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1 million Japanese say no to GM wheat, but NAWG still aims to persuade them on its merits

(Friday, March 26, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- A coalition of Japanese and food industry groups is in North Dakota today to give to Roger Johnson, the state agriculture commissioner, and state agriculture groups a petition declaring that Japanese consumers would not buy wheat from the United States if it introduces genetically modified (GM) wheat.

Signed by over 400 consumer groups and food manufacturing companies, the petition represents over 1,000,000 Japanese who are concerned about the potential introduction of GM wheat in North America.

Japan is the largest foreign importer of US wheat, purchasing, on average, 3 million tons of wheat a year. This includes 1.3 million tons of Hard Red Spring wheat from Northern Plains states.

The US Department of Agriculture is currently reviewing Monsanto’s recently resubmitted application for Roundup Ready wheat deregulation. Deregulation is the last hurdle to Monsanto’s commercial introduction of their wheat.

Meanwhile, even though very few wheat eaters want genetically engineered wheat, National Association of Wheat Growers had the following to say in an AgWeb.com story yesterday:

From Pro Farmer
Julianne Johnston

National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) President Mark Gage will participate in a meeting today with several Japanese visitors to the United States who come to discuss biotechnology applications in wheat.

“Our organization is committed to having these sorts of discussions with our customers, both here at home and overseas, to bridge the gap between consumer confidence and the broad array of benefits that biotechnology can bring to wheat,” said Gage. “We welcome opportunities like this one to share why we’re supportive of biotechnology, and to understand and address the concerns of our customers. One of the strengths of the U.S. grain system is that it will deliver what the customer specifies. Fundamental to our policy on biotechnology is the principle of customer choice.”

He added, “There is broad understanding among producers and in the food chain about the safety and benefits of biotechnology,” he said. “But we simply must engage the issue of market acceptance if we are to capture those benefits to society, the environment, producers and customers. We must address and answer the concerns of everyone in the food chain before we can successfully adopt this technology.”

Gage continued, “We stand today on the threshold of traits that can bring us improved disease resistance, drought tolerance, reduced pesticide applications and reduced soil erosion, and it’s time that wheat growers begin to tell the story. With that package of positives for the environment, it’s hard for me to understand how someone can oppose this new variety improvement tool for environmental reasons.”

Gage noted that to bridge this gap, wheat producers must collaboratively develop and implement a strategy to answer the concerns of customers and communicate the compelling case in favor of this new tool to improve wheat varieties.

“The path forward must be comprehensive and inclusive up and down the food chain,” he said. “It must be based on sound science and safety, and coordinate both domestic and international components. It must include production, handling, transportation, marketing, processing, end-use applications, environmental and consumer perspectives. This effort is being developed, and there is an urgent need to get it implemented immediately.”

“If we as growers fail to engage, we cede the debate and the future of our industry to anti-technology activists who are spreading their message of fear, and have neither producer nor consumer interests at heart. That outcome would be bad news for the wheat industry, and for our customers too," he said.

Source: http://www.agweb.com/news_show_news_article.asp?file=AgNewsArticle_2004325853_5912&articleid=107083&newscat=GN