Say No To GMOs! logo

Is The Market Ready For GM Wheat?

The people of North Dakota should decide, not Monsanto

(Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Steve Pollestad, Grand Forks Herald, 10/21/02

HALLIDAY, N.D. - In his interview with Agweek's Mikkel Pates (Beyond Roundup, Sept. 9, page 32) Greg Daws makes it seem like the issue is a moratorium on genetically modified wheat research. It isn't. The issue is a moratorium on GM wheat commercialization - quite a different matter.

Remember that no one asked the 2001 North Dakota Legislature to outlaw the testing of GM wheat. In fact, it was Monsanto that brought up the research issue - threatening to pull the plug on research funding if the Legislature placed a two-year moratorium on GM wheat research.

During that legislative session and in the next interim, Daws and Monsanto have warned lawmakers not to “send Monsanto the wrong signal” about GM wheat. I guess the signal they want to send is the white flag of surrender. “Do anything you want to us, Monsanto, only please don't leave.”

Right to set rules

Rather than fall into that kind of sick dependency, shouldn't North Dakota have the right to set some rules for Monsanto to live by?

Chief among these rules should be that North Dakota, not Monsanto, gets to decide when Roundup Ready wheat is commercially viable and should be released. That was the idea behind the moratorium effort in 2001.

Since the last legislative session, Monsanto has sent some mixed signals on commercialization of GM wheat. It continues to lay all the regulatory groundwork for getting it approved, even while it says it only will release it if it's accepted in the marketplace.

Trusting Monsanto to decide when there's enough acceptance out there would be a foolish mistake. Financially troubled Monsanto has everything to gain and nothing to lose by releasing GM wheat. It remains unclear what North Dakota farmers have to gain, but they clearly have huge markets to lose.

Maybe a time-limited moratorium is not the best solution, but our legislators must find a way to put the market readiness decision in the hands of people who are accountable to the citizens of North Dakota.

Or, we could let Monsanto decide. And maybe we also could get Enron to run our utilities and Arthur Andersen to keep the books.

Editor's Note: Pollestad is from Halliday, N.D.


Prairie Farm Group Fears Conflict in Monsanto's GM Wheat Advisory Panels

The Canadian Press via COMTEX
November 12, 2002

WINNIPEG -- The battle over genetically modified wheat escalated Tuesday when a national farm group challenged Monsanto Canada Inc. to reveal the names of the farmers it has enlisted to promote the controversial crop.

Stewart Wells of the National Farmers Union said there's the potential for conflict of interest if farmers are sitting on boards and panels while also being paid by the U.S.-based multinational. "If they're totally convinced that everything's above board and there are no issues here whatsoever, I'd like to see them produce that list today," said Wells.

But a Monsanto spokesman and some farmers dismissed the union's request.

"We've been quite open and honest about who we've been talking to," said Monsanto Canada spokesman Trish Jordan.

"We've publicly talked about this committee for a couple of years so I'm not quite clear on why the National Farmers Union was not aware of the fact."
Jordan wouldn't respond to a letter from the NFU requesting the company to immediately release a complete list of all the farmers it has either enlisted or tried and failed to enlist in its campaign.

"If they would like to meet with us . . I don't see why we couldn't have a discussion with them," she said.

The Saskatoon-based NFU promotes the family farm and, according to its Web site, is opposed to "corporate control of our food system".

It fired off the letter after news reports last week said prominent Western farmers had signed confidentiality agreements with Monsanto that covered their participation in a company advisory committee.

Genetically modified wheat is finding its path out of the lab and test plots blocked by some stiff opposition in Canada.

Like Monsanto's canola, the new wheat strain is resistant to Monsanto's hugely popular herbicide Roundup.

Greg Porozni, who farms north of Vegreville, Alta., is one of the farmers involved with Monsanto and is also a candidate for a seat on the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.

He is running on a platform of change, urging an end to the board's monopoly over wheat and barley exports.

