| KANSAS CITY, Mo.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. May 14 Farm groups from the
world's top wheat-exporting nations on Thursday said they had
reached an agreement to support a "synchronized"
commercialization of biotech traits in wheat.
Though any market roll-out of a genetically altered wheat
would be years away, the National Association of Wheat Growers
(NAWG) said Thursday it had signed up grain growers in Canada
and Australia in a deal that would align the nations against
any international backlash if and when a biotech wheat was
The united front also was intended as an invitation to
biotech companies to push forward with biotech wheat
"This is a big, long-term issue for producers," said NAWG
CEO Daren Coppock. "We agree it is in our best interest to work
together. And we are trying to send a strong signal to
developers so they can move ahead."
The key food crop currently lacks any genetically altered
seed options, unlike corn and soybeans, which have been
tinkered with by a variety of biotech agricultural companies.
Biotech strains of corn and soybeans that resist pests and
tolerate herbicide field treatments now dominate the U.S.
market and are growing in share around the world.
Wheat farmers who have eyed advancements made in other
crops say similar genetically altered opportunities for wheat
could help them increase yields and become more profitable.
Tops on the wish list are drought-tolerant wheat and wheat
that makes more efficient use of nitrogen.
"Wheat is not keeping pace with corn and soy yield
increases," said North Dakota Grain Growers Association
president Byron Richard. "We have to be competitive with other
In addition to NAWG, the groups signing onto the agreement
include U.S. Wheat Associates, the North American Millers'
Association, the Grain Growers of Canada, the Western Canadian
Wheat Growers Association and the Alberta Winter Wheat
Producers Commission. Australian signatories include Grains
Council of Australia, Grain Growers Association and the
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia.
It was five years ago this month that Monsanto Co (MON.N).
shelved an herbicide-tolerant "Roundup Ready" wheat that would
have been the first biotech wheat in the world.
The company was facing a storm of protest from U.S. wheat
buyers, who threatened to boycott all U.S. wheat if a biotech
strain was rolled out. Growers and export players feared a loss
of customers and shied away from backing the plan.
Discussions about genetically altering wheat remain
sensitive in many parts of the world, including major export
markets in Europe and Asia. Biotech crop critics argue
genetically altering crops, particularly those used for food,
can have harmful ramifications on human and animal health and
on the environment.
Still, acceptance is growing, said wheat growers.
"There are a lot of benefits that come with biotech wheat
-- higher production, less reliance on pesticides, and better
quality wheat," said Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association
president Kevin Bender. "Acceptance is growing for it."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; editing by Jim Marshall)