Wheat groups worldwide align on biotechnology
May 14, 2009
by Eric Schroeder
WASHINGTON — With the view that acting together would minimize market disruptions, wheat industry groups in the United States, Canada and Australia said today they would work toward the objective of "synchronized commercialization of biotech traits in the wheat crop." Acknowledging the sensitivity of the subject in several parts of the world, including export markets such as Japan and the European Union, the groups issued a series of joint principles on wheat biotechnology. The group’s statement noted common concerns among the three nations, including sluggish gains in wheat yields, steady erosion in acreage planted to wheat and inadequate wheat research spending. Within the United States, signatories to the statement included the North American Millers’ Association, U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers. Canadian groups that signed the statement were the Grain Growers of Canada, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission. In Australia, signatories were the Grains Council of Australia, the Grain Growers Association and Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia Inc.
John Miller, chairman of NAMA and president of Miller Milling Co., Bloomington, Minn., said that the group had decided "long ago that we would move off neutral and that we would be a cautious advocate." Having already communicated this position to the association’s customers and other stakeholders, the announcement could be viewed as a formality.
Mr. Miller said the millers’ conviction about the importance of biotechnology for wheat was powerfully reinforced by the record high prices set in 2007-08.
"Last year brought many of our concerns to a head and gave us an opportunity to make the point that we’re vulnerable," he said. "It exemplified the kinds of problems we are vulnerable to. To do this jointly with groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia shows that this is a worldwide concern. We hope this starts a process that at some point will prevent wheat growers and users from becoming marginalized by competing crops. I think it reflects that advances in biotechnology in other commodities precludes wheat from not only yield advantages but quality and nutrition advantages and environmental advantages such as application of less chemicals."
Acknowledging that the statement does little to clarify when bioengineered wheat may become commercially available, Mr. Miller said all the parties involved, certainly including NAMA, are committed to remaining part of the process going forward.
"We want to see it move forward, but we want to go forward the right way to make sure it is a positive and to avoid potential negatives," he said. "There is a note of caution. We’ve observed starts and stops in the past with anxiety. We want to avoid mistakes made with other commodities. This topic will be addressed at our upcoming NAMA leadership conference in Washington. This is just the beginning of a process."