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Minister Says Canadian Canola Doesn’t Sprout

Efforts to dissuade China from blocking imports of Canadian canola over fears of blackleg haven’t gone well, and comments by Canada’s agriculture minister may not have helped.

Gerry Ritz said Monday in Winnipeg he told Chinese officials they needn’t fear their farmers growing Canadian canola because the seed won’t grow.

“I assured them that with the varieties we have now, it’s not going to work because they all have Terminator seeds in them, it’s all genetically modified to get the oil quantity up,” Ritz said.

“Terminator” technology, also known as Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT), is supposed to prevent seeds from germinating. It’s a controversial idea. Not only are GURTs not used in Canadian canola, they have never been commercialized in any crop anywhere in the world, said officials from the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) and Monsanto, which holds the patent on sterile seed technology.

“We have made a public commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technology,” said Monsanto Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan.

GURTs remain a concept and have never even been field tested, she added.

This isn’t the first time Ritz referred to Canadian canola employing Terminator technology. Last week he told Reuters

“I assured them that with the varieties we have now, it’s not going to work because they all have Terminator seeds in them, it’s all genetically modified to get the oil quantity up.”

– GERRY RITZ

news service that Canadian canola is genetically modified for producing oil and contains a gene that keeps it from sprouting.

CCC president JoAnne Buth said she suspects Ritz meant to say since most of Canada’s canola is grown from hybrid seed there’s little incentive to plant the seed because it won’t produce a very good crop.

“I think it’s just an unfortunate use of words,” she said.

Buth said she doesn’t expect Ritz’s mistaken terminology to cause concern among Canadian canola customers.

“All of our (GM) events are approved by our major markets and so they know what all the approvals are for,” she said. “The only genetic modification we have in canola is herbicide tolerance and Bayer’s hybrid system.”

Meanwhile, Buth said she’s disappointed talks to avoid losing access to the Chinese canola market haven’t turned out better.

“We don’t have any agreement in place so far and it’s not very positive to date,” she said on Monday this week. “We’ve been advised that they (Chinese officials) have not agreed to an extension of the Nov. 15 date (when China says Canadian canola shipments must be certified blackleg free to enter the country) and they also have not shown any willingness

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to consider some of the risk mitigation steps that have been discussed.”

China says it wants to prevent its canola crops from being infected by blackleg imported on Canadian canola.

Canada has pointed out to Chinese officials that during the last 10 years China imported 10 million tonnes of Canadian canola without any reports of blackleg moving from Canadian seed to Chinese fields, Buth said.

Some industry observers believe China’s actions are designed to bolster domestic canola prices or reduce the cost of purchasing Canadian canola. Buth declined to speculate on China’s motivation.

“But I can tell you, this is not a scientific approach,” she said.

Talks between Canadian and Chinese officials were to continue this week.

Last crop year China was Canada’s biggest export canola seed customer, importing 2.6 million tonnes.

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About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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