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Academics say GM wheat possible subversion

No one has offered an explanation for wheat to appear after 17 years, and far from its original plot

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency needs to keep investigating the still-unknown variety of genetically modified wheat found in Alberta last year, says the Canadian co-author of an article that speculates on who could have planted it.

Rob Wager of Vancouver Island University, who specializes in biochemistry and molecular biology, is the co-author of ‘The Mystery of the Rogue Wheat,’ which appeared first in the Daily Caller and was picked up by the website Genetic Literacy Project.

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Wager and Henry Miller of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution conclude the wheat might have been planted intentionally by anti-GM activists or a party that wanted to disrupt Canadian wheat exports.

The mystery is how a small patch of the wheat, which has some links to a variety tested in the early 2000s, could have ended up alongside an oil rig access road in Alberta.

“An obvious candidate is Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter and a major international mischief-maker where genetic engineering of crops is concerned,” they said.

“But there are others who buy Canadian wheat. The discovery of GM wheat in Alberta caused an immediate drop in the price of Canadian wheat, and China is one of its biggest purchasers. Chinese nationals have been caught and convicted of stealing GM germplasm in the past, and China definitely has the technical expertise to create a novel GM wheat variety.”

Another prime suspect would be environmental groups with anti-GM campaigns, they said. “Greenpeace has a history of illegal anti-GM actions.” Violent interference against GM crop field trials and other disruptions have been conducted by these groups.

“Continued investigation should determine the source of the mystery wheat variety and help shed some light on how it suddenly appeared on a roadside in the prairie of southern Alberta,” they said.

Asked about the article’s claims, CFIA said, “We may never know how this GM wheat came to be present on an access road. What we do know is that this GM wheat finding was very limited in scope and that the CFIA followed all plausible leads that may explain its origin. None of these leads brought forward any further reasonable avenues, including that there was any wrongdoing.”

Asked whether he has been contacted by CFIA or others for more information, Wager says, “Unfortunately no. I fear they will stop looking and yet another case of sabotage will go unpunished.”

The grain trade offers similar responses understandably wanting the whole issue to go away. Private suspicions remain but in the absence of any proof nothing is said on the record.

Appears after 17 years

Wager and Miller said the gene in the mystery wheat was dropped in 2000 in favour of better ones with better genes, so it was either stored somewhere or propagated in the wild for 17 years before it was discovered. The official field trials were far away, so local escape of the GM wheat is not a realistic possibility. “That’s strike one for the inadvertent-contamination theory,” they said.

And if it was propagating in the wild for all that time, there should be many instances of it showing up in Canadian wheat, but the CFIA examined more than 170,000 samples spanning several years and found none.

“Even if the herbicide-tolerance gene did come from the original field trials, we are still left with the question, how did it naturally move into a new variety of wheat that does not exist in Canada? That’s strike two for the inadvertent-contamination theory,” they said.

The farmland around the roadside where the wheat was discovered was not used in field trials and when tested was completely free of the herbicide-tolerance gene, they said.

“Neither did this unknown wheat variety match the GE wheat used in U.S. field trials, so the ‘rogue’ Canadian GE wheat could not possibly have escaped from any field trial in North America. Strike three for the inadvertent-contamination theory.”

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