Participants see progress at wheat industry summit

by Josh Sosland
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KANSAS CITY — Progress in the exploration of common ground among different sectors of the wheat industry was achieved at the April 19 Wheat Summit II. That was the assessment of flour milling and baking industry representatives in attendance.

The one-day meeting was held at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center in Kansas City. It followed by seven months the first wheat summit, also held in metropolitan Kansas City. The gatherings were organized jointly by the North American Millers’ Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers.

Until consensus is reached on key issues, organizers of the summit said they will release little information about the group’s deliberations on the four issues it has identified as its priorities — technology and research, domestic policy, domestic competition and exports.

"The four Wheat Summit working groups presented proposals and working papers to the full group in an effort to form majority opinions that will be released publicly in the coming weeks," a NAWG statement said.

Lee Sanders, senior vice-president of government relations and public affairs, American Bakers Association, said the meeting offered important new perspectives.

"From a baker’s perspective, there were issues that we had not focused on in the past but could see value exploring jointly going forward," she said. "For example, there was considerable discussion about transportation and infrastructure for the rail system. Similarly, there was good discussion about research and technology and the good work of the National Wheat Improvement Committee and ways of becoming more effective in that area."

Elizabeth A. (Betsy) Faga, president of NAMA, said the milling industry continues to have reservations about the introduction of biotechnology in wheat, a topic that has been actively discussed at the summit.

"While we have continued to explore the issue, our reservations grew recently when a major seed company released a biotechnology trait in corn without gaining major market approval," she said.

Ms. Faga was referring to the release by Syngenta AG of Agrisure RW, a biotechnology-enhanced corn seed that has not obtained regulatory approval for food and feed use in Japan and other U.S. export markets.

Less controversial but not a major area of discussion was domestic promotion of wheat foods, Ms. Faga said.

"It wasn’t the center of discussion, but there was agreement that it would be a major focus going forward," she said.

While consensus has not yet been confirmed on each of the topics discussed, Ms. Faga said the approach of participants was positive.

"It was a good learning experience and good sharing of ideas," she said. "We wanted to hear frank opinions and they were thoughtfully considered in a spirit of good will."

Attendance at the summit totaled about 70, down slightly from the first summit. Ms. Faga said the smaller attendance helped make discussion "more manageable."

"I believe we are going to find common ground on some important issues," Ms. Sanders said. "On others, we won’t. The summit continues to be a work in progress."

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