Foes of biotech foods laud Monsanto's drop of wheat

ST. LOUIS: Opponents of bioengineered foods are trumpeting a Monsanto decision to drop a bioengineered wheat as a major victory, while Monsanto PR calls the move a one-time event that has no implications for its wider research efforts.

ST. LOUIS: Opponents of bioengineered foods are trumpeting a Monsanto decision to drop a bioengineered wheat as a major victory, while Monsanto PR calls the move a one-time event that has no implications for its wider research efforts.

"There's really no question that we are committed to agriculture biotechnology as a company," said Chris Horner, a public-affairs director at Monsanto. "The message that we're trying to get across is that this is a decision that is very crop-specific and product-specific."

Monsanto announced last Monday that it would end research on developing a strain of wheat that could resist its Roundup weed killer. It stated in a release that it was doing so because plantings of spring wheat in the US are down by nearly 25% since 1997.

Horner said the media coverage in the US included Monsanto's point of view.

But opponents to biotech were trumpeting the announcement as a major PR victory.

Doreen Stravinsky, genetic engineering campaigner for Greenpeace International, said her group plans to use the Monsanto decision as proof that consumers and farmers don't want genetically engineered foods.

"Monsanto, of course, wants to downplay it. There's no way we will downplay it," she said. "This is a very loud wake-up call for the genetic industry. The farmer opposition in both the Northern US and Canada was extensive."

The issue of bioengineered wheat had prompted major debate in North Dakota, a spring wheat-growing state, where a ballot initiative on the topic will be voted on this fall.

Greenpeace posted a release on its website with the headline: "Victory! Monsanto Drops GE Wheat." The Organic Consumers Association posted a similar release, saying a public information effort it launched two years ago against Monsanto helped mobilize opponents of genetically engineered wheat.

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