US biotech giant Monsanto has announced that it is deferring its efforts to commercialise its genetically modified wheat, and will instead focus on the development of new and improved traits in corn, cotton and oilseeds.

“As a result of our portfolio review and dialogue with wheat industry leaders, we recognise the business opportunities with Roundup Ready spring wheat are less attractive relative to Monsanto’s other commercial priorities,” said Carl Casale, executive vice president of Monsanto.

The company has been trying to commercialise its Roundup Ready wheat, which is resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, in Canada and the US, but has faced widespread opposition from environmentalists, farmers and foreign wheat buyers. Many in the Canadian and US wheat industries also opposed the introduction of GM wheat, for fear that their export markets would diminish as foreign wheat buyers looked to conventional crops elsewhere.

“We will continue to monitor the wheat industry’s desire for crop improvements, via breeding and biotechnology, to determine if and when it might be practical to move forward with a biotech wheat product,” Casale said. “This decision allows us to defer commercial development of Roundup Ready wheat, in order to align with the potential commercialisation of other biotechnology traits in wheat, estimated to be four to eight years in the future.”

Monsanto began the technical development stage of Roundup Ready wheat in 1997. In fiscal year 2004, the company’s investment in wheat has been less than US$5m, Monsanto said.