NAWG pledges more support for GM wheat

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A major U.S. commodity group intends to be far more proactive in promoting the need to develop genetically modified wheat.

The National Association of Wheat Growers first endorsed GM wheat at its convention in 2008.

“Since that time we’ve kind of relied on the industry to make it happen,” said past-president Bing Von Bergen.

“We know that as a grower organization that we’ve got to promote this more.”

He told a news conference at the 2014 Commodity Classic that NAWG has been too silent on the issue.

“We’re aware of that, and we’ve let our industry partners know that we’re going to speak out on it whenever we can,” said Von Bergen.

“There seems to be a lot of misinformation about the safety of the new technologies out there.”

President Paul Penner said a chorus of voices needs to speak out in favour of the controversial technology.

Wheat industry organizations in the United States, Canada and Australia signed a trilateral agreement in 2009 to push for synchronized commercialization of GM wheat in those three important wheat exporting nations.

Penner said it is time to update the wording of that agreement and perhaps add Argentina to the pact.

He has had recent conversations with Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association in which he stressed the importance of synchronized commercialization.

“We don’t want to have one nation pitting itself against the other in terms of the marketing (of GM wheat),” said Penner.

“There could be all kinds of problems coming out of that. Working together is a better way.”

Most major seed technology companies are developing GM wheat. Monsanto attempted to commercialize Roundup Ready wheat a decade ago but shelved the project in 2004 because of a lack of industry support for the product.

The company got back into wheat research in 2009.

“We are working on various biotech traits,” said Kevin Hodges, Monsanto’s wheat licensing and marketing manager.

The company is in the early stages of developing yield and stress traits and has already advanced two herbicide tolerant traits in its research and development pipeline.

“We’re probably still a decade away until the farmer can see those, so we’re still looking at a long horizon on the biotech front,” said Hodges.

Darrell Davis, past-chair of U.S. Wheat Associates, expressed frustration at how long it is taking for companies to develop GM wheat.

“They’ve been saying seven to 10 years for quite a few years,” he said.

Davis said GM wheat will be more acceptable to the public if some of the traits under development benefit millers and consumers.

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