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EU won't buy US wheat if biotech varieties grown

(Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- DTN, 10/17/03: WASHINGTON -- European millers will stop buying North American wheat if the US and Canadian governments allow commercial production of genetically modified wheat, a representative of the National Association of British and Irish Millers and the European Millers Association warned today. In an interview with DTN, Peter Jones, a wheat buyer for Rank Hovis Ltd., a British milling firm and the chairman of the NABIM wheat committee, appealed to Monsanto, a developer of GMO wheat, and US and Canadian authorities not to commercialize GMO wheat until European consumers find it acceptable. Monsanto has applied to the US and Canadian governments for authorization to sell genetically modified wheat seed on a commercial basis.

This is the first time British and Irish millers have taken a formal position on the commercialization of genetically modified wheat in North America. Genetically modified wheat is currently being grown in the US only in carefully guarded experimental test plots in order to avoid its proliferation into the general crop.

Jones told DTN that European millers buy 2.5 to 3 million metric tons of high protein North American wheat for bread making. He said three quarters of a million metric tons go the United Kingdom, one million tons go to Italy and the rest is spread throughout the other European Union countries. The four largest supermarket chains in the United Kingdom, which handle 70 percent of the food sold in the country, have demanded that baked goods contain no genetically modified organisms, Jones said. The millers have been able to tell their customers so far that flour does not contain genetically modified wheat because it is not commercially available.

European millers would not buy non-GMO North American wheat if GMO wheat is grown because the non-GMO wheat is likely to contain tiny amounts of genetically modified material that European consumers would find unacceptable, Jones said. He added that the new European Union food safety agency is checking foods for content and has established a "name and shame" policy for violators of its restrictions and that branded food companies do not want the negative publicity that would be associated with the discovery of even small amounts of GMO wheat. Jones said if North America starts growing GMO wheat the Europeans would probably buy high protein wheat from Australia or increase the use of high protein German wheat in their blends.

Jones said he was speaking officially for NABIM, but that he is also on the policy committee of the European Millers Association and that large European millers have told him they also would refuse to import North American wheat if farmers begin to grow genetically modified wheat on a commercial basis. Jones said he was holding informal meetings with wheat industry officials in Washington today and that next week he would be taking his message to Canadian authorities and the Canadian Wheat Board, the sole exporter of western Canadian wheat.

The British and Irish Millers are "not anti-GMO as a body, but we can't entertain the idea if our customers are oposed to it," Jones said. On Wednesday, Monsanto announced it would close its crop research unit in Cambridge, England.