A number of conditions must be met before the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) will support the introduction of genetically modified (GM) wheat in Canada.
“We feel there needs to be rules put into place,” District 10 CWB director Bill Toews told farmers here last month. “Before any of that happens there has to be an ability to segregate (GM wheat), there has to be technology to identify it, there has to be market acceptance, there has to be low level of presence numbers given by our importers and we also feel there should be a cost benefit for farmers involved in the process of introducing GM wheat.”
More than half of the CWB’s wheat customers oppose the introduction of GM wheat, Toews said.
“Some of these are our highest- paying customers,” he added.
The CWB, along with a number of farm and citizen groups, lobbied against the commercialization of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM wheat in the early 2000s, fearing it could disrupt markets.
In 2004 Monsanto shelved its wheat genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, but in 2009 it announced it was working on GM wheat again, with backing from wheat growers’ organizations in the United States, Australia and Canada.
The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association said it supports “synchronized commercialization” of GM wheat.
Monsanto officials have said repeatedly the company doesn’t want to disrupt wheat markets either.
“Obviously our goal is to ensure a successful introduction not only for our business, (but) probably more importunately for growers so they can grow wheat in an economic and environmentally friendly way,” Monsanto Canada spokeswoman Trish Jordan said in an interview in 2009.
“(Regulatory) approval is a given, absolutely. We will commit to getting the required regulatory approvals in countries that have functioning regulatory systems. I would argue Europe is moving but it’s still not functioning.”
None of the CWB’s prerequisites for introduction of GM wheat are legally required. Once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approves a GM crop for release into the environment and for food, feed use, it can be registered and grown commercially.
A private member’s bill – C-474 – that proposed the market impact be assessed before approving a GM crop for registration was defeated in the House of Commons in February.
It was widely opposed by farm and industry groups who feared its passing would render GM crop assessments unscientific, discouraging companies from developing new GM crops for Canadian farmers. [email protected]