Monsanto announced today that it is pulling the plug on genetically engineered wheat after seven years of development and failed efforts to win over farmers and the international wheat market. The company made the announcement even as its application for commercialization remains pending, signifying that stiff opposition to the biotech food crop from U.S. farmers and international markets could not be overcome. Consumer groups say they now expect Monsanto to pull all pending wheat approval applications from before the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Monsanto may call this a corporate realignment, but it’s really a full retreat,” said Joseph Mendelson, CFS legal director. “For Monsanto to pull the plug on biotech wheat at this stage, could hardly be more significant. The company has been forced to face reality - the market didn’t want this wheat and Monsanto itself is in a struggle for its very survival.”
Monsanto has suffered a number of significant setbacks in the past few years: the continuing rejection of genetically engineered foods by food manufacturers (at least 52) and international export markets (over 35 countries); in December 2003 the company was forced to cut distribution of its high-profit recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (Posilac) by 50 percent after its Austrian production facility failed sterility tests (company may already have exhausted current supplies of Posilac); in October 2003, it was forced to pull out of any attempts to market biopharmaceutical crops resulting in the layoff of approximately 1,200 people; Monsanto lost $1.8 billion in fiscal 2002 and its stock value has fallen 50 percent since 2001; and PCB and Agent Orange issues continue to be significant drags on company resources (e.g., liability for PCB contamination of Anniston, Al.).
“Introduction of genetically modified wheat would have been a commercial disaster,” said Gail Wiley, a North Dakota farmer speaking for the Dakota Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “Monsanto’s announcement today is a victory for farmers in the United States and Canada and our consumers overseas. After five years of effort, we finally convinced Monsanto to face reality: our markets do not want Roundup Ready wheat.”
“This is a huge victory for farmers, consumers and food safety advocates,” added Mendelson, “and signifies a turning point in the battle against genetically engineered foods.”
In March of 2003, CFS along with Western Organization of Resource Councils filed a legal petition with USDA to prevent the regulatory approval of genetically engineered wheat.