Monsanto invests in collaboration with Australian wheat breeders

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm wheat Genetically modified food Biotechnology

Monsanto has announced a new wheat breeding program with Australian wheat breeding firm InterGrain, which could lead to drought-resistant wheat and improved end-use qualities, the companies said.

Monsanto has acquired a 19.9 percent share in InterGrain, although the Western Australian government remains the majority shareholder and the Grains Research and Development Council will also remain a shareholder.

InterGrain chairman Dale Baker​said: “InterGrain has been actively seeking a partner to grow our wheat breeding program for some time, and is very pleased to reach this agreement with Monsanto, the world’s leader in this regard.

“It will open the doors to a vast new library of germplasm and powerful technology capacity that Australian wheat growers have not previously had access to, which we expect will translate to more rapid improvements in wheat yields and performance.”

The companies said that in the long term the collaboration will provide InterGrain with access to biotechnology traits being developed for wheat that Monsanto hopes to commercialize in the next decade.

Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robb Fraley said: “We are committed to developing advances in breeding and biotechnology to deliver improved wheat yield and productivity and are pleased to be partnering with a market leader which has demonstrated both its expertise and commitment to enhancing the productivity of the Australian grains industry.”

Currently, there is no genetically modified (GM) wheat being commercially grown anywhere in the world, but the North American wheat industry has argued that it needs GM wheat in order for the crop to remain a profitable alternative to other cereals.

Monsanto shied away from making substantial investment in GM wheat following strong opposition from consumers and the food industry when it last raised the issue in 2004, seeking to commercialize its Roundup Ready traits for wheat.

The GM debate

However, the debate was effectively reopened in May last year when a tri-national group of wheat industry representatives signed a statement agreeing to synchronize their efforts to commercialize GM wheat traits. This prompted a counter statement from anti-GM organizations from the same three nations: the US, Canada and Australia.

On one side of the argument, supporters of GM wheat research claim that wheat is losing acreage as farmers look to plant crops with the advantages of biotech traits, such as drought, herbicide and pest resistance, and they cite GM wheat as a potential contributor to solving the world’s hunger problems.

However, other organizations have asserted that improvements to wheat varieties could be made through conventional breeding programs, GM technology has not focused on improved nutrition, and GM wheat varieties could cross contaminate non-GM fields, impairing export opportunities to staunchly anti-GM nations.

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