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It's time to ban GM wheat

By Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(April 19, 2002 – CropChoice opinion) – Stop. Put the biotech wheat experiment on a shelf in the laboratory and close the door. That’s what Monsanto should do with the wheat it has engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate).

A growing group of scientists, farmers, consumers, processors, and policymakers are insisting that Monsanto stop developing its transgenic wheat because of concerns that it may negatively impact the environment and the economic well-being of family wheat farmers in the United States and Canada.

"Banning GM wheat is crucial to the survival of the North American farmers who grow wheat," said Terry Boehm, a wheat producer from Allan, Saskatchewan and a board member of the National Farmers Union. "We export most of our wheat and our foreign buyers have made it perfectly clear that they want nothing to do with genetically modified food."

Nearly 70 percent of Canadian wheat and more than 50 percent of U.S. wheat is exported. According to Canadian Wheat Board estimates, two-thirds of international buyers do not want to buy genetically modified wheat. A survey of the U.S. customer base for hard red spring wheat indicates that 65 percent are opposed to Roundup Ready (RR) wheat technology. This consumer opposition is connected to the industry's failure to engage in long-term testing of potential health hazards of genetically engineered plants prior to their introduction into the global food supply.

Monsanto is undaunted, despite the revelation that its unapproved GT200 canola may have entered the U.S. food supply. What’s more, the company wants the Department of Agriculture to approve the canola after the contamination has already happened; the Food and Drug Administration has already indicated that it regards the variety as safe and therefore no mandatory approval is necessary.

"The news that Monsanto allowed an unapproved canola variety (GT200) to get into commercial market channels in North America and now wants USDA to look the other way and allow the presence of GT200 in the food supply indicates that either no lessons were learned from the StarLink corn debacle or that regulators are simply indifferent to consumer demands while acting as cheerleaders for the arrogant biotech companies' agenda. Neither scenario is acceptable," said Larry Mitchell, CEO of the American Corn Growers Association. "The U.S. food safety and regulatory system must regain its integrity if U.S. consumers and foreign markets are to have any confidence in our agricultural production system. That means unapproved GMO varieties cannot be allowed in the food system. Federal agencies are supposed to be helping U.S. farmers compete overseas, not the opposite."

Monsanto was forced to recall canola seed containing GT200 in Canada last year because Japan, a primary destination for Canadian canola exports, had not approved GT200. It has also been reported that GT200 may have been in U.S. canola seed supplies for the past three years. GMO canola has severely cost Canadian farmers in terms of major reductions in canola exports to the European Union, similar to the way GMO corn cost U.S. farmers the European corn market. Japan, the largest export market for U.S. corn, and a market with serious concerns about the presence of genetically modified organisms, cut U.S. corn imports by 53 million bushels last year and has, as of April 4, taken delivery on 313,000 fewer metric tons of U.S. corn than one year ago. In addition, so far this year Taiwan has reduced imports of U.S corn by 218,000 metric tons; the category of 'Other Asia and Oceania' has imported 358,000 fewer tons of U.S. corn and China has imported absolutely no U.S. corn despite previous overly optimistic industry predictions. According to USDA, total U.S. corn exports as of April 4 were 862,000 tons fewer than a year earlier.

In spite of these facts and the negative signals that wheat industry leaders sent during a conference earlier this week in Australia, Monsanto still intends to plow ahead with its Roundup-resistant wheat. The president of U.S. Wheat Associates told the audience that millers and bakers in Japan and Europe do not want such wheat and won’t buy it. Of course, stakeholders have been sounding such alarms for more than a year.