Non-GM canola causes stir among farmers

Supporting modern agriculture while also selling into the market for non-genetically modified food seems like a contradiction.

But an American firm is hoping to pull off that high-wire act with its herbicide-tolerant canola, now for sale in Canada.

“Because it’s a non-GM product, we’re looking at this being aligned with production contracts (for non-GM canola),” said David Sippell, vice-president and general manager of Canadian operations for Cibus, a plant-breeding company based in San Diego, Calif.

“Right now, there’s a production contract (for non GM canola) with Bunge at Harrowby (Man.). We’re really linking into the particular opportunity.”

Cibus has branded its canola seed as SU Canola. It’s tolerant of sulfonylurea herbicides and will be grown commercially in Canada for the first time this spring.

SU Canola has been sold in the U.S. since 2016, mostly in North Dakota.

Sippell joined Cibus in December. He has previously worked in the canola seed business with Pioneer, Syngenta and Canterra Seeds.

While he is responsible for Canada, Sippell said SU Canola acreage has been expanding in North Dakota because of strong demand for non-GM canola oil.

“Last year, we had double or almost triple the sales (of 2016)…. This year, we’re looking at doubling again. What’s driving that (growth)… is a Cargill non-GM production contract from West Fargo.”

Last March, Cargill became entangled in a public relations knot when it made a commitment to verify more of its products as non-GM.

Cargill announced it was working with a verification group to certify a list of its food ingredients as non-GM, including non-GM canola oil.

“We work closely with the #NonGMO Project & hope to have even more Cargill ingredients verified in the near future,” Cargill tweeted last spring.

The Twitter message ignited a social media firestorm.

North American farmers ripped into Cargill for embracing the Non GMO Project, saying the company’s move was hypocritical and a kick in the face to farmers who grow GM crops.

The Non GMO Project, based in Bellingham, Washington, claims there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GM foods. It also says that scientific evidence “connects GMOs with health problems (and) environmental damage.”

Cherilyn Nagel, who farms near Mossbank, Sask., was one of the producers who condemned Cargill.

“When I see a company like Cargill, that is an integral part of our grain business, coming out and taking that kind of position, pandering, if you will, to this Non GMO Project, I was hurt by that. I was offended by that,” Nagel said last spring.

A percentage of farmers, likely a large percentage, abhor the idea of foods with a non-GMO label.

But it’s difficult for agri-business firms to ignore market signals.

“Cibus is not opposed to genetically modified products,” Sippell said. “But our technology is not a transgenic…. The (result) of that is we can play in the non-GM market because there is a demand at a consumer level…. We just want to fulfill that need in the marketplace.”

SU Canola isn’t transgenic because Cibus developed the herbicide-tolerant trait with a breeding technique it calls the Rapid Trait Development System. Essentially, the method is a more precise form of mutagenesis.

In its first year on the Canadian market, Cibus will focus its seed sales in western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan, in the region around the Harrowby Bunge facility.

Harrowby is only a few kilometres from the Saskatchewan border.

“Bunge is contracting non-GM canola. That would include Clearfield products and the SU product,” Sippell said.

It’s hard to say how many acres of SU Canola will be seeded this spring but a number of Canadian growers are interested in the technology, partly because the price off the combine is higher than generic canola.

“We’re getting good feedback from producers,” said Sippell. “(The) premium being paid by Bunge for the non-GM, which I believe is $35 per tonne.


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  • richard

    The problem with subjective science is that it is faith based on malleable truths defined by vested interests…… Cargill’s marketing on the other hand, is nothing less than empirical observations of facts over time…..otherwise known as objective science……I wonder which science wins?

    • Harold

      Cargill is a capitalist corporation and is not a scientific organization. Cargill’s interests are product, and profit, and their bottom line, and therefore their company moves in any direction where there is product and moving it is a profit. Cargill is in the numbers game and not the scientific game so it surprises me when the public cannot see the more than obvious. Moreover, I was confused by your term “Objective science” because with the exclusion of the word – IN – the term itself contains no object. Perhaps you meant object-IVITY – IN – science and not “objective science”. If it all reasonable, Cargill being in the numbers game would be more leaning towards – subjectivity in science – rather than – objectivity in science. In regards to your question, I will say that Science does not “win” – and although absurd, the question is: “which science” will lose? A. it will be the science with – no objectivity in science. The reason why I call my question absurd to even ask, can be illustrated for an example by PCB’s whereas there was no “win” to science, because PCB is a technology and that technology we have since lost through the applied sciences. GMO is also a technology and – will we keep the technology active or lose it – is the only question that science has yet to determine for which there is no time limit. Modern agriculture today is not GMO or GE, it is a mix between natural state plants and unnatural state plants (technology produced plants) and like Cargill, you don’t need any knowledge of science to make each available to consumers to make a profit; the numbers (data) game. It is incredibly obvious how the Industry dismisses all Objectivity- in- Science and uses the talking points of Subjectivity- in- Science as their cover-up.

      • ed

        As with the dinosaurs, in the future science will someday show that GMOs were indeed here, but it may take a little longer for science to prove why they out lived their usefulness.

        • Harold

          That will happen 1 day after the age or era of total transparency and accountability.

          • ed

            It is nearly here and it is about time.

    • ed

      Exactly. The side of good “will” ultimately win. As you can see, they are winning now. The GMO virtual reality science didn’t really last long, but it sure loaded up the drug dealers with lots of ill begotten cash. Nothing new there of course, but zero tolerence to that kind of crap is still the higher moral high ground to strive for. Some farmers, especially the 80% of them that are smaller are coming around to that, but the big VLT players are much slower to learn.

    • grinninglibber

      Science can be used for good or evil.
      There is no such thing as subjective science except amongst word twisters and liars.

      • richard

        Thank you for your remake of my point…. As we both know the word twisters are those with multi million dollar marketing budgets…. And the liars are those confuse technology with “progress” and science with absolute truth…..And the facts are what scare the hell out of both of them…. Truth smacks, no amount of money can buy it….. which is why thirty years of corporate sophistry is going nowhere fast…..

  • Neil Batchelor

    We at De Dell seeds have been doing this in the corn market for 18 years. We see a $550 Billion dollar Non-GMO foods market expanding at the rate of 16% over year. If there is anything else in Ag that has numbers half as good I don’t know what it is. So you can continue to grow your GM for the generic market if you wish and be rewarded with the CBOT price. But if you want to earn a Non-GMO premium and pay $100 or so less per bag in seed costs while accessing a growing high-demand consumer-driven market, well maybe it’s time you got off the hamster wheel and broke free of the corporate agenda. Or at least think about incorporating Non-GMOs into your rotation – the results are surprisingly beneficial. Besides, “science” is not the sole purview of genetic modification. There’s plenty of science in natural breeding programs. Rather than chasing the GM crop yield rabbit, we would be much better served looking at the science of what is going on below the soil surface. There is so much we don’t know.

    • ed

      You are doing a fine job of promoting the non evil side of ag. Thank you for that!!!


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