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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Monsanto Decides Against Genetically Engineered Wheat - 2004-05-18

Broadcast: May 18, 2004

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last week, the Monsanto company announced that it would not sell genetically engineered wheat. The American company had been developing a kind of wheat for use with one of its top products. That product is Roundup.

The chemicals in Roundup kill unwanted plants around crops. But the poison can kill crops, too. So farmers have to be careful. Monsanto has developed genetically engineered crops that can resist the product. Such crops are called Roundup-ready. Monsanto has already developed Roundup-ready soybeans, cotton and corn.

The company says Roundup-ready wheat could have increased harvests by five to fifteen percent. But Monsanto found that the market is not ready for genetically engineered wheat. Monsanto says it invested less than five-million dollars in wheat this year, or less than one percent of its research budget. It says it might try again in four to eight years.

Opposition to genetically engineered wheat came from outside and inside the United States. Japan, a major buyer of American wheat, opposed the new crop. Other big importers like the European Union and South Korea did not welcome the idea either.

In the United States, many farmers who grow wheat for export did not want a genetically engineered product. They said they feared that many export buyers would reject it. There were also fears that the new product would mix with other wheat.

The Monsanto decision pleased opponents of genetically engineered crops. Activists called it a victory for everyone.

But the company says it made the decision for business reasons. Monsanto says planting of spring wheat in the United States and Canada has fallen by twenty-five percent in the last seven years. Use of wheat is expected to remain near current levels for several years.

Products like genetically engineered soybeans, corn and cotton are already established in the market. But these crops are used mostly for animal food and vegetable oils, or cloth. There is greater opposition to the idea of genetically engineered foods like wheat, even though the industry says biotechnology is safe.

Monsanto, for example, engineered potatoes to resist insects. But in two-thousand, the company faced resistance from McDonald's and other fast-food sellers. They did not want to sell a product that people might not want to buy.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Steve Ember.