Reuters
Canada Wheat Board wants market test for GM wheat
Monday March 31, 8:06 pm ET
By Roberta Rampton

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, March 31 (Reuters) - Genetically modified wheat should face a cost-benefit test to ensure enough buyers will accept it before it is approved, the Canadian Wheat Board proposed in a letter to federal officials on Monday.

The Canadian government is currently reviewing a GM wheat variety developed by Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - News) for food, feed and environmental safety.

But the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) said approving the wheat on safety alone is not enough. Gord Flaten, the CWB's director of market development, said the government also needs to consider whether GM wheat will harm markets before approving it.

"Rather than prematurely going to that approval stage, let's do the cost-benefit analysis on whether it's worth it or not," Flaten told Reuters after speaking to a Canada Grains Council conference.

More than 80 percent of the CWB's buyers have said they do not want to buy GM wheat, nor have traces of it in their shipments, said Flaten.

Monsanto has also applied for regulatory approval of its "Roundup Ready" wheat in the United States. It plans to submit applications to the European Union (News - Websites) and Japan in 2003, said Timothy Conner, director of oilseed technology with Monsanto.

Gaining regulatory approval in the EU or Japan would be a key milestone for the company as it moves toward commercialization, Conner said.

"Either one of those markets is large enough to allow you to launch a product and get moving, particularly in the key commodities we deal with," Conner told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.

NO MARKET ACCEPTANCE WITHOUT REGULATORY APPROVAL

Roundup Ready wheat is modified to withstand applications of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Conner said the company believes it will increase yields by 11 to 14 percent.

Monsanto has promised it will not commercialize the wheat until key markets accept the wheat and the grain industry is able to keep GM wheat segregated from non-GM wheat, added Curtis Rempel, Monsanto's commercial development manager for Roundup Ready wheat in Canada.

But Rempel said it's premature for the industry to discuss whether markets accept GM wheat until it is first approved by the Canadian regulatory agency.

"You can't have market acceptance without regulatory approval," Rempel said.

Flaten said regulatory approval in Canada would set off alarm bells for the CWB's customers, regardless of whether Monsanto subsequently commercialized production of GM wheat in Canada.

"Regulatory approval in any market doesn't mean customer approval," Flaten said.

He said it's up to the federal government whether to change its regulatory process ahead of approving Monsanto's GM wheat.

"There have been some signals from the federal government recently that they're open to the idea, so we're hopeful," Flaten said.

But a spokesman for Pioneer Hi-Bred Ltd.'s Canadian subsidiary said his company opposes the added step to gaining regulatory approval.

Spokesman Art Stirling said the cost-benefit test could be subject to legal and trade challenges, and would stifle innovation.

"We favor self-regulation," Stirling said, explaining companies are financially motivated to make sure their seed helps the grain industry profit.