Sixteen agricultural organizations in the U.S., Canada and Australia have publicly endorsed the use of biotechnology in wheat to make the cereal more competitive with other crops.
Half of the organizations involved — including the National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates and the North American Millers’ Association in the U.S. — had signed a similar pledge five years ago.
Since then, the escape of unapproved genetically modified wheat into an Oregon field was discovered in the spring of 2013, prompting major trade headaches for the industry, GMO labeling initiatives have surfaced nationwide and two small Oregon counties voted in May to ban GMOs.
NAWG spokesman Will Stafford said the nine original participants worked for the better part of a year recruiting new organizations, bringing the coalition to 16 groups, and devising wording they could all support.
New U.S. groups include the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union.
“We’re very happy to welcome the two major umbrella farm organizations on the U.S. side,” Stafford said.
Other new additions include: Canadian National Millers Association, Cereals Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, AgForce Queensland, Victorian Farmers Federations Grains Group and Grain Producers of South Australia.
Stafford emphasized the pledge also supports science-based regulatory systems, following proper regulatory processes and maintaining customer choice.
“Hopefully, it sends a clear message to investors that our farmers are very willing to accept biotechnology and it spurs even more investment and innovation in wheat, not just in biotechnology but innovation in general,” Stafford said.
He said it may take another decade for biotechnology in wheat to be commercialized and hopes more groups will ask to sign the pledge.
“This is an open statement, and we would certainly welcome any organization that would agree with the commitments and would want to be part of it,” Stafford said. “We would not exclude even other countries’ grain organizations that would want to be involved.”
Officials with the American Farmers Union and Farm Bureau said their organizations are generally supportive of biotechnology, even if they hadn’t previously singled out biotech wheat.
“It does continue to show our support (for biotechnology) despite what’s going on with the regional differences right now,” said Barry Bushue, president of Oregon Farm Bureau and vice president of American Farm Bureau.
According to Farm Bureau, the world’s population gets 20 percent of its calories from wheat, and demand could soon outstrip supply as other crops improved with biotechnology are becoming more profitable to raise.
“I think wheat growers are recognizing this is an important tool we need development in,” said Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau Federation. “We need all of us in the food supply chain to speak up and be more proactive and bold in our support of the technology.”
Doug Jones, an Idaho farmer who is executive director of Growers for Biotechnology, believes Australia is furthest ahead in its efforts to develop biotech wheat. He believes the technology will be critical to protect wheat growers from damaging fungi for which few resistant varieties are now available.