Biotech Wheat Back in the Spotlight

Monsanto withdrew its initial application and submitted a new petition seeking USDA's approval of genetically modified wheat. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Mar 11, 2004

Monsanto has invested millions of dollars in Roundup Ready technology for spring wheat. On Thursday the agricultural company withdrew an initial application seeking USDA approval of genetically modified wheat, and submitted a new application.

Janice Armstrong, Monsanto senior public affairs specialist, explains the process as "housekeeping." In July 2003, the USDA asked Monsanto for additional information on Roundup Ready wheat. Armstrong explains instead of replying to the USDA with additional documents, the original application that was submitted in December 2002 was withdrawn and a new one sent to the department on March 4th.

Although the specifics of the application couldn't be told in full detail, Armstrong says most of the additions involved "agronomic practices." Armstrong now says the ball is in the USDA's court for approval of the genetically modified wheat variety.

Wire reports say if Monsanto was to be granted approval, "Monsanto would not market biotech wheat until growers and consumers were comfortable with it."

In January, Monsanto presented the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee (WETEC) with a letter asking the groups to publicly announce their full support for timely deregulation and commercialization of Roundup Ready wheat. Monsanto also asked the groups to help develop a strategy to educate growers and consumers about the safety of biotech wheat.

The three organizations have formed a joint biotech committee to draft comments. Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Wheat Growers and chairman of the wheat industry's joint biotech committee, says they are in the process of developing a response and are actually meeting this weekend to continue work on the draft.

"We've met with officials from Monsanto and we plan to meet with other technology providers and getting some additional input before we make our recommendations to our board of directors," Hanavan says. He adds before they go to the board, they will circulate the response to the state associations for additional input.

Because this is the first variety of biotech wheat, the associations are not rushing to instantly make a response. "It's a big decision," Hanavan says. "I think our timeline is going to be mid to late summer when we have that response."