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EU Warns US Not to Export Genetically Engineered Wheat

European buyers warn U.S. over gene wheat plans
Updated 9:35 AM ET February 2, 2001

Current quotes (delayed 20 mins.)
MON 29.70 -0.30 (-1.00%) Quotes By Greg Frost

PARIS, Feb 2 (Reuters) - European buyers of U.S. spring wheat said on Friday
there was no market for genetically modified (GM) wheat in Europe and warned
they would take their business elsewhere if U.S. farmers began planting such
crops.

"We will never be in the market for it," said Kjetil Gran Bergsholm, a
trader at Norwegian importer Stakorn.

He said Norway bought 30,000-40,000 tonnes of high-quality wheat each year,
and he chose between supplies from the United States, Canada and Kazakhstan
based on price.

"We have to listen to our customers, and they don't want GM wheat. If the
U.S. goes ahead with this, we'd have to turn to Canada and Kazakhstan to get
those supplies," he said.

St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto Co (MON) said last month it was moving
ahead with the world's first GM wheat product despite concerns about
scientific tinkering with food grains.

Monsanto said it is developing a Roundup Ready variety of dark northern
spring wheat, which it hopes to commercialise between 2003 and 2005. The
wheat, modified to resist the company's Roundup herbicide, is designed to
boost yields.

While Norway only buys a few thousand tonnes of U.S. dark northern spring
wheat each year, Europe represents a key market for the grain.

According to USDA statistics, U.S. exports of dark northern spring wheat to
the European Union and other western European countries totalled more than
1.1 million tonnes in 1999/2000 -- nearly a fifth of all U.S. dark northern
spring wheat exports that year.

NOT READY

Fearing the loss of possible markets in Europe and elsewhere, the U.S. wheat
industry has reached an agreement with Monsanto that calls for a panel to
review a so-called identity preservation system the company is developing
that would segregate GM wheat from non-GM wheat.

The industry has also given Monsanto a list of 17 key wheat importers and
has asked it to work to gain customer acceptance for the wheat in those
markets.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether Monsanto would be able to
convince consumers in Europe -- a hotbed of opposition to bio-engineered
crops -- of the benefit of wheat that is modified to resist a weed-killing
chemical.

"Our customers -- supermarkets, bakeries and the like -- they're not ready
for it," a purchaser at a large northern European miller said, noting
European shoppers were increasingly aware of what went into the products
they buy.

"It could mean that we would completely stop importing from that region if
they could not guarantee that it is not genetically modified," he added.

Alexander Waugh, director-general of British and Irish millers' association
NABIM, said his group was scheduled to meet Monsanto in the coming weeks to
discuss its GM wheat proposal, among other issues.

"The reality is that for the time being, our customers in Europe don't
really want anything genetically modified, and it's difficult to see that
changing in the near future," Waugh said.

"UK millers have regularly pressed Monsanto that for genetically modified
crops to have any marketing potential, they have to offer consumers a
benefit," he said.

"Personally, I don't think Roundup Ready offers a lot to consumers."

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