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Published on December 19, 2009 3:01AM

Last changed on March 11, 2010 3:49AM

New committee says modified wheat will destroy markets

Capital Press

WATERVILLE, Wash. -- Three Waterville wheat growers have formed a committee and launched a petition drive against genetically modified wheat.

They are concerned that if GMO wheat gets started in the region it could torpedo sales to Japan, the largest consumer of north-central Washington wheat. They are also concerned about potential health risks of GMO wheat.

Japan is opposed to GMO wheat but has accepted some GMO canola, said Tom Mick, chief executive officer of the Washington Wheat Commission and the Washington Grain Alliance in Spokane.

The commission and alliance know of the Waterville growers' concerns and have not endorsed the release of any GMO wheat, but the organizations have endorsed research into it, Mick said.

They have done so because they don't want to be left behind, Mick said. Midwestern growers want GMO wheat to better compete for acreage with GMO corn and soybeans.

At the urging of Midwest growers, the National Association of Wheat Growers has asked Monsanto to research GMO wheat, Mick said.

Several years ago, research was dropped because of grower opposition, he said.

North-central Washington produces about 13.5 million bushels of dryland soft white winter and spring wheat annually. About 85 percent of it is exported to Asia, mainly Japan.

Fourth-generation Waterville grower Tom Stahl said he and fellow growers Joe Ludeman and Lynn Polson are concerned about losing that market. He said they formed a committee Nov. 20 and since Nov. 25 have gathered 126 signatures in Waterville and Wenatchee on petitions asking the national and state associations to warn farmers against growing GMO wheat unless customers agree to buy it. The petitions seek investigation into the health safety of GMO wheat and oppose open-air test plots of it, Stahl said.

The group plans to gather signatures until March 10 and then present the petitions to the associations and Central Washington Grain Growers Inc., the co-op that serves north-central Washington wheat growers.

Kevin Whitehall, manager of the co-op, said the organization respects the group's opinion but is neutral on the issue. Whitehall said he hasn't heard very much from growers in the co-op for or against GMO wheat.

Stahl said Kazakhstan could become a source of wheat for Japan. He said the Institute for Responsible Technology in Fairfield, Iowa, has raised concerns about health risks.

He said GMO wheat could be tolerant of glyphosate to allow farmers to spray herbicides to kill weeds without killing wheat. He said it also could contain Bacillus Thuringiensis, a bacterium that's poisonous to bugs.


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