Bloomberg News

Hunger Opens Discussions on Biotech Wheat as U.K. Approves Trial

October 06, 2011

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Hunger has “opened the discussion” about genetically modified wheat, said Shannon Schlecht, director of policy at U.S. Wheat Associates Inc., a trade group.

The U.K.’s decision last month to approve a trial of wheat that’s been genetically modified was “fantastic progress” in getting biotech wheat accepted in Europe, Schlecht said in an interview yesterday before speaking today at the Home-Grown Cereals Authority conference in London. The U.K. trial does not involve wheat grown for food.

Higher food costs have sent “tens of millions of people” into poverty since late 2010, and the world’s hungry people may soon exceed 1 billion again, Oxfam International said Aug. 3. With a population set to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, the world’s farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says.

“The conversation about biotechnology and crops has been more open,” Schlecht said. “If you look at the FAO’s statement of needing 70 percent more food in 40 years, we need to be looking at technologies that can bring us to that level of demand, and biotechnology is one of those factors that can help us achieve that productivity.”

Wheat prices have gained 80 percent in the past decade and corn has surged 74 percent. Food prices have more than doubled, according to the UN.

Before genetically modified wheat is commercialized in the U.S., regulatory approval for imports of modified grain would be needed from buyers of its wheat, Schlecht said.

Farmers in Africa have started growing genetically modified crops and some are interested in certain traits that may improve food-grain production, Schlecht said. In 1996, six countries were planting biotech crops compared with 29 countries today, he said, citing the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

U.S. Wheat Associates is based in Arlington, Virginia.

--Editors: Claudia Carpenter, Sharon Lindores

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony C. Dreibus in London at tdreibus@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter@bloomberg.net.


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