Status of Genetically Engineered Wheat in North America
Publication Date: November 2004
Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service
Genetically engineered (GE) wheat varieties developed by the biotech industry and university researchers hold considerable promise for producers. GE wheat developed by chemical company Monsanto is engineered to resist damage from the widely used Roundup Ready (RR) herbicide, making it easier for farmers to control weeds. The development of GE wheat raises issues of market acceptance and agronomic management. Market acceptance of GE wheat focuses on its direct acceptance by consumers, either segregated or when co-mingled with non-GE or conventional wheat. Most research suggests GE foods are safe to eat; however, uncertainty about health and environmental effects has led to public opposition particularly in Europe and Japan. This is of great concern to U.S. wheat producers because the United States exports more than half of its wheat production. Producers are concerned as to whether or not a segregation system can be designed which ensures that no co-mingling between GE and non-GE wheat will occur.
Agronomic management issues include the effect of GE wheat on crop management practices and profitability, issues of contamination and spread, the development of pesticide resistance, and the cost and management of volunteer plants. While developers of the technologies are seeking regulatory approval, they indicate that they will postpone their commercialization until market acceptance is assured and systems for separating GE and non-GE wheat are in place. In May 2004, Monsanto announced that it was deferring efforts to introduce GE wheat until such time that other wheat biotechnology traits are introduced. This report will be updated as events warrant.