Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat has proven to be a commercial failure as farmers are unwilling to run the risk of a consumer boycott against their products. Monsanto needs to produce further independent trial data, proving GM’s safety, if it is to ever win consumers over. Clever marketing will not be enough.

The world’s first genetically modified (GM) wheat is to be shelved because of consumer resistance. Monsanto developed Roundup Ready wheat to be sold in conjunction with its Roundup weedkiller, to which it is immune by design. The idea is that farmers can use as strong a weedkiller as they need to remove all unwanted plant-life, without risking their crop.

However, despite the apparent practicality of this approach, farmers the world over have announced that they will not be buying Roundup Ready wheat. This commercial resistance has been so strong that the wheat cannot be sold and Monsanto has now announced that it no longer plans to sell it.

The commercial objections have their root in consumers’ attitudes to GM wheat. Farmers fear that they simply will not be able to sell bread or cereal that has been genetically modified. The connection between wheat and bread, a daily staple, is strong for consumers. Other GM crops like soya beans and corn are typically used for animal feeds and to make oils so the connection is indirect.

Consumers will avoid GM foods where possible. Monsanto had earlier developed GM potatoes but found that fastfood companies would not sell them. Consumers are simply too wary of GM foods to knowingly eat them, especially in a relatively unprocessed form.

If Monsanto is to succeed with GM foods, it will have to devote a significant amount of effort to improving their image. Consumers’ key objections are the unknown health risks and the ‘unnaturalness’ of the product.

Consumers now need to see Monsanto actively address these concerns through further trials. The company must go to the effort and expense of producing extensive, independent, unbiased trial data to overcome consumer doubts. Safety concerns and doubts about the validity and impartiality of existing trial data are still at the forefront of the consumer consciousness. Monsanto must be seen to be honestly addressing safety concerns; clever corporate marketing will not be enough. If it does not, the costs of developing products that fail in the marketplace are far greater.

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