GM could save US wheat industry, says report

By Carina Perkins

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wheat

Biotechnology (GM) could reverse the decline in US wheat production and safeguard supplies for the food chain, a new report has concluded.

The report - a collaboration from the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), U.S. Wheat Associates, the North American Millers’ Association, the Independent Bakers Association and the Wheat Foods Council - outlines the competitiveness problem facing the wheat industry, which is on a long term cycle of decline.

It explains that the differential between net returns for wheat and other crops is growing and states that production will continue to decline unless biotechnology is used to improve wheat's competitiveness.

While there are no silver bullets, biotechnology can make a significant contribution to changing the competitiveness equation, positioning wheat as a viable production alternative for producers,”​ it states.

“If these new technologies are available in other crops but not in wheat, the wheat production sector will continue its acreage and production decline toward status as a minor crop.”

Biotechnology benefits

The report points biotechnology would help improve tolerance to drought, increase yields and improve nutrient use efficiency, as well as increasing resistance to disease. It gives the example of stem rust pathogen Ug99, which has spread from Uganda to the Arabian Peninsula and is expected to eventually reach the US.

“If new resistance genes cannot be found within the wheat genome, it is likely that a biotechnology solution will be necessary to provide strong and durable resistance,”​ it​says.

Addressing consumer concerns, the report states biotechnology is not a labeling demand in the US. It suggests that biotechnology could even help the industry meet consumer demands for sustainability.

“Biotechnology traits can enable the wheat industry to meet expectations from society for abundant, high-quality, safe food at competitive prices, produced in a sustainable way,”​ it states.

The report does acknowledge that “consumer opinion in foreign markets is more variable”. It stresses the importance of choice and says that non-GM wheat supplies will still be available to consumers, incentivized by market mechanisms such as premiums and discounts.

Overcoming opposition

Historically, GM wheat has faced strong opposition from consumers and the food industry. As a result their has been little investment in GM wheat and there is currently no commercial production of genetically modified wheat anywhere in the world.

In May, the debate was reopened when organizations from the US, Canadian and Australian wheat industries released a statement announcing their intention to push for the commercialization of GM wheat crops.

Since then, Monsanto has said it will increase its research into genetically modified wheat, with a focus on drought and pest-resistant technologies. The company said that biotech wheat should be on the market within eight to ten years.

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