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US wheat industry underlines pro-GM wheat stance

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 16-Oct-2009

Prominent North American wheat industry organizations met in Kansas City this week to discuss production challenges, including plans to commercialize genetically modified (GM) wheat.

The National Wheat Growers Association, US Wheat Associates, the North American Millers’ Association and the Independent Bakers Association are among the organizations behind a report released last month investigating what many industry representatives have called a “competitiveness problem” for the wheat industry. They claim that the differential between net returns for wheat and other crops is growing and production will continue to decline unless biotechnology is used to improve wheat's competitiveness.

Chief executive of the National Association of Wheat Growers Daren Coppock told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “We have been able to sit down and have very candid conversations about what needs to be done for the industry.”

He said that one of the main objectives of the Wheat Summit in Kansas was to bring together members of industry from major wheat producing countries to review the position on biotechnology, and included presentations from Australian and Canadian producers about the challenges they face in their own countries.

One of these is consumer acceptance, but Coppock insists that only a minority of American consumers is concerned about GM wheat, and there is “probably nothing” that can be done to convince that minority of the benefits of biotechnology.

“The backlash has come from overseas markets but based on commercial data the average US consumer doesn’t care,” he said.

Coppock added that the wheat industry sees two main reasons for the public to support the introduction of GM crops: Firstly, he claims that it could make wheat production more efficient in terms of agricultural inputs and water use, and secondly, because of the FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) warning that food production needs to double by 2050.

Currently growth is nowhere near on track for doubling production by 2050,” he said.

However, there was enough negative consumer and food industry reaction in 2004 to cause Monsanto to shy away from making substantial investment in GM wheat. It had been seeking to commercialize its Roundup Ready traits for wheat.

The seed giant said in July that it was once again considering the introduction of GM wheat traits, and said that it sees the introduction of biotech wheat as a long-term strategy, expecting it hit the market within eight to ten years.

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