Producers question GM wheat announcement

Questions are being raised about how government regulators disseminated news of the discovery of genetically modified wheat in a field in Alberta.

Officials at Alberta Agriculture were notified by a municipal employee in the summer of 2017 that a group of wheat plants growing in the ditch of an access road to an oil rig on a farm near Strathmore, Alta., had survived a treatment of Roundup herbicide.

It took until Jan. 31, 2018, for Alberta Agriculture to conclude that the plants contained the Roundup Ready trait and to pass the case along to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The CFIA then conducted a number of its own tests, including testing wheat heads from the field surrounding the access road. On June 14 the CFIA informed the public that GM wheat had been discovered in Alberta.

During a conference call with reporters the CFIA was asked why it took nearly a year between the time the incident was reported and the time the public was informed.

David Bailey, director of the CFIA’s plant production division, said a lot of work at both levels of government went into determining it was GM wheat.

“The kind of scientific analysis that has been done by both the Government of Alberta and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency takes time,” he said.

However, the timeline was far more condensed when the first case of rogue GM wheat volunteers was discovered in Oregon in 2013.

The Oregon farmer delivered the suspicious wheat plants to an Oregon State University scientist on April 30, 2013.

Less than one month later, on May 29, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a news release stating that GM wheat had been found in Oregon.

Farm groups were not pleased that they found out about the GM wheat incident the same day it was announced to the public.

“The industry, including producers, exporters and seed companies, could have been engaged a little bit before the day of the announcement,” said Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, shares Steve’s frustration with the process.

“I do have concerns with how this was rolled out,” he said.

One of his biggest concerns was that there could have been some advance notice provided to the customers of Canadian wheat.

“There is outreach that could have occurred to governments and customers around the world,” said Dahl.

Trish Jordan, spokesperson for Monsanto Canada, said the company could have been more involved with the investigation. For instance, it hasn’t been provided with the information required to validate the CFIA’s findings.

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