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GMO wheat is coming

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We could be planting genetically enhanced varieties of wheat by now and been through the complaining and gnashing of teeth from food companies and importers. Monsanto’s decision to stop almost 10 years ago was driven by pushback from U.S. producers fearing domestic and foreign buyers would not use it or accept products made from a transgenic food grain.

Now, many U.S. producers are reconsidering and the world is realizing that genetic modification is beneficial technology that is here to stay. That doesn’t mean it will be easy—in fact, it may be harder this time around.

Despite publicity about major food companies promising their goal is to have GMO free products, the reality of food processing and marketing companies is simple: Source the lowest cost inputs that meet minimum quality standards. Be it Gerber or General Mills, they want their product to be differentiated in the marketplace but they don’t want to pay more for the ingredients. Profit margins on many brands of cereal, cake mixes and baby food are huge, but they have always been high so the industry has come to expect it. Their cost is in advertising rather than manufacturing.

When a new GMO grain looks like it may be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, the first reaction is that consumers won’t buy it. When it goes on the market, the big players take a hard look at whether it is compatible with their manufacturing process and whether it can be purchased at a competitive price. If market share is threatened, then, and only then, is there a move to reject it.

Gerber made a big deal of discontinuing GMO grains in baby food even when owned by Novartis (currently Syngenta), who was developing GMO grains. The reasoning, expressed by company food scientists, was not there was any health risk, but fear it would hurt market share. Anti-GMO crusaders confronted General Mills, makers of Cheerios, showing GMO products in their tests. Since Cheerios are made from oats that are GMO free, there had to be a mistake. Wrongo Reindeer! The manufacturer was adding GMO starches and sweeteners because they were cheaper and more available. You can say the same thing about Wheaties that are made with non-GMO wheat.

Farmers, in the arid regions of the world, need wheat to be a profitable crop to grow. Encroachment by GM crops has become evident in the last 20 years. GMO products, in the first generation, benefit the grower by being herbicide or insect resistant. Killing weeds and bugs allows the crop to grow and yield in adverse conditions. The second generation, now being seen in soybeans and corn, is able to take on characteristics that are good for the consumer. High oleic soybeans from DuPont-Pioneer (Plenish Brand) are able to yield oil that is free of trans-fats. That is a huge leap forward in marketability of new generation crops, which will pay for research to develop more.

Wheat is now far behind GMO corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets and rice. Wheat is a complex plant and efforts to hybridize or breed in insect resistance have been difficult or impossible with traditional techniques. Traditional wheat production could be viable if the price was high enough but income per acre is usually more for other crops. In the world market, wheat has to be very competitive because so many countries grow and export the grain.

Keeping wheat non-GMO will not stop the debate on fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides or any other input a farmer uses. Even his carbon footprint will be used against him.

Wheat is a food grain with most of the production going directly to human consumption. That may make the transition to GMO more difficult. If things follow the same course for wheat as other crops, the first years will be challenging as users will attempt to source cheap GMO free grain, even if they have to make bold generalizations about its makeup based on its origin. In the first GMO soybean years of the late 1990s, Unilever sourced soybeans from Brazil because GMOs were illegal in that country. They didn’t bother to test to see if the seed was coming in from Argentina and was Roundup Ready.

At about 20 percent penetration, the competitive advantage of GMO wheat should kick in. Buyers will be placed in a position of having to source lower quality, non-GMO raw material from less dependable suppliers than the United States and Canada. Don’t kid yourself, GMO wheat will be grown on both sides of the imaginary line between our countries. If it shows an economic advantage, keeping GMO wheat seed from crossing the Canadian border will be harder than keeping undocumented immigrants from crossing the Mexican border.

There will be studies that show GMO wheat to be less nutritious and more harmful than traditional grain and there will be studies that show just the opposite. The developing world will increase demand due to rising population and income, and those countries with the lowest cost of production will sell to them. A few years after introduction there will be more GMO wheat than that which is traditionally grown.

Wheaties won’t turn into the breakfast food of zombies; it will remain the same highly processed and generally nutritious food it is today. Oats will probably not become GMO nor will amaranth and quinoa because the acreage is not large enough to spend millions to bring it to market.

Those who say unmodified seed won’t be available to growers miss the mark. Penetration of GM crops has been by choice and not by mandate. Replay your decision to plant Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996 through 2000. It came down to profitability and ease of farming larger acreage. If farmers want to grow traditional hybrids or varieties, the marketplace will have seed available. Farmers who produce a commodity make their income from margin per acre. GMO grain is not a size neutral technology. It favors larger farms that can keep costs low and make a profit at a lower price than their competitors next door or halfway around the world. Companies who produce seed or cereal are the same.

