Background - 30 September, 2004
Wheat forms an important part of many people's diet in both the developed and developing world. It is not as high a value crop as soya or maize and is technically difficult to genetically engineer, so has only more recently become a focus for the biotechnology industry and scientists in the public sector.


Wheat is grown on an enormous scale, with over 225 million hectares cultivated annually worldwide between 1995 and 1997. The 560 million tons of wheat produced each year makes up more than one quarter of the world cereal output.

GE wheat strains being developed include varieties that are resistant to fungal or viral diseases, tolerant to drought, and that have altered characteristics for baking and processing. GE wheat is also being used for producing pharmaceuticals.

In December 2002 Monsanto began steps to commercialise GE wheat in the US and Canada. But in May 2003, the Canadian Wheat Board called on Monsanto to withdraw its GE wheat application, saying that there were no benefits for farmers. 87 percent of Canadian wheat buyers now require non-GE certification of wheat.

This wholesale rejection of the crop has convinced Monsanto to drop its project. Monsanto announced in May 2004 that it had deferred all further efforts to introduce Roundup Ready wheat, and that they will discontinue breeding and field level research of the crop.

Industry's promises of increased yields, decreased pesticide use and overall economic gains haven't materialised in other GE crops, and it's unlikely that they will do for this crop.

Further reading

Genetically Engineered Wheat - Changing Our Daily Bread