Farmers’ voice must be heard when developing GM wheat

Is it a good idea for Canada’s grain industry to support biotechnology in wheat?


Yes, but with caution.


After a lull last decade, when lack of industry support stalled commercial research into genetically modified wheat, the issue is again gaining ground.


An expanding coalition of farm groups and millers associations in Canada, the United States and Australia that support biotech traits in wheat recently restated its support for the “responsible advancement of biotech traits” and synchronized commercial introduction in all three countries.


Biotechnology is a wide field, ranging from genome mapping to manipulating genes within an organism to transferring genes from one organism to another.


It has the potential to improve wheat characteristics for the benefit of producers and consumers. The weight of scientific evidence indicates the technology presents no serious danger to health or the environment.


However, there are challenges, including trouble with herbicide-resistant volunteer weeds, higher seed costs for producers and particularly market access.


Competition in the global wheat market is increasing, with Black Sea exporters — Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan — and the European Union gaining market share thanks in part to lower price and proximity to rapidly growing markets. However, another factor is that farmers in the U.S. and Canada have less interest in wheat because they have more profitable crops to grow.


Genetic modification has improved the profitability of growing canola, corn and soybeans, and the coalition hopes it can do the same thing for wheat.


However, GM wheat varieties hold no benefit for farmers if countries and consumers don’t accept them.


Getting acceptance for another GM crop will take time and face many hurdles.


When wheat with an unapproved GM trait turned up in an Oregon field last year, major buyers Japan and South Korea immediately restricted imports of American wheat.


Exports returned to normal when testing proved it was an isolated incident, but the situation illustrated buyers’ sensitivities.


The farm and miller coalition realize the sensitivities, noting that “customer choice is paramount.”


They “stand ready to assist all industry segments to assure supplies of non-biotech wheat within reasonable commercial tolerances to markets that require it.”


That must be the strategy, otherwise customers who don’t want GM wheat will turn to European and Black Sea supplies.


Agronomically, it should be possible for GM and non-GM wheat production to coexist. Wheat does not have the pollen drift issue that all but eliminated non-GM canola production.


However, it will be impossible to completely separate the two types of wheat in the handling system and so, as the coalition notes, “reasonable commercial tolerances” must be developed to minimize trade disruptions. 


It is vital for the farm-miller coalition to have a strong voice in the process to emphasize these concerns and protect their interests. 


It would be wise to expand the coalition to include farmers in more countries and more segments of the industry, including bakers.


It would help if the group also recommended that a more consumer-acceptable trait, such as disease resistance or improved nutritional profile, be the first advanced rather than another “me too” herbicide tolerance product.

Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen and D’Arce McMillan collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

  • R.Miller

    The Industry of Big Pharmaceutical co-opting agriculture continues with their ongoing strategy to find and justify a problem for their solution. We have solved many and most disease issues with cereal crops through standard and mostly natural objectives, even to the extent that based on prices offered we have for now solved the “Yield problem” that is being touted as our potential bottleneck in the country. If they want to ‘Manufacture Consent’ they need 20 years of GMO derived extracts that the world truly needs from cereals in a totally secure biosphere. That is the first bottle expansion for what could become a vicious Genie. So much lipstick to apply, same old Pig.

  • Terry

    Yes, all farmers voices must be heard along with consumers and pregnant mothers who, it has been found , have glyphosate in their breast milk .

    Organic farmers tried to sue Monsanto for not being able to grow canola due to gmo. That didn t work because the Supreme Court and government is in support of the corporate mentality.

    Demand for organic food is outstripping supply…to quote the corporate monolithic spin doctors ; “let’s let the market decide”.

    60 % of the worlds food is still grown by small farms. Where are the real statistics in a so called agricultural newspaper. Or is this just an advertising forum??

  • http://denisetrafford@shaw.ca Denise

    And as for Monsanto having 5 secret locations in Manitoba and a couple in Saskchewan where they are growing plots of GM wheat, there is NO way that should be allowed. I’m sure the people of Manitoba and Sask.were not included in this decision making. Talk about arrogance, the danger of introducting GM wheat into the environment and forcing it on the uninformed public. This would NEVER be permitted in Europe. It should be against the law everywhere.

  • Terry

    First of all why was my last comment not put up? Didn t like my opinion ? Well I don t always like the western producers opinions either. 2 page full color chemical ads show where allegiance lies with one column every few months on organic farming. Looks like a forum for big companies.

    Gmo wheat will mess up the market for organic farmers. There is growing demand for organic wheat. Can “conventional ” wheat say the same? I don t think so. News needs to be reported without bias toward money, something the cbc does well but few others even care about.

    If you want to be the Fox News of agriculture, western producer, then carry on.

    • Paul Yanko

      Terry,

      All comments made on stories on the WP website are moderated – typically by me – before being posted. I look for potential libel issues, profane language or otherwise inappropriate comments.
      I’ve simply been off for a few days returning only this a.m. and, after dealing with the many flooding-related stories and posts have only now gotten ’round to going through the comments made in my absence.
      There is no conspiracy to silence your opinion. On the contrary, I welcome it. Dialog between those opposed to GM technology and the overwhelming majority of farmers making use of it is the only way both groups are going to be able to co-exist. You will find coverage of both points of view within the pages of the WP. Let the discussion continue!
      Cheers,
      Paul Yanko – WP web ed

  • Terry

    Alright thanks for the response. To clarify your statement you might have said “overwhelming majority ” in North America are using gmo technology. Ever heard of the biotech bubble that surrounds the USA and Canada. 60% of the worlds food is still being grown by small farms . That is a majority, not an overwhelming majority. However the 40% using gmos is definitely not an “overwhelming majority”. Non visibly distinguishable. Why does the overwhelming majority of the public not know what that means in reference to gmos. Care to explain that term? Proprietary science or knowledge. Sounds like someone doesn’t t want to play nice and share. Just another avenue for income inequality to build and take hold in a self centered society .

    To sum up the funding for big business Ag comes from chemical companies. Glyphosate, insecticide, fungicide, growth regulator, what’s next ? When is enough enough and when will we start trying to restore a balance and stop trying to beat nature into submission. When it’s too late?? The genies out of the bottle now we just need to wait 25 years to see if the wish is better health or cancer. I wouldn’t bet my health on what big business says is good for me.

    Thanks again dialogue is good:)

  • ed

    Cancer rates in other nations are now spiking in direct relation to their pesticide use increases now matching ours, just 30 years later. Our cancer causing and poisonous (skull and crossbones on every box) compound usage has been soaring since then and cancer rate continue to skyrocket as well. Farmers profits continue to erode far below ground zero and the national Ag. Debt continues to rise fast. Get ready to trade Grampa’s land off for your input loan debt because this is what it is all about. Poisoning the consumer is just an unfortunate side effect. GMO anything is just a conduit to the farmers wallet. A little of the poisoned tax payers Ag. Support dollars in there along with that doesn’t hurt. The whole debate about pesticide use and GMO’S is just the confusion used to aid in this slight of hand transfer of wealth activity. There really should not be any smart and informed consumer buying anything other than organic food and probably there isn’t. Demand going up is only a reflection of consumer awareness. The industry scrambling to stop this tells you they are losing the fight. Their ultimate solution will be to have organic proclaimed unsafe and make it unavailable to those who want it. Never under estimate this industries political power and media influence. They put far more financial resources into thought control than into actual scientific plant research. Frankly it is amazing they have let this one get away on them a bit. Stay tuned for some wildly outlandish health concerns and stern warnings over organic food consumption.