When will wheat get a turn on the GMO dance floor? Because of past successes with genetic engineering and the significant increase in global population forecasted, officials at Bayer CropScience, a Germany based company, believe the time has come for wheat to be allowed to garner the benefits of genetic engineering.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation estimates that around 70% more food will have to be produced in 2050 than today.
“Around the world, some 134 million hectares (around 331 million acres) of land is now being cultivated with genetically modified seed,” says Friedrich Berschauer, chairman of the board of management of Bayer CropScience Ag. “Genetic engineering is an important tool that is becoming increasingly established outside Europe, and small farmers in particular are achieving tremendous success.”
Rudiger Scheitza, head of global portfolio management for Bayer CropScience asks, “Why should the GMO technology stop in front of wheat?” If there is an increase in food and fuel prices, why should this technology not be used in cereals?”
One big barrier is the European Union’s continual refusal of GMOs. “Wheat in North American and Europe is a feed crop,” says Scheitza. “There will be more resistance and it will take quite some years until we get acceptance. It really depends on the challenge of if there is enough food at an affordable price.”
Berschauer says if it is true agriculture needs to improve productivity, he believes the pressure to accept all available technologies will increase.
“I think agriculture must have access to all modern, safe technologies. I think the attitude in Europe is the wrong one. I think Europe should be open-minded in terms of biotechnology.”
What’s in Store for Wheat
Scheitza says plans are in the works to boost wheat yields with new wheat varieties, some of which are genetically modified and some of which are not. He says they are looking at stress tolerance and nutrient efficiency (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) traits. “In all that we are doing, we are looking at providing the world with enough food,” he says.
Scheitza says it will probably be around 10 years before genetically modified wheat hits the market, which is a standard timeline for any new product. “If you do something in research, you invest 10 years before you take a product to market.