(October 4, 2014) This September the US Department of Agriculture announced it had found unapproved genetically modified (GM) wheat growing in Montana. This new discovery follows a similar discovery in Oregon in 2013 which disrupted US wheat export shipments for a time.

L. Larsen photo

genes move

These US cases raise red flags for Canadian farmers because the discovery of the glyphosate (trade named “Roundup”) tolerant GM wheat in 2014 was at the Montana State University research center in Huntley almost ten years after GM wheat field trials were conducted there between 2000-2003.

Some Canadian farmers may also remember how a GM flax variety (CDC Triffid) which had only been field tested in Saskatchewan and was deregistered in 2001, showed up eight years later in a flax shipment to Germany ending our access to the European flax food market in 2009. Even today flax growers are still paying for extra testing and pedigreed seed in an attempt to fully open what was once a very profitable market for Canadian growers and processors.

As with flax, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has allowed field trials of glyphosate tolerant genetically modified wheat in several places on the prairies but has kept those locations a secret from the public. The news that genetically modified wheat can show up to contaminate grain shipments years after the trials have been suspended, as has apparently happened in the United States, raises serious questions about the quality assurance now available to purchasers of Canadian wheat since GM field trials were approved.

Unlike flax, where the losses were in the millions, GM contamination in Canadian wheat would mean losses measured in the multi-billions of dollars to farmers and the western economy.

And unlike when GM flax showed up, Canada’s impartial inward inspection of grain coming into export terminals by Canadian Grain Commission inspectors has either been eliminated entirely or privatized by Ottawa. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been essentially gutted, and with the farmer-controlled single-desk Canadian Wheat Board gone, it is a fair question to ask “who is minding the store?”

The reappearance of GM wheat matters because the customer is always right, as the grain giant Cargill found out when a shipment of its corn was rejected because of contamination by a genetically modified variety. Almost all the giant international purchasers of wheat and other grains are unanimous that they will not buy genetically modified wheat and other grains because their consumers do not want it.

If wheat farmers and those who eat bread and other wheat products don’t want a repeat of the flax debacle, they need to get after their MP now to end GM wheat testing and destroy all seed before it is too late.

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