He attended two meetings of the Monsanto advisory committee over the last 2½ years in Calgary and Edmonton. He received expenses and, for the second one, was paid a $150 per diem.

"There was nothing to hide, nothing out of the ordinary was done at these meetings," he said.

"It was a group of farmers and we voiced our opinions of Roundup ready wheat."

Wells said he has problems with a candidate for a seat on the wheat board working with Monsanto.

But he also said it appears a number of prominent members or leaders of farm organizations, including the Western Barley Growers Association, have taken part.

Porozni disagreed that he is in a conflict of interest and said the company is no different from many others that seek the opinions of farmers.

But Wells noted the barley growers are one of the few farm organizations that have come out in favour of genetically modified wheat.

Last year a long list of organizations, including the NFU and the wheat board, joined forces to oppose its introduction. They called on Ottawa not to approve GM wheat until a lot of questions were answered.

The new wheat could reduce farmers' costs, increase yields and simplify weed control, but critics fear it might destroy Canada's ability to export into many markets and earn a premium for wheat that has always been highly sought after around the globe.

Porozni said he too has concerns about the new wheat and he expressed them at the meeting.

"I've always supported the view of the Canadian Wheat Board regarding Roundup ready wheat."

He said GM wheat cannot be introduced until there is a market for it, it is proven to be a benefit to farmers and there is a method of segregating it from other wheat.


July 10, A Big Day For Biotech Wheat In North Dakota

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor
July 3, 2002

(July 3, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Genetically modified wheat may be the most contentious issue facing the North Dakota Interim Agriculture Committee at its July 10 meeting. Skeptics, including a state Senate candidate, see the economic risks of allowing biotech wheat as too great. Others say that trying to slow it would isolate the state and create enforcement nightmares.

Todd Leake, who farms in eastern North Dakota, will ask the senators and representatives on the committee to draft legislation establishing a moratorium on transgenic wheat, including and especially the Roundup Ready variety. *Monsanto engineered it to resist the herbicide Roundup (active ingredient: glyphosate), and wants to commercialize it sometime between 2003 and 2005.

Biotech wheat opponents, including farmers, processors and marketers, base their position largely on the potential negative economic impacts. The major buyers of U.S. wheat -- the European Union, Japan and other Asian countries, and the Middle East -- have said they'll reject any wheat containing genetically modified organisms.

The United States provides 24 percent of the wheat that is traded in the world, says Dawn Forsythe, director of public affairs for U.S. Wheat Associates, the non-profit organization that promotes exports of the grain.

This year, Japan and the European Union were the number one and two buyers of hard red spring wheat, a variety that North Dakota farmers grow widely. Shipments to Japan were 1.3 million metric tons, up 100,000 tons from last year. Although sales to the European Union declined from 998,000 to 889,000 metric tons, overall wheat exports to the EU increased by 50 percent, Forsythe says.

Moratorium revisited

This isn't the first time for the idea of a moratorium on transgenic wheat in the state. During the 2001 session of the Legislative Assembly, bill number 1338 emerged from the House Agriculture Committee by a vote of 14 -0 and then made it through the full House. It would have imposed a two-year halt on the sale of transgenic wheat seeds and created a certification board to decide whether to authorize the sale and sowing of such seeds after the moratorium's expiration.

The bill's fortunes changed in the Senate, however. Terry Wanzek, chairman of the chamber's Agriculture Committee, successfully led the charge to make HB 1338 into a study of the environmental, health and market effects of biotech wheat.

Sen. Wanzek, who also chairs the Interim Agriculture Committee, continues to oppose the idea of a moratorium for various reasons. It would give the impression that the state is backward and averse to new technology and deprive farmers of the right to gauge the market and decide whether to grow bioengineered wheat.

To farmers, Wanzek says: "If your customers don't want genetically modified wheat, why would you grow it? I don't grow Roundup Ready soybeans. The answer is segregation and allowing farmers who want to grow for [GM wheat markets] to do it. I don't have all the answers for segregation. I'm not an expert in that area. Officials at the state and national levels are working on it."

