US push for GM wheat
The Land (Australia), 3 Aug 2011
AMERICANS are working diligently to bring genetically modified (GM) wheat to market with minimal controversy, says chief executice officer of the Washington-based American National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), Dana Peterson.
While in Melbourne last month, Ms Peterson said the US wheat industry had been very successful in developing new cropping technologies, and also communicating with millers and bakers in the grains value chain, while building strong relationships with domestic wheat users.
She said the US remained concerned about the recent decline in domestic wheat supplies and acreage, as growers turned to corn and soybeans due to biotechnology developments which boosted the productivity and profitability of those crops.
Corn and soybean crops are "pulling a lot of acres" away from wheat, she said.
NAWG is also involved in strategic communications to help educate growers, wheat industry members and consumers on the new technologies being employed in both GM and non-GM production.
"Our conversations around biotech wheat in the US have included talks with farmers on possible biotech traits, and we have started employing four growers to act as grower spokespersons for biotechnology," she said.
"We want them to focus their efforts on farmer-to-farmer conversations on the opportunities available to develop new wheat varieties.
"We are also getting components of the export chain, handlers and transporters of grain, to have a conversation around defining the tolerances for handling GM wheat, or non-GM wheat.
"We are looking at what’s been happening for GM and non-GM soybeans, corn and tolerances around canola.
"We know we have seven to 10 years before a biotech trade will be commercialised in the US wheat industry, so we think having the conversations around tolerances sooner rather than later will help prepare businesses."
Ms Peterson said NAWG would maintain its relationships with Canadian and Australian farmers and farm groups, as part of the trilateral agreement signed between the three countries in 2009.
She said current investments in GM wheat research were robust, with six to eight private companies having invested millions of dollars in different programs in the past two years.
"Most of the investments being made are identifying elite germplasm that’s available and building new and better equipped wheat breeding programs.
"Through those new programs, expectations are there will be some new wheat varieties in the next five to seven years that don’t employ biotech or transgenic functions, but will provide substantial yield benefits."
GM and non-GM wheat varieties were also being developed with benefits not only for farmers but also consumers.
Ms Peterson said work was being done with the amylase trait to deliver lower calorie, higher fibre food products.
She said research was also underway that could see adjustments made to gluten protein in wheat to create a product for people allergic to gluten, such as those with coeliac disease.
Ms Peterson said some US advocacy organisations were opposed to GMs, but they were not yet actively opposing wheat research.
She said most of the opposition efforts in the US had focused on litigation, in particular of GM sugar beets and GM alfalfa.
"We are watching and learning how these organisations are strategising to delay or stop the implementation of GM technology," she said.