(Regina, April 17, 2012)  The Canadian Wheat Board Alliance condemns last week’s deceitful announcement of a small amount of money to enhance the growing chambers at the Morden, Manitoba Research Lab.  “This is an attempt by Agriculture Minister Ritz to divert attention from the fact he is effectively dismantling the Cereal Research Center in Winnipeg by firing up to a third of its scientific personnel and eroding its mandate,” said Bill Gehl, Chairperson of the Alliance.

Gehl observed, “these are the first steps towards privatizing plant breeding, and ending the historic partnership between farmers, scientists, and the Federal government to develop grain varieties in the public interest, and local MP Candice Hoeppner has obviously failed to understand the implications of this move.  This leaves varietal development in the hands of private corporations whose primary interest is selling genetically modified and patented seed which forces farmers to not only purchase seed every year, but also the proprietary chemicals for use on that seed.”

Gehl went on to explain “we have already seen this model fail in canola where organic farmers and farmers who do not want to grow GM canola are forced out of production.  Moving this model to cereal grains expands this conflict of interest and will cost farmers millions of extra dollars each year.  It also means urban consumers will no longer have a choice about eating genetically modified wheat and other grains, since the current partnership between farmers, plant breeders, and the Federal Government for developing varieties in the public interest will be diminished by Minister Ritz’s actions.”

Many of the staff being fired are experts in plant genetics, plant diseases, including fusarium, and state of the art genetic tracking of plant enzyme systems.  These people and their support teams are the future of conventional and genetic based plant breeding for western Canada.  Their expertise has been developed with financial support from farmers and the people of Canada, and their expertise and experience will be lost to Canadians as they are scooped up by foreign owned chemical and seed companies.

All food and medicinal plants have been treated by farmers over the last 10,000 or so years as “open source” software with the benefits freely shared.  In fact it was Canada’s Dominion Cerealist, Charles Saunders, who developed the basic wheat variety which made wheat production in North America viable.  This has been a tradition since Canada was settled.

Gehl concluded “this is another example of Ottawa seizing a public resource and giving it to private industry.”

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