The discovery of genetically modified wheat growing in Alberta is disappointing and damaging to Canadian farmers.
So is the reaction by Cereals Canada, an industry-dominated group that falsely claims to represent Canadian wheat farmers.
An article published in 2014 quotes Cereals Canada President Cam Dahl saying, “Cereals Canada’s support for GM wheat is consistent with the policy of its member associations, which includes the Grain Growers, miller’s association and life science companies.”
Following a GM wheat contamination incident in Oregon in 2014, Cereals Canada signed on to a statement in support of further investment in, and commercialization of, genetically modified wheat.
Cereals Canada supported an irresponsible policy then and it hasn’t learned anything from Canada losing important markets now.
Escapes of genetically modified plants and resulting market disruptions were predicted by the National Farmers Union 15 years ago.
Japan, which was the highest-priced market when the Canadian Wheat Board was marketing Canadian wheat, has stopped all shipments of Canadian wheat and flour. South Korea also suspended Canadian wheat imports for a short time and other countries may follow.
In June, 2003, an NFU media release highlighted the unacceptable risks of GM wheat, calling it BSE for grain farmers because of the consequences GM wheat could bring should it escape and cause market closures.
Following this latest discovery, Cereals Canada and its members were quick to revert to the “it’s all safe” biotech industry mantra, which ignores the very real market problems.
Therein lies one of the central problems with Cereals Canada — some of its board members are in a conflict of interest. For a life science company, passing up an opportunity to sell more chemicals or seed would contradict the company’s interests.
There is no question that the policies of Cereals Canada members, such as the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and Grain Growers of Canada, helped provide Monsanto and the government the cover they needed to seed experimental plots of GM wheat at secret and undisclosed locations 15 years ago.
The farmer-run Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) also recognized the marketing liability that GM wheat posed. The CWB stood up for the interests of Canadian farmers and our international customers who do not want GM wheat.
No doubt its firm opposition to GM wheat is another reason why members of Cereals Canada worked so hard to destroy the CWB. Clearly, Cereals Canada cannot be trusted to represent the interests of Canadian wheat farmers.
Cereals Canada has worked against the interests of farmers on other issues, as well. By continually undermining the Canadian Grain Commission, and calling for U.S. grain to freely enter Canada and be commingled with Canadian grain, Cereals Canada promotes other irresponsible policies.
Recently, Cereals Canada has embarked on a plan to merge with or take over the Canadian International Grains Institute. The farmer check-off money that helps support CIGI makes CIGI a target that is just too good to pass up. However, with the mission statement “to be the trusted, independent source for milling, quality and end-use functionality expertise for millers and end-users of Canadian grain,” CIGI does important work and it would be extremely damaging to have CIGI taking the same irresponsible policy positions endorsed by Cereals Canada.
Given its track record, Cereals Canada has no right to a merger or takeover of CIGI.
Stewart Wells was president of the National Farmers Union from 2001-09.