Reaction to biotech wheat litigation article

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In an article “Biotech wheat litigation goes into mediation,” that was posted on and included in “AgProfessional Weekly” e-newsletter, there were references to which the U.S. Wheat Associates, Inc. is disagreeing. The organization is the export market development organization for the U.S. wheat industry.

There is no contention to the basic news that the lawsuits against Monsanto over the unapproved release of genetically modified wheat have been put on hiatus as farmers and the company have agreed to enter mediation. Also, the USDA’s investigation into how the GM wheat got into an Oregon field is still ongoing.

Specifically, Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates, Inc. noted a couple sentences that the associates do not think properly portray the situation. Those sentences from the original article and underlined section of concern with reaction from Mercer follow:

“Several farmers filed lawsuits against Monsanto in 2013 after ‘volunteer’ wheat plants were found in an Oregon field that were genetically modified to withstand glyphosate herbicide. No biotech varieties of wheat have been approved for the U.S. market. Monsanto developed and tested a biotech wheat variety several years ago, but the USDA never deregulated the variety after multiple global markets said they would not accept and GM wheat variety.

“The discovery of the GM wheat last year led to Japan and South Korea closing their markets to U.S. wheat, which cost many farmers significantly.”

Mercer stated the U.S. Wheat Associates position on each area underlined:

First, in 2004, Monsanto made the choice to withdraw its application to deregulate the Roundup Ready wheat trait it had developed. USDA, EPA and FDA has all completed their requirements for review and the trait likely would have been deregulated. While it is true that some global markets stated their opposition to importing wheat with a GM trait, U.S. wheat farmers did not unanimously support deregulation for other reasons including no desire to have Roundup Ready wheat when volunteer wheat was a potential weed problem in areas that also produced RR corn and/or soybeans and because there was no commitment from the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly that it would also support RR wheat in Canada. This is a nuance, but an important one, we think. The global market rejection has become shorthand for why Monsanto withdrew its application.

Next, Japan and South Korea actually did not "close their markets to U.S. wheat." Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) did temporarily suspend tenders for Western White wheat (a blend of up to 20 percent club wheat and soft white wheat). There was sufficient stocks of WW in Japan that allowed the government buying agency the chance to test for the trait in those stocks (as well as shipments that were on the water when APHIS announced the RR wheat discovery). MAFF continued to tender for and purchase other classes of U.S. wheat and ended its temporary suspension of WW tenders within 8 weeks. The Korea Flour Mills Industry Association (KOFMIA) also temporarily suspended WW tenders while its government tested for the trait in U.S. wheat. KOFMIA resumed WW tenders almost one month before the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries resumed WW tenders.

Finally, we do not have any quantitative evidence that these temporary suspensions "cost many farmers significantly." Total white wheat sales are down only about 5 percent compared to last year at this date and are within the range of sales for the last five a year when U.S. soft red wheat and competitive Australian white wheat were abundant and priced below soft white. U.S. soft white and club wheat export prices trended with other U.S. wheat prices. We would be very interested to know what source backs up this statement.

To answer Mercer’s question, it has been portrayed that the reason the wheat farmers in the lawsuit filed is because they claim to have lost money and the U.S. market was negatively impacted. It apparently is a point of contention that the markets reacted to cost farmers, and this probably will be a point of discussion in mediation.

We thank Mercer for providing clarification from the U.S. Wheat Associates point of view and pointing out that original reporting might have been misconstrued.

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