THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
6 June 2003
Dear friends and colleagues,
RE: CHILLY RESPONSE TO GE WHEAT
Even before it is approved for introduction commercially, Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat is already receiving lukewarm response from the market as buyers had indicated they would not buy the crop for fear of facing the wrath of consumer rejection to products associated with genetic engineering.
Canada dealt a blow to Monsanto’s progress toward commercializing the product when the Canadian Wheat Board asked the company to withdraw its application for regulatory approval to prevent “significant and predictable economic harm.”
From farmers to millers and food companies to foreign buyers, Monsanto’s GM wheat is being rejected worldwide.
We provide a series of articles below which shows the reaction of the market to its introduction and the resistance it faces from various quarters.
With best wishes,
Lim Li Lin and Chee Yoke Heong
Third World Network
121-S Jalan Utama
Monsanto GMO wheat far from winning market okay
Reuters, by Carey Gillam
May 30, 2003
KANSAS CITY, Mo - A genetically modified wheat strain under development by Monsanto Co. (MON.N) remains a significant threat to the worldwide grain industry, and appears to be gaining little acceptance in the market, U.S. industry players said.
On Tuesday Canada dealt a blow to Monsanto’s progress toward commercializing the product, when the Canadian Wheat Board asked the company to withdraw its application for regulatory approval to prevent “significant and predictable economic harm.”
In the United States, biotech wheat could cripple wheat sales. Foreign buyers have said they would be reluctant to buy from the United States if so-called GMO wheat is grown here. Environmental and consumer groups have recently increased their level of opposition to GMO foods, raising consumer awareness.
“The marketing issues have not been sufficiently addressed. Prior to commercialization of biotech wheat they need to be defined and acted upon,” North American Export Grain Association president Gary Martin told Reuters.
Recently, U.S.-based food companies have begun spreading the same message, telling farm groups they will not allow the wheat to enter their grain elevators, flour mills or bakeries.
Betsy Faga, president of the North American Millers’ Association, a trade group, said that “Greenpeace and other activists out there on this issue...could change consumer attitudes on a dime.”
To soothe market fears, St. Louis-based Monsanto has pledged it will not release biotech wheat until it identifies willing buyers.
Still, some say they do not fully trust the company and have yet to see any aggressive moves by Monsanto to develop customer approval.
“Knowing what determines acceptance is the biggest problem,” said the Millers’ Association’s Faga. “This is one of the most difficult issues to get our hands around.”
Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant wheat, grown in test plots in North Dakota, Montana and elsewhere, has been modified to tolerate glyphosate-based Roundup Ready weed killer, also made by Monsanto. It is designed to improve efficiencies for farmers, yielding a more profitable crop.
But farmers have not clamored for the technology. U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets U.S. wheat overseas, has repeatedly warned U.S. farmers that sales will be lost if the wheat is released into the commercial market.
Parts of Asia, Europe and elsewhere have already said they would abandon U.S. wheat if the GMO product comes to market. Wheat is the No. 1 exported grain in the world.
“I think at this point Monsanto is saying they want to have the scientific review take place, which they hope will convince consumers and customers there aren’t any health problems,” U.S. Wheat vice president Nelson Denlinger said.
CWB asks Monsanto to put the brakes on roundup ready wheat
Canadian Wheat Board, News Release http://www.cwb.ca/en/news/releases/2003/052703.jsp
May 27, 2003
Winnipeg - The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has called on Monsanto Canada to withdraw its application for an environmental safety assessment of Roundup Ready® wheat (RRW). Monsanto’s RRW application is currently before the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
In a May 22 letter to Monsanto Canada’s President, Peter Turner, the CWB, a farmer-controlled grain marketing agency, detailed the devastating economic impact the introduction of RRW will have on western Canadian farmers. “Economic harm could include lost access to premium markets, penalties caused by rejected shipments, and increased farm management and grain handling costs,” the letter states. The letter is signed by Ken Ritter, chairman of the farmer-controlled board of directors, and Adrian Measner, President and CEO.
“Monsanto has said in the past it would not introduce RRW unless it was beneficial to farmers,” Ritter said. “Well, there are no benefits. So we’re asking Monsanto to put the interests of their customers, western Canadian farmers, ahead of their own commercial interests and put the brakes on RRW, before Prairie farmers suffer serious financial consequences.”
“Customers in over 80 per cent of our markets have expressed serious reservations about genetically modified wheat,” Measner said. “For us, the customer is always right. We cannot jeopardize our ability to maximize returns to western Canadian farmers through the introduction of a product our customers do not want.”
The CWB has asked Monsanto to confirm its compliance with the CWB’s request by June 27, 2003.
The CWB has already called on the federal government to close the regulatory gap on genetically modified wheat by adding a cost benefit analysis to the food, feed and environmental assessments currently being undertaken on RRW.
However, the CWB is taking this additional step because RRW could be approved before the introduction of any regulatory changes. “Under the current system, RRW could be approved for unconfined release as early as 2004,” Ritter said. “We had to move quickly, so we are appealing to Monsanto directly.”
A copy of the letter to Monsanto Canada is attached.
Controlled by western Canadian farmers, the CWB is the largest wheat and barley marketer in the world. As one of Canada’s biggest exporters, the Winnipeg-based organization sells grain to more than 70 countries and returns all sales revenue, less marketing costs, to Prairie farmers.
