Monsanto shelved Roundup Ready wheat in 2004 but its spectre still haunts some Manitoba farmers.
Delegates attending the Keystone Agriculture Producers’ (KAP) advisory council meeting here Nov. 12 passed a resolution for KAP to lobby the federal government to “disallow the testing, funding, importation and introduction of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in Canada.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) June announcement that a few wheat plants genetically modified (GM) to tolerate glyphosate were discovered in a ditch in Alberta prompted the resolution from KAP’s District 3, Starbuck farmer Doug Livingston explained when moving the resolution.
The preamble to the resolution says wheat yields have increased without using “GM technologies,” and warned the introduction of glyphosate-tolerant wheat “would create a backlash from major trade partners that could heavily reduce the price of all wheat in Canada.”
The preamble also says volunteer glyphosate-tolerant wheat could become a costly weed to control.
“That scares farmers and that’s why the resolution is here,” said Lowe Farm farmer Butch Harder.
Other than for a small project in aid of Monsanto’s U.S. biotech wheat program in 2014-15, Monsanto Canada has not tested GM wheat in Canada since 2005, Monsanto’s former spokesperson Trish Jordan said in a text. Monsanto was purchased earlier this year by Bayer Crop Science, where Jordan holds a similar position.
Although KAP’s resolution specifies glyphosate-tolerant wheat, the presence of any GM wheat could potentially disrupt Canadian wheat markets.
No country has ever approved any type of GM wheat, including glyphosate-tolerant wheat, for commercial production.
However, GM wheat has been grown in confined, outdoor, field trials in Canada, with the approval and oversight of CFIA. Last year there were 11 in Manitoba and 43 in Saskatchewan, according to CFIA. Trait objectives included herbicide tolerance, yield increase, fungal resistance, and selectable markers.
“Biotech companies have done field trials of genetically modified wheat most years since 1998, including two in Ontario in 2011 and 2012, and 13 in Alberta in 2014,” CFIA said. “Wheat research trials were not conducted in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.
“Monsanto did outdoor genetically modified herbicide-tolerant wheat trials from 1998 through 2004. Syngenta and BASF did field testing in 2005 and 2006. For the past five years, most of the field trials have been done in Manitoba and Saskatchewan… including 32 by Bayer Crop Science.”
CFIA and Monsanto were both puzzled by the Alberta incident. The GM trait found in the wheat was an older version of glyphosate tolerance dropped in favour of another for the commercialization that never happened.
And that trait was found in a variety of wheat unknown to CFIA and not registered in Canada.
KAP delegates discussed seven resolutions, including three on plant breeders’ rights and proposed royalties on cereal seed.
Delegates also passed a resolution for KAP to lobby seed companies to expedite the breeding of flea beetle-tolerant canola.
Moved by Mark Friesen of the Manitoba Beekeepers Association, the resolution’s preamble says the federal government is proposing to ban neonicotinoid insecticides, which would hurt canola growers who rely on them as a seed treatment to control flea beetles. It also says the University of Saskatchewan has bred canola tolerant to flea beetles.
So-called ‘hairy’ canola helps to control flea beetle, but only when infestations are light to moderate, Starbuck farmer and Manitoba Canola Growers Association president Chuck Fossay told the meeting.
While flea beetle-tolerant canola has merit, Ridgeville farmer Les Felsch said it might prompt the public to seek a ban on all flea beetle-controlling insecticides.
“I don’t want to lose that option,” he said.
“They (seed companies) know about it (flea beetle-tolerant canola),” said Dauphin farmer Don Dewar. “They just refuse to use it so they can sell us that blue crap (seed treatment) to put on.”
Insecticide seed treatment for canola has been a waste of money the last two years, Harder said.
KAP delegates passed two other resolutions. One wants strawberry crops to be eligible for compensation for wildlife damage.
The other wants carcass information captured when lambs are processed to be transferred to the farmers who produced the lambs using the Canadian Sheep Identification Program’s Radio Frequency Identification Tags.
A resolution from the Manitoba Sheep Association seeking changes in regulations around the non-veterinary use of ultrasounds for determining ewe pregnancy was defeated.