Market

by Associated Press
Capital Press - July 5, 2002

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) -- Monsanto Co. hopes to have a genetically altered wheat known as Roundup Ready in the field by 2005, despite an unsure market abroad, delegates to the Global Justice Action Summit were told June 21.

The wheat would be immune to the company's Roundup herbicide, making it easier for farmers to control weeds in their wheat fields and theoretically making farming more economical.

But some countries may not want it, and that creates problems for wheat exporters like the United States and Canada and particularly for growers in Montana and North Dakota.

More than 60 percent of Montana's wheat is exported, said Dena Hoff of the Northern Plains Resource Council, but that market could dry up if genetically modified wheat is commerciallly introduced in the state.

"The problem is our markets don't want genetically engineered wheat," Hoff said during a panel discussion. "Montana can't afford to lose a single market. If we can't stop genetic engineering at wheat, we can't stop it anywhere."

The European Union, Japan and North African countries have said they won't buy genetically modified wheat, and some countries have said they won't buy wheat from states producing any genetically modified wheat at all.

Bob Quinn, a Big Sandy farmer who grows organic wheat, said that could be a huge problem. Even his organic wheat might become an agrciultural pariah if altered wheat makes it way into Montana fields, he said. "The real problem is the market," Quinn said.

The big question posed at the summit was, "Why grow something you may not be able to sell in your principal markets?"

Participants pointed to what happened to Canada's canola market. Genetically engineered, Roundup Ready canola was introduced in Canada in 1995, resulting in rampant cross-pollination, and some Canadian farmers found they could no longer sell their canola in some of their historic markets.

Something similar occured in United States when the socalled "Starlink" strain of genetically modified corn, intended only for use as animal feed, contaminated food-grade corn.

Wheat is self-pollinator and not subject to the same level of genetic transfer that plagues agressive cross-pollinators like corn and canola, participants noted. But potential contamination problems remain in the harvesting, storage and transportation phases of the wheat business.

"What is at stake is the right to grow organic crops, the right to farm GMO-free and the right to eat GMO-free," said Arnold Taylor, a Saskatchewan farmer and president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate.

Taylor's group is suing Monsanto Canada and Aventis Canada over the canola situation, and he said he is not anxious for similar problems in the wheat fields.

by Associated Press
Monsanto readying Genetically Altered Wheat for Unsure Market
Capital Press - July 5, 2002

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