Monsanto is deferring efforts to commercialize its genetically engineered grain called Roundup Ready wheat. Instead, it plans to focus its resources on developing new traits in corn, cotton, and oilseeds.
The company has been spending about $5 million each year since 1997 to develop the wheat. Now, most of those funds will be redirected to other crops. No time has been set for lifting the hold on wheat.
Opponents of agricultural biotechnology consider the Monsanto decision a great victory, but advocates see it as a defeat.
“We are pleased that Monsanto is pushing back its planned introduction of genetically engineered wheat, but it should be pushed back to never, not simply delayed,” says Richard Caplan, food safety advocate at U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Food safety advocates and a bipartisan coalition of Great Plains state legislators have worked for years to block transgenic wheat. Key markets around the world, particularly the European Union and Japan, say they will not accept wheat from countries that authorize commercial planting of biotech wheat. The National Association of Wheat Growers urged Monsanto not to sell the product until there was evidence it would be accepted by overseas buyers.
Monsanto, however, says business calculations led to its decision. Since the company first began developing Roundup Ready wheat, U.S. acreage for spring wheat has shrunk by 25%. “We recognize the business opportunities with Roundup Ready spring wheat are less attractive relative to Monsanto’s other commercial priorities,” says Carl M. Casale, an executive vice president.
Business analysts at Greenwich Consultants observe: “While not surprising, we view the Roundup Ready wheat announcement as disappointing in the sense that management is conceding to pressure on one of their most important arguments for agriculture biotechnology”: the contention that biotech crops are needed to feed a growing population.