Do not plant genetically modified wheat, was the message coming loud and clear from European buyers of US spring wheat last week. The buyers are arguing that European consumers simply don’t want GM wheat in their foods, and their statement was prompted by news that Monsanto is pushing ahead with the world’s first GM wheat product, Roundup Ready.
If the US farmers plant such crops, warned the buyers, then supplies will be found from elsewhere.
Monsanto is risking public outcry with the project; which has continued despite concerns over the safety of foods that have been genetically altered, and without learning the considerable lessons of the StarLink corn debacle. The company believes however that it will boost yields considerably, as it is designed to resist the Roundup herbicide.
Roundup ready is destined for commercial sale at some point between 2003-2005, and the manufacturers hope that Europe will be a key market.
In 1999/2000, EU imports of dark northern spring wheat accounted for a fifth of that exported from the US, and totalled more than 1.1 million tonnes, according to USDA statistics. As an area renowned for its opposition to GM crops however, the same market is unlikely to be open for Roundup Ready.
Furthermore, there are no obvious benefits of the wheat to the consumer. Director general of British and Irish millers’ association NABIM, Alexander Waugh, commented that: “Our customers in Europe don’t really want anything genetically modified, and it’s difficult to see that changing in the near future. UK millers have regularly pressed Monsanto that for genetically modified crops to have any marketing potential, they have to offer consumers a benefit.”
“Personally, I don’t think Roundup Ready offers a lot to consumers,” he added.
Waugh revealed that NABIM is due to meet with Monsanto over coming weeks to discuss the wheat. Industry representatives from the US are also concerned about the effects of Roundup Ready on their European market. They are pressing Monsanto to work with 17 important wheat importers to boost consumer acceptance of the wheat, and they are also asking the company to review its development of an “identity preservation system,” designed to segregate GM crops from non-GM varieties.