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Wheat, please, hold the biotech

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Even deep pockets are finite, a truth that has finally forced biotechnology giant Monsanto to pull the plug on its development of genetically engineered wheat.

“We recognize the business opportunities with Roundup Ready spring wheat are less attractive relative to Monsanto’s other commercial priorities,” Executive Vice President Carl Casale said in a press release.

The biotechnological “trait” of Monsanto’s GE wheat—which the company hoped to plant widely in eastern Montana and parts of Canada—is resistance to the herbicide Roundup.

After 52 years of growing non-GE spring wheat, nobody was more excited about the economic prospects for Montana wheat farmers than Circle-area resident Helen Waller.

“If you use common sense, this shouldn’t surprise anybody,” Waller said. “They’ve finally figured it out.”

Waller is referring to the claim that her group, the Northern Plains Resource Council, has made for years: that to plant GE wheat would be economic suicide for Montana farmers, who sell 60 percent of their wheat bounty to Asian countries.

“I’m not against technology as such, but we need to evaluate if it’s something good or bad,” Waller said. “Right now we are very much aware that Pacific Rim countries would not buy our wheat if it was biotech. It doesn’t make sense to plant something that you can’t sell.”

The May 10 announcement stated that the company is “deferring all further efforts to introduce Roundup Ready wheat, until such time that other wheat biotechnology traits are introduced.”

Shifting resources away from Roundup Ready wheat will allow Monsanto to accelerate its development in other food fields, like corn, cotton and oilseeds.

Waller said she is relieved that the pressure is off for the time being.

“I’ll feel better when they withdraw their application to commercialize the project,” Waller said. “But this is something that can catch you sleeping if you don’t follow the issue. Nothing’s dead, we’ll be here watching.”

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