By Carey Gillam
Jan 8 Monsanto Co, the world's largest
seed company, said Wednesday it was making good progress on the
development of a herbicide-tolerant wheat, pushing what would be
the world's first biotech wheat a step closer to market.
Monsanto, a leading developer of biotech corn, soybeans and
other crops, has long tried to bring to market a genetically
altered wheat that tolerates 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 Monsanto continues to make advances, it is
still "several years away" from a biotech wheat product launch.
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.
In addition to its wheat developments, Monsanto said it was
progressing on work to make crops more drought-hardy, and more
pest- and disease resistant. It was also working on a new
combination of biotech crops and herbicide chemistry to control
weeds that have become resistant to its Roundup herbicide.
That new "Xtend" herbicide-tolerant cropping system
incorporates a chemistry combination of glyphosate, the main
ingredient in Roundup, and the herbicide dicamba.
Monsanto, which said it sees a global market opportunity of
more than 100 million acres for its "Xtend" system, is racing
against its rivals to roll out systems that encourage farmers to
use herbicide-tolerant crops with specific herbicides.
The company said it was also advancing research on improved
tomatoes, lettuce and peppers.
It was 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.
Its sees its work in biologicals helping improve the health
of bees, which are crucial to pollination of many crops.