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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2004, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Monsanto drops plans for GM wheat
Crops
Wheat is easily identifiable with particular foods, like bread
The world's first genetically modified wheat is to be shelved because of consumer resistance.

US agri-chemical company Monsanto has announced that it would not try to market a strain it has developed called Roundup Ready.

The company has already engineered the strain to survive its own Roundup brand of weedkiller.

But there has been commercial resistance to the product from farmers around the world.

Emotive foods

They believe that wheat is too close to an obvious food like bread to be genetically modified and sold easily.

Foreign buyers including Japan, the main purchaser of US wheat, say they are unwilling to buy the GM crop, not least because they see few benefits for either consumers or themselves.

This is a bitter defeat for Monsanto, and it's a well-deserved victory for consumers
Ronnie Cummins
US Organic Consumers' Association

Accordingly, Monsanto has decided not to press ahead with its plans to sell the strain.

It "does not have a strategic fit with our overall strategy", Monsanto's northern Europe manager, Jeff Cox, told the BBC.

Instead, the company will concentrate on genetically engineered soya beans and corn (maize), which can be used for animal feeds or for oil - products not so emotive or so immediately identifiable with a particular human food.

Monsanto says it spent less than $5m in the year so far on researching the wheat - barely 1% of its research budget.

Its shares ended the day about 3% lower, albeit within a generally falling market.

Defeat?

Anti-GM campaigners were jubilant at the news.

"This is a bitter defeat for Monsanto, and it's a well-deserved victory for consumers and farmers around the world, especially in North America," Ronnie Cummins, national director of the US Organic Consumers' Association, told the BBC.

"I think it marks the beginning of the end of genetically engineered crops as a major force in global agriculture," he said.

Pete Riley, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth in the UK called the move a "worldwide victory" for consumers and farmers.

How a plant is genetically modified

"This is another major financial blow to Monsanto. It should now pull-out of this discredited business once and for all," he commented.

"The biotech industry and governments must now recognise that this technology is a blind alley, and that we should focus research on new crop management and technology aimed at sustainable farming."

It is not the first time that Monsanto has backed away from marketing a genetically modified food.

It planned to engineer bug-resistant potatoes but came up against opposition from fast-food companies that did not want to get involved in the controversy.

The company also announced plans to close or sell facilities across Europe last October to cut costs.

The centres that were being sold or closed down had been working on conventional crop types, not GM ones.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Shukman
"Monsanto cancelling its new wheat isn't likely to stop the GM bandwagon"


Monsanto's Northern Europe manager Jeff Cox
"These are conventional seeds"



SEE ALSO:
GM wheat 'delayed, not abandoned'
11 May 04  |  Science/Nature
Bayer deals blow to UK GM crops
31 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
GM crops to be expanded
29 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
Monsanto retreats from Europe
16 Oct 03  |  Business
GM crops: What the science says
09 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
GM tests show wildlife dangers
16 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature


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