Monsanto suspends biotech wheat program

OCA & Allies Declare Major Victory as Monsanto Drops GE Wheat
Monsanto suspends biotech wheat program
By Carey Gillam, Reuters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. < Monsanto on Monday said it was suspending plans to introduce what would be the world's first biotech wheat, a product that has generated concerns around the world about scientific tinkering with a key food crop.

Monsanto, whose shares moved lower Monday morning, said it had reached the decision after "extensive consultation" with customers in the wheat industry, and would continue to monitor the desire for crop improvements to determine "if and when" it might be practical to move forward.

St. Louis-based Monsanto has been doing field tests of Roundup Ready wheat for six years. It has already commercialized Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, and had hoped to spread the technology into the vast wheat-growing industry, starting in the United States and Canadian markets.

The company has been under fire from environmentalists, farmer groups and some export trade experts for its plans to introduce a spring wheat variety called Roundup Ready, which is tolerant of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

Opponents said the biotech crop would be moderately beneficial to only a small segment of the wheat-growing industry, but could devastate exports of all U.S. and Canadian wheat. Survey after survey done by export officials has shown that foreign buyers were unwilling to risk alienating their own customers by accepting biotech wheat supplies.

U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets American wheat abroad, had warned Monsanto that foreign opposition was strong.

U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy said he was both disappointed and relieved by Monsanto's move.

"It's a shame when a promising scientific trait is deferred because of nonscientific concerns," Tracy said. "Monsanto is obviously responding to the same concerns that we've seen in the marketplace, and we want to give them credit ... for recognizing the problems we would face."

Just two weeks ago, a group of grain industry players, including the North American Millers' Association, sent a letter to Monsanto Chief Executive Hugh Grant expressing industry concerns and asking that Monsanto tread carefully in its introduction.

Several groups have sought moratoriums on a biotech wheat introduction, and some foreign buyers have threatened to avoid purchasing U.S. wheat if Monsanto's biotech wheat was introduced.

"I think it is a very wise decision," said Louis Kuster, a North Dakota wheat farmer, referring to Monsanto's decision. "Our foreign markets overwhelmingly did not want it and repeatedly had told us they would seek other sources of supply. That would mean ruination of the wheat market."

Monsanto said that so far in fiscal 2004 it had spent less than $5 million on the Roundup Ready wheat project, and the plans to shelve it would not change its forecast for fiscal-year 2004 earnings.

The company said it would stop breeding and field research of Roundup Ready wheat and focus instead on work on Roundup Ready cotton and an improved soybean oil.

National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Daren Coppock said the decision was "a positive outcome" for the industry and for Monsanto. He said two other biotech wheat traits are in development by other organizations and they might be able to help forge an easier path to acceptance.

"If we see a broader-based trait come forward, it helps us all, plus it
gives us time to do our homework on gaining acceptance," Coppock said.

Added Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers
Association, "Monsanto has correctly read the winds of public opinion and farmers and consumers who are opposed to their Roundup Ready wheat."

"I think that the crops that are in the pipeline are not going to be able to be introduced without a tremendous amount of debate and civil strife," Cummins said.

Monsanto shares were down 66 cents or 2% at $32.33 on the New York Stock Exchange Monday morning, off an earlier low at $32.14



Embattled Biotech Industry Seeks to Bring Non-Food GMOs to Market

Informant: Teresa Binstock


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