The pioneering multinational company said it hopes to reintroduce
its latest biotech crop within four to eight years once it gains
But opponents say they want governments to raise the regulatory
barriers in the meantime.
"We're so excited. Wheat is such a staple. It's on everyone's
dinner table. For once we saw how consumer rejection can have an
impact," said Nadege Adam, a spokesperson for the Council of
Canadians, an Ottawa-based consumer lobby group.
"This is a huge victory," said Pat Venditti, a spokesperson for
Greenpeace Canada. "Everyone assumed Monsanto was going ahead with
Monsanto denied pressure groups had anything to do with its
decision, saying it was a business decision. The company said it
decided to defer all further efforts to introduce Roundup Ready
wheat after extensive consultation with customers in the wheat
The market for spring wheat has shrunk by 25 per cent since
Monsanto began developing the herbicide resistant strain in 1997 as
farmers switched to more profitable crops, the company noted.
The company said it plans to focus on developing new traits for
genetically engineered crops that already have wide acceptance, such
as corn, canola and cotton.
"The business opportunities with Roundup Ready spring wheat are
less attractive relative to Monsanto's other commercial priorities,"
said Carl Casale, executive vice-president of the St. Louis,
The Canadian Wheat Board, the world's largest marketing agency
for wheat and barley, was among the Monsanto customers opposed to
Its members stood to lose 87 per cent of their market as a
growing number of countries, including Japan and the United Kingdom,
demanded assurances the genetically modified crop wouldn't
contaminate conventional supplies, something current technology
can't supply, board spokesperson Louise Waldman said.
Canadian farmers sell $4 billion to $6 billion worth of wheat and
barley each year and meet 20 per cent of the world's demand.
Unlike Roundup Ready canola and corn, which lower farmers' costs
by reducing their use of chemical sprays, there was no economic
benefit to adopting Roundup Ready wheat, said Waldman.
Monsanto had planned to launch the modified wheat in North
America, which is the world's largest exporter. But U.S. wheat
farmers were meeting similar opposition from customers.
The world leader in genetically altered seeds says it could
re-introduce Roundup Ready wheat within four to eight years in
conjunction with other, more attractive biotech traits under
development, such as drought resistance.
Canada's wheat farmers aren't opposed to genetically altered
seeds, the wheat board said, but want to see more benefits and more
advances in technology that allow farmers to segregate modified
crops from conventional ones.
In the meantime, critics of biotech engineering say now that
genetically altered wheat is no longer an imminent threat, they can
devote more resources to pressing Ottawa to toughen up the approval
"We feel genetically engineered crops should go through the same
system that's used to introduce new drugs," said Stewart Wells,
president of the National Farmers Union.
"There may be a place for some traits in some plants," added
Wells, an organic farmer in Swift Current, Sask. "But we need to
slow down and treat each cased individually."
Greenpeace wants mandatory labelling of food that contains
genetically modified ingredients so that consumers can make their
own choice. Surveys by the Council of Canadians show 83 per cent of
consumers want a moratorium on GM food.
But a Monsanto spokesperson said its own studies show consumers
aren't worried about it. "Did the actions of a few anti-biotech
groups influence our decision? Absolutely not," said Monsanto Canada
spokesperson Trish Jordan.
"This was a business decision based on the economics of bringing
this production to market versus other crops where we have massive
Canada's grocery retailers were reluctant to comment on the
latest developments yesterday. The Canadian Council of Grocery
Distributors said genetic modification had become a huge problem for
European retailers. That's why it supported voluntary labelling of
genetically engineered foods in Canada.
Loblaw Cos. Ltd., the country's largest supermarket chain, said
it has addressed demand for GM-free food through its line of
President's Choice organic products.
Monsanto said delayed development of the modified wheat would
have no material effect on its earnings this year. The seed was
still two to three years' away from production, even if it met all
regulatory approvals, a spokesperson said later.
Monsanto stock fell by $1.01 (U.S.) to $31.98 per share on the
New York Stock Exchange yesterday.