Brussels, 11 May 2004
The world's biggest seller of genetically modified (GM) seeds, Monsanto, announced on 10 May that it is to discontinue attempts to commercialise its GM wheat.
The move has been declared a 'victory for consumers' by anti-GM campaigners such as Friends of the Earth, and the beginning of the end for genetically engineered crop technology. For Monsanto, the decision is part of a new strategy of 'realigning research and development investments to accelerate the development of new and improved traits of corn, cotton and oilseeds.'
Executive vice president of Monsanto Carl Casale also pledged to 'continue to monitor the wheat industry's desire for crop improvements, via breeding and biotechnology, to determine if and when it might be practical to move forward with a biotech wheat product.' Indeed, the company had been investing less than one per cent of its research budget in wheat.
Monsanto began field testing its GM wheat, which has been modified in order to resist the company's herbicide, in 1997. But the product has encountered stiff resistance from US and Canadian farmers, who fear that the introduction of GM wheat could lead to the collapse of markets in Europe and Japan. Farmers have been carefully watching the introduction of other GM products in Europe, such as maize and soya, and their subsequent boycott by many.
For the last ten years, the EU and Japan have, between them, bought around 45 per cent of the wheat exported by the US. Most of the wheat for bread in Europe comes from the US because the quality of European grain is often not high enough.
Monsanto claimed that it had reached the decision to halt the commercialisation of GM wheat after 'extensive consultation' with wheat industry leaders.
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