One of the world’s largest pulse processing firms has no appetite for genetically modified pulses, but the head of a major crop research institute thinks they should at least be on the menu.
Murad Al-Katib, president of Alliance Grain Traders Inc., stressed the importance of being able to market peas, lentils and other pulses as GM-free during a presentation he delivered at Ag-West Bio Inc.’s annual meeting.
That prompted a question from Kofi Agblor, managing director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre.
He wondered if the industry should be contemplating research on GM pulse crops because soybeans are increasingly pushing pulses out of rotations in Ontario and Manitoba.
Soybeans are higher yielding and easier to grow than pulses. Agblor said it is possible that a GM pulse crop could close the gap, so the technology should at least be considered as a research tool.
“We’re not even working on GM in pulses at all,” he said.
“Do you think it’s a good strategy to advocate non-GM?”
Al-Katib said red lentil crops are yielding 50 bushels per acre this year without any genetic modification.
“Some people view me as having my head in the sand on the GM issue,” he said.
“But my position is clear. The consumer of the world today is expressing a preference for non-GMO products and the consumer, to me, drives every decision I make in my business.”
It’s not just a European issue. Al-Katib said he has talked with senior executives of major U.S. food companies who say the anti-GM food movement is spreading beyond the traditional hotbed states of Washington and California.
He sees pulses’ non-GM status as a significant marketing attribute, and he doesn’t want to mess with that by having the industry dabble in GM research.
Al-Katib said there is a lot of resistance to GM crops in some of the big growth markets.
“The governments in countries, in particular in Europe, are having such a profound effect on the emerging markets that I don’t see that changing in the near term,” he said.
“As a result of that, I want to keep my head in the sand.”
In an interview following the conference, Agblor said India is working on a GM chickpea resistant to the chickpea borer insect. There is also work happening in Africa and Australia on other traits, but nothing in Canada.
“We need to be looking at least at the output traits if there is something we can do there,” he said.
“I’m not saying there is, but we’re not even talking about it.”
Agblor said the CDC isn’t interested in pursuing this research, considering its recent experience with CDC Triffid.
Triffid was a line of GM flax that was briefly commercialized and then reappeared in the supply chain a few years ago, disrupting sales to Europe.
“I mean, we just wouldn’t take the chance again because of the contamination at the breeder seed level we’ve seen in Triffid,” he said.
However, other institutes or companies may be interested in conducting work on GM pulses.
He finds it strange nobody is even discussing the option because at some point there may be broader acceptance of the technology and Canada will be at square one.