Checkbiotech: Three arguments about biotech wheat confronted
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora
Date: August 23, 2004 08:14AM
www.czu.cz ; www.raupp.info
While Monsanto pulled the plug on its Roundup-Ready Wheat program a few
months ago - and in fact discontinued its R&D on biotech wheat altogether -
some public and private biotech wheat R & D continues, and most in the wheat
industry view this positively. That's because biotech processes can help us
address production challenges like drought and scab, August 2004 by Doyle
According to a recent study at North Dakota State University, scab
resulted in $5.3 billion in producer and main street losses in North Dakota
and Minnesota from 1993 to 2001.
Someday, biotech may also help differentiate the wheat we grow in the U.S.
for a specific market use. As it is now, wheat can be grown almost anywhere
in the world - it is often said that we're just 30 days away from another
wheat crop harvested somewhere in the world. Just look at this year: despite
the fact that U.S. wheat acres are at record low levels with a low carryover
supply, the price outlook is only in the $3 range, because of adequate wheat
supplies elsewhere globally.
So will farmers in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S.
want to be growing $3 wheat 10 to 15 years from now? Heck no! They will turn
to other crops.
They already are. This is the second year in a row that many areas of the
Northern Plains will see excellent wheat yields, yet wheat acres continue to
decline. For many farmers east of Highway 281, biotechnology has given crops
like corn and soybeans an edge in profitability over wheat, and will make it
possible for corn and beans to be grown successfully even further west and
north than they are now.
Forty-bushel soybeans in Dickinson, N.D.? One hundred-bushel-plus corn in
Great Falls, Mont.? Sooner or later, biotechnology will make this possible.
If growers in Dickinson, Great Falls, and elsewhere can eventually cash flow
these or other crops better than wheat, well, why grow wheat?
I hope you can see my point. Biotechnology may be the edge to help keep
wheat as a viable crop in the Northern Plains. Nevertheless, some can't see
the forest through the trees and continue to oppose biotech wheat at every
turn. Here are three of the more common arguments they squawk:
"But we might lose markets!" It's true that some wheat importing countries,
like Japan and a few in Europe, are reluctant about biotech wheat. But guess
what? Japan is viewed as a "mature" market, with little expected growth, and
European markets are small and limited. The U.S. is already a residual wheat
supplier (meaning they shop elsewhere, and buy from us when need be) to many
of these countries. Meanwhile, the largest market for U.S. wheat (our own
backyard) and many other countries (including China, perhaps the largest
growth market for U.S. wheat) are accepting of biotech crops. We might lose
a few markets, but we have more to gain in overall profitability - I might
lose a dime off the wheat price if a few countries don't buy my
genetically-enhanced wheat, but I might gain an extra ten dollars per acre
in overall profitability from the extra bushels of a wheat variety
genetically enhanced for drought and/or scab tolerance.
"But what about cross-pollination?" This claim is often cited by organic
interests to guard their markets. But the International Wheat and Maize
Improvement Center (CIMMYT), one of the most respected public research
institutions in the world, points out that one of the greatest biosafety
measures is provided by the wheat plant itself. Wheat is a "perfectly
self-pollinated crop," with 99% of fertilization occurring within the
sheathed spike of the plant, where male and female plant components share
the same floret. Cross-pollination is further limited because wheat pollen
is heavy and does not travel far, and because the pollen remains viable for
only 20-30 minutes.
CIMMYT is using biotechnology to develop drought-tolerant wheat. Ironically,
while Japan is a wheat importer that has expressed opposition to biotech
wheat, it was a Japanese research agency, the Japan International Research
Center for Agricultural Sciences, which provided the gene construct that
CIMMYT is using to develop drought-tolerant wheat.
"But how do we know it's safe?" Fringe group activists try to paint biotech
plants as being released willy-nilly, but that's just not the case. The U.S.
is generally regarded as having the best system in the world for food and
feed safety. A genetically-engineered plant is scrutinized for years before
it can be marketed commercially, and in fact is evaluated and scrutinized
much more rigorously than conventionally-developed plants.
There are three U.S. federal agencies responsible for regulatory oversight
of genetically-engineered plants and their products. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture regulates and evaluates planting and agronomics; The
Environmental Protection Agency evaluates and oversees effects on the
environment; and the Food and Drug Administration regulates and evaluates
food and feed uses. Their responsibilities are complementary, and in some
cases overlapping, which can be viewed as an effective "checks and balances"
The Institute of Food Technologists, the nonprofit scientific society with
28,000 members working in food science, approves of the current system of
regulating biotech foods. The highly respected American Dietetic Association
approves of biotech foods as well. Global science-based food and feed safety
assessment ensures evaluations are conducted and harmonized globally. Of
course, in today's litigation-happy society, in a climate that's
super-sensitive about food safety, the most demanding critic of a
genetically-engineered plant is its developer, and the manufacturers who use
that plant as an ingredient in their food products.
Doyle Lentz Rolla, ND Growers for Wheat Biotechnology
The purpose of Growers for Wheat Biotechnology, Inc., is to promote and
facilitate the research, development and acceptance of biotechnology in
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