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North Dakota, Montana consider moratoriums on Roundup Ready wheat

(February 9, 2001 -- Cropchoice news) -- The legislatures of North Dakota and Montana are debating whether to set moratoriums on genetically engineered wheat.

This action comes amid declarations by major U.S. wheat customers that they don't want to eat biotech wheat.

Tsutomu Shigota, senior managing director of the Japan Flour Millers Association, earlier this month told Dow Jones: "Under the circumstances, I strongly doubt that any bakery and noodle products made from genetically modified wheat or even conventional wheat that may contain modified wheat will be accepted in the Japanese market. World wheat supply has been abundant in recent years, and I don't see why we have to deal with modified wheat...I believe the production of modified wheat at this time will be a very risky challenge for U.S. producers."

On Jan. 5, Algeria, which imports large amounts of durum wheat from the United States, announced that it would not import any genetically modified wheat. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are taking a similar tack with respect to wheat.

Apparently, the strength of this resistance is not lost on legislators in North Dakota, the country's top producer of spring wheat.

Terry Wanzek, chairman of North Dakota's Senate Agriculture Committee, told Reuters: "Our major wheat customers say they won't accept any wheat that has genetically enhanced characteristics, and we're listening to our customers."

Monsanto, which is pressing ahead with plans to commercialize its Roundup Ready wheat sometime between 2003 and 2005, has promised to work with the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates to develop a system to segregate genetically modified wheat from its non-transgenic counterparts, a company spokesman said. Monsanto also wants to build acceptance of Roundup Ready wheat in foreign markets.

Many wheat farmers aren't convinced that Monsanto or the wheat industry can do this, perhaps in part because of the StarLink corn debacle. Iowa farmers planted 1 percent of their 2000 corn crop as StarLink, a genetically engineered corn approved only for animal consumption. By harvest time, almost 50 percent of the crop tested positive for StarLink. After environmental organizations found the corn in taco shells, a slew of product recalls ensued. Later, Japan was upset when it detected StarLink in its U.S. corn imports.

Wheat farmers don't want a repeat of this fiasco.

To that end, lawmakers in North Dakota are considering moratorium on the introduction of transgenic wheat seed in the state until at least August 2003.

Two other bills are also working their way through the legislature. One would limit the rights of companies with patents on genetically modified seed. The other, SB 2235, would establish a seed and crop verification program for farmers who grow and market non-genetically modified wheat.

Meanwhile, the Montana legislature considers a two-year moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified wheat.