GM wheat development gathering industry support

Canadian farm and milling groups are supporting the commercialization of genetically modified wheat at a time when field testing of the product has resumed in Canada.

Monsanto Canada and Bayer CropScience Canada are running confined research field trials of GM wheat this year, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Monsanto is operating five trial sites in Manitoba, testing lines for yield increase and herbicide tolerance.

Bayer has one trial site in Alberta and two in Saskatchewan. It is testing lines for herbicide tolerance, stress tolerance, selectable markers, genetic research and modified carbohydrate content.

Monsanto had previously attempted to commercialize Roundup Ready wheat but announced in 2004 that it was shutting down the program because of a lack of industry support.

This time around, farm groups and millers are vocal in their support of the technology.

Sixteen organizations in Canada, the United States and Australia have issued a joint statement of support for the future commercialization of GM wheat.

It sets out a number of conditions required for the launch, including synchronized introduction in all three exporting countries, co-existence with non-GM wheat and the adoption of low level presence policies in importing countries.

The document updates an agreement that was signed five years ago by nine organizations in the same three countries.

The Canadian signatories are Grain Farmers of Ontario, Grain Growers of Canada, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Cereals Canada and the Canadian National Millers Association (CNMA).

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, said the document encourages investment in wheat research, which has been sorely lacking.

Growers have seen the value of biotechnology in products such as cotton, corn, soybean and canola, and they want the same for wheat.

“It’s laying out the pathway forward that will allow that investment to happen, and that really is the purpose,” he said.

The CNMA, one of the new signatories, said it signed the document partly because commercialization of GM wheat is more of a reality than it was five years ago, even though according to the statement it is still “up to a decade” away from appearing in farmers’ fields.

“CNMA has made every effort to support policy and regulation that is science based and recognize that Canadian producers need access to new technology at the same time as those in other countries,” association president Gordon Harrison said in an email.

The association feels biotechnology could help resolve longstanding quality problems caused by fusarium and ochratoxin A.

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, said the last time farm groups signed such a document in 2009, it was met with an angry response by 233 civil society groups in 26 countries opposed to the commercialization of GM wheat.

“The global market rejected Roundup Ready wheat, and in 2009 over 200 groups in 26 countries reiterated that position, and it would be the same today,” she said.

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