Regulatory approval of modified wheat could be politically influenced in the decade ahead. Liberal governments in rich countries make strange decisions. If population grows as predicted in the developing world there will be both need and demand. There is no guarantee the first genetically modified wheat will come from the United States. Europe or South Africa have technology to bring it forth if they have the will. As a farmer, you won’t have to plant it. As a consumer, you will not have to eat it, but GMO wheat is coming.

Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 40 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at kenroot@gmail.com, or send mail for him to High Plains Journal.

(3) comments

canadamonster

no one wants gmo wheat except monsanto or other chemical companies. beside wheat is worthless now with a super huge world wide glut of wheat.

lannit

Agreed. The economic viability of GE wheat is nearly zero. Its development was stopped a decade ago because countries to which we export wheat, especially Asian countries, won't accept GE wheat. According to a survey taken in the spring of 2014, 72% of American consumers were deliberately avoiding food with GE ingredients, and that percentage is even higher now. Lake Research Group did a survey for Just Label It in 2015 and found that 81% of shopping moms are avoiding food with GE ingredients (http://www.lakeresearch.com/images/Press.../Just_Label_It_June_2015.pdf). These figures paint a bleak future for any attempts to introduce additional GMO crops such as wheat, fruits, vegetables and GE salmon because there is simply no market for them in the U.S. or elsewhere. The consumers who are currently avoiding food with GE ingredients aren't going to do an about face and suddenly start consuming food with GE ingredients. A prime example at present is the falling demand for sugar made from GE sugar beets resulting from food companies shifting to non-GMO cane sugar to please consumers. It's a trend that is quickly growing...

MarkDnr

GMO and its associated lethal pesticides and herbicides are dangerous poisons. Eating genetically modified corn (GM corn) and consuming trace levels of Monsanto's Roundup chemical fertilizer caused rats to develop horrifying tumors, widespread organ damage, and premature death. rats exposed to even the smallest amounts, "developed mammary tumors and severe liver and kidney damage as early as four months in males, and seven months for females." The animals on the GM diet suffered mammary tumors, as well as severe liver and kidney damage. Everywhere GMO is being grown, food allergies, disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others have been skyrocketing in the human populations.

There has been a drastic decline of crop-pollinating insects all over the world, and this means a catastrophe for the future of the world's food supply. Wild pollinators like bumblebees, butterflies, and beetles are basically disappearing. GMO industrial agricultural practices are causing this insect genocide. Pollinating insects in general, which include a wide range of insects and other animals, are simply vanishing from their normal habitats and foraging areas. That lower diversity and lower abundance of wild insects means less fruits and destruction of the diversity of plants and their fruits worldwide.

GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool. Self-propagating GMO pollution will outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. The potential impact is huge, threatening the health of future generations. GMO contamination has also caused economic losses for organic and non-GMO farmers who often struggle to keep their crops pure.

GMOs increase herbicide use. Most GM crops are engineered to be "herbicide tolerant"―surviving deadly weed killers. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in "superweeds," resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.

GM crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. For example, GM crops are eliminating habitat for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US. Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. GM canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds.

By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects. Moreover, irrespective of the type of genes that are inserted, the very process of creating a GM plant can result in massive collateral damage that produces new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and nutritional deficiencies.

GMOs do NOT increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world.

Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists' 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield.

The toxins associated with GMO should never be tolerated. NEONICOTINOID PESTICIDE neurotoxins are absolutely the main factor causing the collapse of bee and pollinator populations along with other lethal chemicals, Agent Orange herbicides, glysophate, etc. When these poisons are banned as they were in Europe the bee populations start to recover. GMO neonicotinoids, roundup etc. MUST BE BANNED OUTRIGHT and all the farmers along with USDA, Biotech and chemical companies told to cease and desist from what they are doing.

An even scarier prospect: the "BT" version of GMO soybeans and corn, (basically pesticides engineered directly into the plant )

The "BT toxin" gene is put into the DNA of the corn in order for it to manufacture its own toxins that kill pests. The BT gene originated from a soil bacteria that also infiltrates the microflora (friendly digestive bacteria) in your gut. The Bt gene converts the microflora in your intestine into toxin-manufacturing machines.

So, to be clear, eating GMO corn products can cause your gut (which is primarily responsible for keeping you healthy) to turn into a breeding ground for tiny little pesticide factories inside your body, actively creating toxins which are designed to kill living things. These toxins are found in the blood and are readily transferred across the placenta to developing babies in the womb.

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