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Farm, religious and consumer groups want more public review of Monsanto’s application for transgenic wheat approval

(Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- From a news release:

Contact: Todd Leake, Dakota Resource Council, 701-594-4275
Joe Mendelson, Center for Food Safety, 202-202) 547-9359
Dennis Olson, IATP, 612-870-3412, dolson@iatp.org

Twenty-seven organizations formally endorsed a legal petition today that calls for the Bush Administration to conduct a more thorough public review of the social, economic and environmental impacts of Monsanto’s pending application for genetically engineered, Roundup Ready wheat. The signatory groups represented various constituencies, from the Minnesota Farmers Union, to the Center for Food Safety, to the Organic Trade Association, to the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, to the Intertribal Agriculture Council.

The groups signed onto a legal addendum in support of the original petition filed by Northern Plains’ wheat farmers last March. The petition argues that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is legally obligated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on Monsanto’s pending application to deregulate and commercially release its genetically engineered Hard Red Spring Wheat. Wheat farmers and their allies have mobilized to demand an EIS because of social, economic, agronomic and environmental concerns, including the potentially devastating loss of millions of dollars in export markets. They also want the petition to look at other key issues, such as the feasibility of segregating GE wheat from non-GE wheat; and the creation so-called “super weeds” - volunteer GE wheat plants that may be resistant to herbicides and could therefore disrupt cropping practices.

“We think we’re getting the agency’s attention,” said Todd Leake, a North Dakota wheat farmer who is a member of one of the original groups that signed the petitionthe Dakota Resource Council. “After we filed the petition last year, USDA rejected Monsanto’s initial application as deficient,” Leake said. “I think that our petition raised issueslike loss of export markets and the danger of super weedsthat, frankly, the USDA has never looked at seriously before in other crops.” Monsanto publicly stated it would resubmit its application for its Roundup Ready GE wheat by the end of last year, but so far has not done so.

In a cover letter submitted with the addendum of groups, Joe Mendelson, attorney with the Center for Food Safety, cited five new studies that demonstrate the potential for additional adverse agronomic impacts from the introduction of GE wheat. The letter requests that USDA take these studies into consideration when they make the decision on whether to require an EIS.

The letter also reiterated an earlier request that USDA release its letter rejecting Monsanto’s original application. “[W]e [the petitioners] would like to express our dissatisfaction in the agency’s delay in publicly releasing the [rejection] letter sent to Monsanto finding their petition…deficient….[T]he delay of releasing such material…is inexcusable,” it said.

The groups cited a study by Dr. Robert Wisner, a leading grain economist from Iowa State University, which concluded that the commercial release of GE wheat in the next 2-6 years could depress the price of wheat by 33% to 50% because of likely market rejection in Asia and Europe.

To read the EIS petition, the full list of signatories, the cover letter, and Dr. Wisner’s study of the impacts of GE wheat introduction go to: www.iatp.org

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.