Wheat Groups Back Biotech

No Roundup Ready, but organizations get behind genetic modifications to the "staff of life." Lon Tonneson

Published on: Feb 7, 2006

The U.S. wheat industry is all set to pledge its support for using biotechnology to develop new wheat varieties.

After three years of sometimes bitter disagreement among groups that represent wheat growers on policy issues and those who work more closely with millers and bakers, the U.S. wheat industry is expected to approve a statement today at the North American Grain Congress in San Antonio, Texas, supporting development of biotech wheat.

The lack of such support three years ago to genetically altered what some call "the staff of life" caused Monsanto pull Roundup Ready wheat from the development pipeline

Now, Syngenta has a genetically modified trait about ready to come off the lab bench. The trait increases a wheat plant’s resistance to scab - a disease that has caused billions of dollars of losses particularly in the Northern Plains and Midwest. The company has to decide now whether or not to invest more money to bring it to the market.

Resolutions to be approved by the U.S. Wheat Associates and Wheat Export Trade Education Committee and the National Association of Wheat Growers spell out the industry’s support for the use of biotechnology in breeding new varieties. A separate resolution specifically endorses Syngenta’s scab fighting trait.

Biotech scab resistance offers advantages for everyone in the supply chain, said Neil Fisher, administrator, North Dakota Wheat Commission.

Recent studies at North Dakota State University show that reducing scab improves grain yields, flour yields and bread quality, he says.

"There is something for everyone in this trait," he says.

Rob Bruns, manager of cereal development for Syngenta, was on hand to take in the debate - or the lack of it.

Grower support for biotech this time around, "has been encouraging," he says.

Michael Doane, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready manager who watched the wheat groups implode over biotech three years ago, attended the national convention, too.

Monsanto won’t be bringing back Roundup Ready wheat, he says.

However, the biotech drought resistance and nitrogen efficiency traits that are in the pipeline for corn, could be easily transferred to wheat.

Growers on the wheat industry’s joint biotech committee have said that Monsanto isn’t likely to bring back Roundup Ready wheat unless it is stacked with another trait.