"I think the market concerns are legitimate, but I believe addressing it should be a broader effort than North Dakota," Wanzek says. "If a moratorium is deemed to be necessary, it should be a federal effort."

This stance solidified the decision of April Fairfield to challenge Wanzek for his Senate seat in the November election.

"It's very discouraging to me to hear the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee saying that North Dakota does not have a stake in protecting a vital economic enterprise in the state. It's 40 percent of our economic base," says Fairfield, a public policy analyst with the North Dakota Farmers Union and a representative from the same district as Wanzek.

"A moratorium is not a prohibition," says Fairfield, wondering whether he has confused the terms. "The point is a go-slow approach. Let's wait until we know better what the impacts are going to be."

At the last meeting of the interim committee in March, she says, Monsanto executive Michael Doane testified that the company understood the concerns about biotech and would do nothing to jeopardize wheat sales.

Her question to him: "Then why would you not allow us to take a go-slow approach on our terms, not on Monsanto's?"

The response, she says, was basically, "Trust us."

"Frankly, I don't trust Monsanto to make those decisions on behalf of our farmers and ranchers," she says.

Wanzek respects the economic and market concerns, but cautions against overblowing them.

"Our wheat exports are down and we don't even have Roundup Ready wheat yet," he points out. He believes that, to a certain degree, the Europeans use biotech food issues to negotiate lower prices and better trade terms. "To their concerns, I have three words: 'Mad Cow Disease.' Our record is not perfect, but we do have regulatory agencies that oversee food safety and the release of these new technologies."

There are a number of reasons for the 6 percent decline in wheat exports, says Dawn Forsythe of U.S. Wheat Associates. Those are:
Fewer supplies of certain wheat classes; a stronger dollar (over the course of the marketing year that ended on May 31); cheaper wheat from non-traditional suppliers, such as India, China, Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union; and government policies that discourage exports, such as banning the Cuban buyer from the country and including Iran among President's Bush's "Axis of Evil" when, for the first time in decades, Iranian buyers were negotiating a sale.

"In view of these market obstacles, one could argue that we do not need another one piled on at this time," says Forsythe, with regard to the potential economic pitfalls of genetically modified wheat. "We are in a strategic battle with Australia for emerging markets in Asia. The countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are in a good position to supply Europe with wheat."

On that note, U.S. Wheat Associates has invited European millers to its board meeting in mid-July to explain exactly what they mean by saying they won't buy transgenic wheat, she says.

If the sentiments from last year are any judge, then the board is in for an earful.

Jef Smidts of Andre & CIE Antwerp, a European importer and trader of U.S. wheat, wrote: "We are absolutely convinced that the European miller will abandon GMO (genetically modified organism) hard red spring wheat...GMO wheat for sure will be a market destructor."

Julian Watson of Rank Hovis, one of the largest EU millers, penned: "So that you are completely clear on Rank Hovis's policy toward GM wheat. We do not want any level of such grain in our supplies from you. To date, we have been able to say to our customers that GM wheat has not yet been brought to the market. This now needs to be backed up with preventative actions.

Please advise us of what steps you have taken to ensure that GM wheat is prevented from entering or commingling with wheat in the entire spring wheat supply chain.

You should treat this issue with the utmost gravity and priority given that the alarm generated by even the perception that spring wheat may contain GM traits, could be enough to jeopardize the entire export programme to the EU."

For Forsythe, it comes down to markets.

"I'm so tired of people saying that if you're concerned about the market, you must be anti-biotech or a Luddite," she says. "If somebody developed a blue wheat and it was a nice little wheat, but customers around the world said, 'we don't want blue noodles or blue bread,' we wouldn't grow it because we don't have a market. It's a market issue, it's not a biotech issue."

*Any bills the Interim Agriculture Committee writes must be submitted to the Legislative Assembly for consideration. Its next regular session begins in January 2003.

top of page