Global debate on GM wheat
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Recognizing the potential benefits of biotechnology, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and US Wheat Associates along with industry organizations in the US, Canada and Australia signed a trilateral agreement among the countries in 2009 in support of GM wheat, noted Jane DeMarchi, NAWG’s director of government affairs for research and technology.
That said, global views on biotech wheat are anything but a consensus. In Japan, the lead importer of US wheat, consumers oppose any food products made from biotech crops, said Jeffrey Smyth, a director with Vie de France Yamazaki, a division of Yamazaki Baking Co., Tokyo, Japan. Over the years, numerous consumer research studies conducted in Japan have shown opposition to biotech products. “All show Japanese consumers as being among the most negative toward GM technology, and in many cases, they rank as the most negative in the world,” he said. “Japanese consumers are very, very fussy about what they will put in their mouths and even more so about what they will feed their children.”
In many European countries where GM products must be labeled on packaging, consumers, too, generally oppose biotech food products. Ironically, several of the key seed companies developing biotech wheat for the North American and global markets are based in Europe, where they might not be able to sell it.
Globally, China and Australia have programs that are the most advanced and may be able to roll out biotech wheat more quickly than the 10 to 15 years it’s expected to take to reach the US market, noted Len Heflich, chair of the American Bakers Association’s Food Technical Regulatory Affairs Committee.
“Biotech in these countries has a number of advantages — especially given the fact several wheat growing regions in these countries are completely isolated, allowing them to permit one biotech [crop] and leave the other non-biotech [crops] in a completely different region to serve export markets that do not want the new product derived from biotech,” he said. “We would have a more difficult time doing that in the US.” That’s because the grain trade blends wheat from many resources.