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Biotech Corn, Soy Laying Foundation For GMO Wheat

“It’s going to take a lot of production to feed the world and we will need biotechnology to feed the world of the future.”

– STEVEN MERCER

Growing global acceptance of genetically modified, or GMO, crops is laying the foundation for wider acceptance of GMO wheat, but the grain’s direct ties to the human food chain could still be an obstacle, farmers and wheat industry representatives said.

However, commercialization of wheat with GMO traits such as herbicide, pesticide, or disease resistance could still be a decade away and many in the industry believe that consumer fears about genetically altered foods will continue to wane.

“When we get to that point, you will have a reasonable tolerance for GMOs set up already,” said Michael Edgar, chai rman of U. S. Wheat Associates, Inc., a group charged with developing and growing export markets for U. S. wheat.

It could be at least six to 10 years before any GMO wheat varieties would be ready to begin the government approval process, he said on the sidelines of the Commodity Classic grain industry gathering.

GMO corn, soy, and other crops have gained a foothold in the United States and many other markets as the promise of bigger yields amid a growing world population and historically high food and fuel prices have silenced some critics.

“It’s going to take a lot of production to feed the world and we will need biotechnology to feed the world of the

future,” said Steven Mercer, U. S. Wheat Associates’ director of communications. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Global plantings of GMO crops grew 9.4 per cent in 2008, according to the industry-backed International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. Soybeans were the top GMO crop in terms of planted area, followed by corn and cotton.

Many U. S. farmers appear ready to embrace GMO wheat, although it could have a tougher road to consumer acceptance, according to some wheat industry sources.

Wheat enters the human food chain as bread, pasta and other products, more directly that other GMO crops like corn and soybeans, which are largely consumed by meat-and dairy-producing animals first.

“The big issue for wheat is acceptance,” said Paul Morano, national marketing manager with seed company AgriPro, stressing that both wheat farmers and consumers must be on board.

A survey by the National Association of Wheat Growers released on Thursday showed that more than three-quarters of wheat growers that responded approved a petition supporting the commercialization of biotechnology in wheat.

NAWG CEO Daren Coppock said the survey was meant to demonstrate to seed technology companies that farmers were ready to back GMO wheat.

“There’s a lot of interest in biotech wheat. We’ve heard it from growers, we know the associations are looking at it. It’s just not something that’s in play from anybody right now,” said Alyssa Sundell, biotechnology affairs and industry relations manager with Pioneer.

“We think there’s potential out there for GMO wheat, but it’s just not in development at the moment,” she said.

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Karl Plume is a reporter for Reuters.

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