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U.S. Wheat leaders hear updates on biotechnology topics

By Jennifer M. Latzke

Every day public and private wheat breeders get closer to the goal of a commercially available genetically engineered wheat variety. It’s now more important that wheat industry leaders continue to communicate among the sectors, which is why the Joint Biotechnology Committee exists, explained Chairman Jay Armstrong.

The Joint Biotechnology Committee of the U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers met during the USW Summer Board Meeting June 9, in Omaha, Nebraska.

First up on the agenda was Will Stafford, NAWG’s director of government affairs for trade, transportation and commodity markets. Stafford reported that there has been some movement on Capitol Hill by legislators to pass legislation that would limit state-by-state labeling efforts of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, and G.K. Butterfield, D-NC, introduced a bipartisan “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” that would reaffirm the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the sole labeling body for food. Stafford said this act would make state-by-state labeling initiatives a moot point since the FDA has already deemed foods containing genetically modified organisms as safe. The FDA, he added, has found that there is no change in the make-up of the final product or the safety of the food ingredients from a food containing GMOs as a food not containing GM ingredients. Hearings on the bill could be expected before the elections this fall, and NAWG is lobbying legislators and educating them about what labeling really means to consumers and farmers.

Along those same lines, in Jackson and Josephine Counties in Oregon, voters approved measures banning the planting of GM crops. Stafford told growers to expect these measures to be challenged in the courts.

NAWG is also a member of the U.S. Biotech Crops Alliance, and Stafford reported that the alliance is working on planning and preparation steps for the day when commercial biotech wheat varieties hit the market.

He said task groups have been convened to look at what happens during a stewarded launch and how that might affect grain handling and other steps along the wheat chain. It’s a collaborative effort among stakeholders to mitigate any supply disruption, he said.

Committee members also heard an update from Stafford on the status of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service investigation into the Oregon biotech wheat incident one year ago. “It’s been one year and we are still waiting on an official announcement of the findings,” he said.

The holdup on the official announcement is in the hands of the attorneys. Since the investigation included confidential business information from Monsanto lawyers must review any findings so that proprietary information isn’t released into public record, Stafford said not to expect a final announcement until August at the earliest.

U.S. Wheat Vice President of Policy Shannon Schlecht reported that more U.S., Canadian and Australian industry groups had been added to the Trilateral Wheat Biotechnology Commercialization agreement. This includes the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, which shows that despite disagreements on other issues, U.S. farmers can agree that biotechnology has a place in helping wheat farmers in the long run, Armstrong noted.

Schlecht reported on the status of a court case in Australia regarding a conventional canola grower and his neighboring organic canola grower. The organic grower sued the conventional farmer for negligence after several conventional GM canola plants were found in amongst his organic canola field. Australia has a zero tolerance for the presence of GM in non-GM crops, and the organic grower said he suffered $85,000 in damage.

The conventional farmer argued that he used orthodox harvesting methods and wasn’t negligent in the growing and harvesting of his lawful crop. The courts agreed.

Schlecht said this will play a role in how Australia goes forward regarding low level presence, or LLP.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807 or by email at jlatzke@hpj.com.

Date: 6/30/2014



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