For more information, please contact: Louise Waldman Manager, Media Relations & Advertising Tel: (204) 983-3101 Cell: (204) 299-8398 E-mail: email@example.com
Mr. Peter Turner
Monsanto Canada Inc
67 Scurfield Boulevard
Winnipeg MB R3Y 1G4
Fax No.: (204) 488-9599
Dear Mr. Turner:
As you know, the potential release of Roundup Ready® wheat (RRW) remains the cause of considerable concern for wheat customers, farmers and others. The farmer-controlled Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) is extremely concerned that the unconfined release of RRW in Canada will result in significant and predictable economic harm to western Canadian farmers. This harm will occur to those who adopt the technology and those who do not, as well as to others in the Canadian wheat value chain.
Economic harm could include lost access to premium markets, penalties caused by rejected shipments, and increased farm management and grain handling costs. Unfortunately, scientific data demonstrating the food safety of RRW will not, by itself, prevent this harm. Furthermore, the
CWB is not satisfied that Monsanto’s stated commitments regarding commercialization of RRW will adequately protect the interests of western Canadian farmers and Canada’s wheat customers from this economic harm.
The CWB hereby requests Monsanto withdraw its application to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for environmental safety assessment of RRW.
It is of the utmost importance that your decision on this request be made as soon as possible in order to protect the interests of the wheat value chain and to prevent the damages that may result from the unconfined release of RRW. We ask that you confirm by June 27, 2003 your withdrawal
from the application process.
Original signed by
Ken Ritter Chair, CWB Board of Directors
Original signed by
Adrian C. Measner President and Chief Executive Officer
c: Hugh Grant, Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer,
Source: Star Tribune, USA, by Dan Gunderson (Minnesota Public Radio)
Farmers not sure they want genetically modified wheat
MOORHEAD, Minn.—Roundup Ready wheat is being developed at universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Mohammed Mergoum, a hard red spring wheat breeder at North Dakota State University, is one of the researchers working with the genetically modified (GM) wheat.
The GM wheat is grown in a separate greenhouse that’s off limits to visitors. The seeds will soon be planted in test plots at undisclosed locations. These precautions are designed to prevent the genetically modified plants from crossbreeding with other wheat varieties.
“We are very careful,” Mergoum said. “We try to grow that wheat where there is no wheat around it. We have to monitor that site at least two years. That means we go there every month and pull out and destroy anything that grows there.”
Mergoum must have approval from the federal government to take seeds from the greenhouse to a field site. And the seeds must be kept in a locked container.
Monsanto is seeking government approval to sell Roundup Ready wheat to farmers. But farmers aren’t sure they want it.
Tom Anderson grows wheat a few miles south of Moorhead. He would save money by growing Roundup Ready wheat, because it would need fewer expensive herbicides to control weeds.
But Anderson hopes Roundup Ready wheat stays off the market - not because Anderson opposes genetically modified wheat. Instead, he doesn’t want to lose important markets in Japan and Europe. Those governments say they won’t buy genetically modified wheat.
“Every one out of two bushels on my farm has to go somewhere besides the United States,” Anderson said. “It has to be exported in order to make this thing work economically on the farm. And it’s already on the edge of not working.”
Anderson said losing export markets would be a disaster for the United States wheat industry.
“We cannot release this stuff until this is generally accepted worldwide, or we’re going to be shooting ourselves in the foot in the market,” Anderson said. “I’m firmly 100 percent behind the research side of it, but we can’t release this until we have worldwide acceptance in the marketplace. We just cannot afford to do that.”
Monsanto, which owns Roundup Ready wheat, agrees.
Michael Doane, Monsanto’s director of industrial affairs, said the herbicide-resistant wheat must be deemed safe by government regulators, and accepted by consumers, before it’s released for general use.
“We don’t want to sell seed to farmers that turns into grain that doesn’t have a market,” Doane said. “What we think is good for growers is also good for us. We’ve talked with a number of growers and reiterated our commitment to work with them to establish markets for the grain prior to introducing it. We think that’s an important commitment, and one we’ll honor.”
Monsanto is taking a different approach with Roundup Ready Wheat than with other GM crops it has released. The company is actively seeking input from traditional wheat farmers and organic growers.
Monsanto said it wants to establish a protocol to keep genetically modified wheat from mixing with traditional wheat varieties. But researchers say if GM wheat is widely planted, it will inevitably crossbreed with other wheat varieties. Crossbreeding is what frightens organic wheat growers.
Janet Jacobson, the president of Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, said GM wheat could destroy the organic wheat industry.
“Organic consumers have made it pretty clear they don’t want [genetically modified organisms] in their food,” Jacobson said. “So if genetically modified wheat is released, contamination issues are inevitable. That means we probably won’t be able to market organic wheat.”
The stakes are huge in North Dakota, which is among the top states in the U.S. for wheat production. This year, North Dakota legislators considered a bill to ban genetically modified wheat, but the legislation was defeated.
A group of farmers has petitioned U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Venneman to consider the economic impact on farmers before approving Roundup Ready wheat. Monsanto says it has no timeline for releasing the wheat. The company insists it will not sell the herbicide-resistant seeds until the crop is accepted in markets around the world.