Jan 8 Monsanto Co, the world's largest
seed company, said Wednesday it was making good progress on
development of an herbicide-tolerant wheat, pushing what would
be the world's first biotech wheat a step closer to market.
Monsanto is already a leading developer of biotech corn,
soybeans and other crops and the company has long tried to bring
to market a wheat genetically altered to tolerate spraying of
glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
"The grain industry and the wheat industry ... have remained
very interested and supportive of biotech advances," said
Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley in a conference
call. "A wheat farmer is also generally a corn and soybean
farmer and they understand the benefits of the technology."
Fraley said while the company continues to make advances, it
is still "several years away" from a biotech wheat product
Biotech wheat is not commercially available despite several
companies having researched it for a number of years.
Monsanto shelved an earlier version of an experimental
herbicide-tolerant wheat, called "Roundup Ready," in 2004 amid
widespread market concern foreign buyers would boycott U.S.
wheat if it were genetically altered like corn and soybeans.
Controversy erupted again in May when the U.S. Department of
Agriculture said an Oregon farmer had found the Roundup Ready
genetically engineered wheat growing in his field, despite the
fact the experimental grain should have been destroyed or stored
South Korea and Japan immediately temporarily halted
purchases of U.S. wheat after the announcement, due to fears the
unapproved biotech wheat might have contaminated U.S. wheat
Several farmers sued Monsanto, accusing the company of
failing to protect the U.S. wheat market from contamination by
its unauthorized grain. The USDA said it determined the Oregon
find was an isolated situation.
Monsanto has acknowledged some continuing market hurdles,
but said attitudes were changing.
Officials said Wednesday the herbicide-tolerant wheat
performed well enough in field testing to move from the "proof
of concept" phase to early development work.
The project is one of 29 Monsanto said made "phase
advancements" across many research and development platforms.
The company is progressing on work to make crops more
drought-hardy, and more pest- and disease resistant. It is also
working on a new combination of biotech crops and herbicide
chemistry to control weeds that have become resistant to its
The company has a new insect-protected, Roundup Ready
sugarcane in the works, and is advancing research on improved
tomatoes, lettuce and peppers.
It is also pushing ahead on what it calls "biologicals" - a
platform using microbials in ways that can make plants more
resistant to disease and insects, and improve yields. The
company also sees microbials as helping improve the health of
bees, which are crucial to pollination of many crops.