Syngenta not actively pursuing biotech wheat: CEO

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Syngenta AG, the world’s largest agrochemical group, is not actively pursuing genetically modified wheat because of consumer resistance, Chief Executive Michael Mack told Reuters on Thursday.

“We are not actively pursuing it in the face of the fact that the biotechnology we have today is still facing consumer resistance,” he said on the sidelines of the annual USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum here.

He said biotech wheat was not receiving “the same sort of resources and focus from the company as some of our other products.”

But Mack was confident that genetically modified wheat -- like corn and soybeans -- would eventually win acceptance among consumers.

“I will tell you, in 10 years people will begin to see the benefits of biotech wheat,” he added.

Even as most consumers around the world have come to accept genetically modified corn and soybeans that are largely used as livestock feed, they have been opposed to biotech wheat that is used to make bread, noodles, pastries and pasta.

Wheat and corn account for 40 percent of the world’s food and 25 percent of calories consumed in developing countries, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization.

There is no transgenic wheat currently in the world due to the strong opposition from public and consumer organizations.

U.S. biotech giant Monsanto has shelved its project to develop herbicide-resistant wheat due to consumer resistance.

Syngenta’s Mack said he did not expect the sharp decline in grain prices from the record highs set last year to set back increased acceptance of transgenic crops like corn and soy.

He said that countries that pushed through regulatory changes to accept biotech crops when prices hit record highs were doing it for the wrong reasons.

“We shouldn’t adopt biotechnology in the face of a crisis. This is safe technology. This is technology that is not a silver bullet. I thought it was wrong for the advent of a food crisis to be something governments would rush to change the regulatory framework,” he added.

“I hope that now that food prices have come back, we will go into a sensible discussion about where (biotech crops) can be adopted,” he said.

Editing by Christian Wiessner