US wheat industry reiterates support for GMO wheat

KANSAS CITY Wed Oct 14, 2009 3:35pm EDT

KANSAS CITY Oct 14 (Reuters) - A coalition of U.S. wheat industry leaders said on Wednesday that they were pushing ahead to gain acceptance for genetically modified wheat, despite continued concerns and at least a decade of research and development work ahead.

"This is going to be a win-win for everybody," said Daren Coppock, chief executive of the National Association of Wheat Growers.

Coppock was one of a group of wheat industry participants meeting Wednesday in Kansas City to discuss key issues impacting the industry and how to press for acceptance of a genetically modified wheat.

Among the other attendees were representatives from the North American Millers' Association, the National Wheat Improvement Committee and the Grain Growers of Canada.

Officials from the organizations said in a conference call following the meeting that no active research for a specific type of biotech wheat was underway at this point and the industry still needed to gaining widespread market acceptance at home and abroad.

Coppock said food industry and export players have made it clear that they will need to have clear marketing channels that allow for a choice between non-genetically modified wheat and biotech varieties.

"The fundamental principle is the concept of choice," Coppock said.

Supporters must also work to make genetically modified wheat acceptable through trading channels such as the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, where spring wheat futures are traded and genetically modified wheat is prohibited.

The group said it must broaden its coalition to include millers and bakers in other countries.

Five years ago, negative market reaction pushed biotech crop leader Monsanto Co (MON.N) to shelve its commercial plans for an herbicide-tolerant, "Roundup Ready" biotech wheat that the company had planned to market.

Farmers still remain largely uninterested in a Roundup Ready wheat but are clamoring for wheat that is tolerant of heat, cold and drought and enhanced with higher yield potential.

Stress tolerance and drought tolerance are the most desired traits that technology could bring to wheat, Coppock said.

Critics of genetically modified crops say they can be harmful to human and animal health and have negative consequences for the environment.

But proponents say genetic modifications are the fastest way to create higher-yielding crops that can help support a rapidly growing world population.

The world will have to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people and as incomes rise, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization said Wednesday. (Editing by Christian Wiessner)