Economist Says Biotech Wheat Introduction Still Risky

European and Asian Consumers still not Round-up Ready for genetically modified wheat.

Prospects for introducing genetically modified (GM) wheat in the U.S. haven't improved since Monsanto shelved its research and development plans one year ago, according to Robert Wisner, a leading grain market economist.

Introduction of genetically modified wheat in the U.S. still risks the loss of up to half U.S. wheat export markets and a one-third drop in price, according to the latest update of an October 2003 report, Market Risks of Genetically Modified Wheat, released Tuesday by Wisner, also a university professor of economics at Iowa State University.

"One year after Monsanto's decision, consumers in Europe and Asia remain resistant to GM crops," says Todd Leake, a wheat grower from Grand Forks, N.D., and Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) spokesperson. "Introducing GM wheat would open the door for our competitors to take more of the export market and depress prices paid to U.S. wheat growers."

The report covers policy changes, trends, and other developments that may affect market risk, including:

  • Some European Union (EU) policies on GM crops and food are changing, but so far, consumer attitudes have not.
  • Ten central and eastern European nations joined the EU, increasing the number of countries with food labeling programs. Labeling allows consumers in these countries to show their preferences about GM food to food companies, wheat producers and to the seed industry.
  • Syngenta is developing fusarium-resistant GM wheat, but will not release it for six years or more. Consumers overseas may be as resistant to Syngenta's GM wheat as to Monsanto's.
  • Monsanto developed GM hard red spring wheat to resist the commonly used Round-Up® herbicide. The company indefinitely postponed release of its GM wheat in May 2004, compelled by the market resistance documented by Wisner's original report.

Also this week the cotton, corn and soybean industries celebrated the billionth acre of biotech crops planted. When asked when biotech wheat will find its way into production systems, Truth About Trade and Technology Chairman Dean Kleckner said it will probably be another couple of years before wheat producers will be able to use biotechnology.

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