Growers want approval of major export markets
By SEAN ELLIS
Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson believes commercial genetically modified wheat in the U.S. market is about 8 to 10 years away, but it wouldn't surprise him to see it appear sooner in another country.
"There is a lot of research on transgenic wheat underway, (and) I don't think there's any doubt it will happen," Jacobson said. "It's just a question of when it's going to happen."
Doug Jones, executive director of Growers for Biotechnology, agrees with Jacobson's timeline.
"I think it's inevitable it will happen," he said.
Monsanto began researching transgenic wheat during the late 1990s but stopped in 2005, primarily because of concern by U.S. growers that the Canadian Wheat Board wouldn't support getting GMO wheat approved in that country, according to Steve Mercer, director of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates.
The U.S. industry was fighting with Canada for overseas markets at the time and "we felt confident they would try to use it as a competitive advantage," Mercer said.
Monsanto, whose research was primarily aimed at developing spring wheat varieties with a Roundup Ready trait, withdrew its application for deregulation in 2005.
The U.S. industry supports development of GMO wheat varieties as long as the right approvals can be obtained in the U.S., other major wheat producing countries and key overseas markets, Mercer said.
GMO wheat research picked up again after the U.S., Canadian and Australian industries signed a joint statement in 2009 supporting development of genetically modified traits in wheat and moving forward with getting GMO wheat varieties deregulated in those countries.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on GMO wheat research now, and many industry leaders feel its development and commercial introduction are inevitable.
The U.S. wheat industry is losing acres around the world and domestically, as many farmers are switching to corn, soybeans and other crops with biotech traits that can make them more money per acre, Mercer said.
The wheat industry faces a challenge from those crops and needs varieties with GMO traits that can improve yields, tolerate drought and resist diseases and insects, said Robert Blair, a member of the joint U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers' biotech committee.
He believes the possible benefits to the industry far outweigh any concerns.
"I see more benefits in the long-term than I see any issues with biotechnology," he said. "It will allow us to reduce the breeding time to bring new varieties out and that's going to be huge."