Activists say the Canadian government should put a halt to all field testing of GM wheat or risk an escape happening again
EXCERPT: Biotech companies have done field trials of genetically modified wheat most years since 1998, including 52 in Alberta in 2014. Most of the recent field trials have been done in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In 2017, 54 field trials of genetically modified wheat — including 32 by Bayer Crop Science, which recently purchased Monsanto — were carried out in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The mysterious case of Alberta's rogue GMO wheat: Could it happen again?
CALGARY HERALD, July 30, 2018
Prairie farmers breathed a collective sigh of relief last week, when Japan — Canada's second-largest buyer of wheat — lifted a month-long import ban imposed in the aftermath of the discovery of a few stalks of genetically modified wheat growing in a ditch in southern Alberta.
But with the origins of the rogue wheat still a mystery, activists say the Canadian government should put a halt to all field testing of GM wheat or risk such an incident happening again.
“It’s a concern that the government was unable to identify the cause of this contamination,” said Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. “We think that in the case of genetically modified crops — where there is a serious risk of economic harm if contamination occurs — that there needs to be a ban on field testing those crops.”
Extensive testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the wheat plants found in Alberta — which contained a gene that made them resistant to the herbicide Roundup — matched a strain of genetically modified wheat produced by the American agricultural biotech giant Monsanto. However, Monsanto had not conducted field trials of that strain of wheat since the early 2000s and even then, the trials took place approximately 300 km away from the southern Alberta road allowance where the unusual wheat sample turned up.
While the CFIA concluded there is no evidence this GM wheat is present anywhere other than the isolated spot where it was discovered, it has so far been unable to identify where the wheat came from or how it turned up in the ditch in question.
Genetic engineering is already commonplace in some agricultural crops — the vast majority of canola, sugar beets, corn and soybeans grown in Canada have been genetically modified to resist herbicides. However, genetically modified wheat has never been approved for commercial production by any country. Monsanto never did pursue commercialization for GM wheat seeds, in large part due to resistance from wheat-importing countries that were strongly opposed to the product.
However, experimental field trials of various strains of GM wheat continue to this day. Biotech companies have done field trials of genetically modified wheat most years since 1998, including 52 in Alberta in 2014. Most of the recent field trials have been done in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In 2017, 54 field trials of genetically modified wheat — including 32 by Bayer Crop Science, which recently purchased Monsanto — were carried out in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Any company or research institution testing a genetically modified crop is expected to follow strict protocols to prevent any of the seeds or plants from “escaping” into the surrounding environment. But the system is not foolproof. The United States has reported three separate incidents of unauthorized GM wheat releases which occurred in Oregon in 2013, in Montana in 2014, and in Washington in 2016.