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Monsanto's New GM Wheat Campaign

By Alex Jack

For the first time in five years, GMO wheat is front and center on the world stage, as Monsanto announced and major trade associations in Australia, Canada, and the United States launched a new campaign to genetically engineer the world's leading food crop.

In 2004, Monsanto abandoned efforts to commercialize Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant wheat following a prairie storm of protest by farmers, consumers, and health and environmental groups, including Amberwaves. But now, as crises related to world hunger, energy, and climate change heat up, there is a concerted effort by the biotech industry to capture the world's foremost commodity market. In a rapidly developing situation this spring and summer:

  • Major wheat associations in North America and Australia called for new varieties of GM wheat to improve nutrition and fight disease, drought, and insects as part of the campaign against world hunger and global warming. Signatories included The National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates, the North American Millers' Association, Grain Growers of Canada, and the Grains Council of Australia
  • A coalition of farmers, consumers, and health and environmental groups in Canada, the U.S., and Australia issued a joint statement confirming their commitment to stop the commercialization of GM wheat. These included the national Farmers Union, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Organic Federation of Australia, and Amberwaves. The Canadian Wheat Board, a major trade group, also came out against GM wheat unless consumer reluctance changed
  • Dow AgroSciences announced that it had teamed up with World Wide Wheat (W3) to develop new wheat traits to improve productivity and quality of crops without using GM. Dow is one of the world's leading GM seeds companies, while W3 works to develop new traits for wheat, barley, and oats without biotechnology
  • Syngenta, the Swiss biotech giant and principal global rival to Monsanto and Dow, reported that GM wheat is not a priority. "With regard to GM wheat, we assume that a lack of consumer acceptance remains," a spokesperson noted. However, within 10 years, new strains of GM wheat could be developed with traits that gained consumer acceptance, the representative added.
  • After several months' silence on the issue, Monsanto announced in mid-July that it would reenter the GM wheat arena. Rather than herbicide-resistance, it said it would focus its efforts on developing new engineered varieties that give higher yields, better nutrition, and greater resistance to drought, disease, and other aspects of climate change.

"The U.S. wheat industry has come together to call for new technology investment, and we believe we have game-changing technologies, like our drought=tolerance and improved-yield traits, that can meaningfully address major challenges wheat growers face each season," Monsanto executive vice present Carl Casale stated.

Although the biotech industry split this year on whether to press ahead again for GM wheat (with Dow and Syngenta dropping out for the moment), Monsanto signaled that it will wage an all out campaign to develop new transgenic lines. Over the next several years, this promises to be a battle for the soul of America and the world's food supply. Not only is wheat the world's chief whole grain, consumed by billions of people daily, 85 percent of the annual wheat harvest in this country is exported to Asia and Africa.

Organic and conventional wheat in America will inevitably become contaminated and threatened as organic soy and corn are now endangered species (up to 80% of all organic soy products in the U.S. are contaminated with GMOs, according to independent scientific tests). The same would likely happen with bread, pasta, noodles, and baked goods. The traditional Staff of Life that has sustained thousands of generations of our ancestors will become history.

With Monsanto declaring war on nature and a popular chief executive touting biotech solutions over the next four to eight years, the campaign to preserve amber waves of grain and keep America and the planet beautiful will be more challenging than ever.

Alex Jack is president of Amberwaves, a grassroots organization founded in 2001 to help protect rice, wheat, and other essential foods from genetic engineering, climate change, and other threats. His books include Saving Organic Rice, Imagine a World Without Monarch Butterflies, and The Cancer Prevention Diet.
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